With New Center Coming, Remembering The Southern Home For Destitute Children

April 2, 2015 | by Sarah Kennedy


The James Hamilton Windrim-designed Southern Home For Destitute Children, 1896 | Courtesy of Historical Images of Philadelphia: the Print and Picture Collection at The Free Library of Philadelphia

The Community Health and Literacy Center is slated to open in December of this year at Broad and Morris on the former site of the Southern Home for Destitute Children orphanage. The 96,000 square foot, $42.5 million center, designed by VSBA Architects and Planners, is a partnership between the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia. It will include a health care facility, a branch of the Free Library, and a new playground and recreation area. When I told former Southern Home resident Louise Gudknecht Lindinger about the new construction, one of the first things she asked was, “Is the stone wall still there?” For fifty years, a portion of the old, stone wall that enclosed the grounds of the orphanage remained on the site even after the Home relocated to Broad Street and Packer Avenue in 1960 and the South Philadelphia branch of the Free Library was built in its place. Lindinger was anxious for reassurance that this relic of the orphanage not be lost. For her, the wall–recently demolished to make way for the new CHLC–was not a grim symbol of Dickensian imprisonment. Rather, it was a fond reminder of what she considers the happiest years of her childhood.

Louise on May Day

Louise, age 9, on May Day, 1949 | Photo: Photo: Alan Gudknecht, courtesy of Louise Lindinger

Founded in 1849, the institution that became Southern Home was originally called the Moyamensing Union School and Children’s Home and was located at 1100 South Street. In 1854, it moved to 12th and Fitzwater, and in 1874 it adopted the name Southern Home for Destitute Children. By 1889, the orphanage had outgrown its building. The trustees purchased the large lot on South Broad Street between Morris Street and Castle Avenue for $43,000. In 1890, construction on the new building began, and on October 31, 1891, the children of the Southern Home moved in. The building, designed by James Hamilton Windrim, was described in the 1892 Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Public Charities as an impressive, modern facility: “The dormitories, schools, play rooms, infirmary, etc. are large, well-lighted and well ventilated, the house is fully equipped with modern improvements. A large play-ground, enclosed in the square has been laid out with walks, trees and flowers, making a small park of beauty and shade, for the health of the inmates which will also be of public benefit as an open air space.”

From 1947 to 1951, Lindinger’s activities were bounded by the four South Philly establishments she frequented: Francis M. Drexel Elementary School at 16th and Moore, The Scots-Presbyterian Church at Broad and Castle, The Savoia Theater on the east side of Broad and Morris, and her home, the Southern Home for Destitute Children, on the west side of Broad and Morris. At the age of five, she and three of her older brothers were brought to live at the home by their mother. Her father, an alcoholic, was unable to care for his nine children and her mother, forced to work, needed to seek care for the younger kids until the family home was stable and suitable for their return. It took four years, but at age nine, Lindinger was summoned one afternoon from the playground. “You’re going home today,” she was told.

Another former resident, Bill Elliott, lived at the Southern Home much longer than Lindinger. He and two of his seven sisters were brought to the orphanage in 1945 when he was seven years old. Elliott’s other five sisters were adopted by various families. He was never reunited with any of them. Elliott lived at Southern Home until he was sixteen years old. He remembers his childhood like many older South Philadelphians might: watching the Mummers Parade strut up Broad Street on New Year’s Day, going to movies at the Savoia, and the horse that pulled the milk wagon that delivered in the area. “I used to love that horse,” he said. “I used to give him my apple.” Elliott also remembers hanging out with Frankie Avalon at Southern High.

Christmas Party, 1898 | Source: Charitable Institutions of Pennsylvania which Received State Aid in 1897 and 1898, Volumes 1 & 2, 1898

The notion of an orphanage is out of fashion in the United States. Waxing romantic about a type of institution with a legacy so complex and problematic seems counterintuitive. Yet contrary to negative preconceptions of the antiquated child welfare system, Lindinger said Southern Home was a lifesaver. “If we hadn’t gone into that home, we would not have had three meals a day. We would not have had clean sheets on our beds,” said Lindinger. Life was regimented and expectations were clear. Both Elliott and Lindinger recall the harsh discipline. From her own account, Lindinger was a well-behaved child, self-regulated by her fear of a guilty conscience, so her own experiences of punishment were few. On one occasion, she refused to eat squash and was told that she would eat bread and water until she acquiesced. On another, she was made to stand facing the corner all night after attempting to steal a piece of candy from the top shelf of a closet in the playroom. For a kid like Lindinger, it didn’t take much to keep her in line, and she didn’t mind the structure, though she observed other kids having a harder time. “We were locked in that home,” she said. “The only way to leave there other than to go to school was to escape, and some kids did try to escape.” When I ask Elliott if he ever tried to escape, he laughed, “No. But I used to dream of it. I was going to jump a boxcar and live off the land.” As an older resident, Elliott had much more freedom than younger children like Lindinger did. He worked as an usher at the Savoia Theater and even owned a motorbike that he would drive to New Jersey on occasion.

Drawing of the Francis M. Drexel School | Source: The Public Schools of Philadelphia, 1897

Drawing of the Francis M. Drexel School | Source: “The Public Schools of Philadelphia: Historical, Biographical, Statistical” by John Trevor Custis. Burk & McFetridge Company, 1897

For Lindinger, the only painful part of living at the Southern Home was the stigma attached to it, which she learned at Drexel Elementary. All the girls from the orphanage were given the same style of haircut, branding them as orphans and separating them from their classmates. Once, a little blond girl from the neighborhood stole a dime that Lindinger found in the gutter on her walk to school. When Lindinger confronted her, the girl called out, “At least my own mother feeds me.” That moment, she says, is the first time she remembers ever feeling rage. “I tried to pull every one of her blond curls out of her head,” said Lindinger.

She never internalized the shame that some associated with living at Southern Home. Years later she tried to reach out to some former residents. She called one woman who denied ever living at the orphanage and hung up on her. Lindinger says that for some former residents the shame and stigma never dies.

Maypole Dance at Southern Home

Maypole Dance, 1948 | Photo: Alan Gudknecht, courtesy of Louise Lindinger

When I relayed this anecdote to Elliott, he seemed perplexed. “I don’t know why someone wouldn’t want to talk about it,” he said. “We were all like brothers and sisters.” When Elliott learned that some former residents came together for a reunion in 1985 he was heartbroken to have missed it. He has lived in Texas for decades, but says he would have been on the next flight to Philadelphia if it meant he could see and talk with his old friends from Southern Home.

Much of Broad Street would look the same to Lindinger and Elliott as it did when they lived at the orphanage—the long stretches of mansions set back along the wide sidewalks haven’t changed much. But their most beloved landmarks are gone. The church was demolished in 1955 and a low-slung post office stands in its place. The Savoia closed in 1965 and the building is now home to the Bethany Indonesian Church of God. Although Drexel Elementary was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, it was demolished in 2010 and will soon be replaced by the ReNewbold condominium development currently under construction.

The forthcoming Community Health and Literacy Center | Rendering: VSBA, LLC

At the opening of the new CHOP facility, memories of the Southern Home for Destitute Children are unlikely to be shared. We’re still not sure an orphanage could be a good place. In 1900, a county commissioner reported that the Southern Home building was “large and well suited to the needs of the institution, and is surrounded by an ample and beautiful playground.” Then again, the same report called the cells at Eastern State Penitentiary “light and airy” and the inmates at the Germantown Poorhouse as “unusually bright and happy.” Outside observers can see things in whatever light they choose. It’s not a simple matter to decide whether administrators of the orphanage did things well or poorly. Perhaps the people who don’t remember their time there fondly are less willing to tell their stories. Without romanticizing the past, though, it can’t hurt to remember the hundreds of Philadelphia children who lived between Southern Home’s long forgotten walls between 1891 and 1960. They played on a playground in the very location that children in South Philly will soon be occupying again. They were nursed through sickness at an infirmary on the same ground where a new healthcare center will care for 21st century kids. They read books and expanded their minds on the same patch of earth soon to be a new library.


About the Author

Sarah Kennedy lives and writes in Ithaca, New York. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Camden and a BA in Women's Studies from Harvard. She has, at other times, been a writing teacher, a lexicographer, a travel writer, a waitress, a bartender, a clothes peddler at Saks Fifth Avenue, and an amusement park ride operator.


  1. Louise says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you!

    1. Cynthia Winters says:


      Very nice history accout. My mother was there as well. Elizabeth Ann Vogel. She has passed away 1970. So I got to understand more of my mom through your article.
      Thank you

    2. Lyn Newman says:

      I was a resident at the age of 15 & 16. In 1966-67. It was a very horrible place with rats and roaches. Bugs in the food. Beatings by the staff. Nobody says anything about that!

  2. Louise says:

    It’s just wonderful, Sarah! Thank you! I read it with tears streaming down my face—happy tears, for all the memories I have of that old Victorian structure and my little brothers and sisters who lived there with me—-and tears of sadness, too, as I realize that every trace of my childhood is really, finally gone. At the same time, I am pleased to know that the location will be used to fill the needs of so many children now living in that neighborhood. And while I shed many tears knowing that an important part of my life is gone forever, I am filled with gratitude that you have shone a light on the story of The Southern Home for Destitute Children. It is hoped that—as a result of your article—those who pass by the new structure in coming years will know that, in a much earlier time, an imposing, ivy-covered mansion once stood there, and that it served to care for—and became a refuge for—many thousands of children who desperately needed the care they provided. God bless you—and thank you again.

    1. Valerie Martin says:

      Hello Louise,

      During a recent search, I was so surprised to find this picture of these three little girls on Mayday that I had looked at so many times growing up. I have an original of this picture in our family photographs. My Mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Dimes, is the girl on the left. She lived at the Southern Home from around 1945 to 1955. She was there with her two older Brothers, Carl and John.

      We heard many of the same stories through the years that you have told and with similar perspective. Although the circumstances were heartbreaking to hear, she always told me she was appreciative to have had the structure and protection of the home. Prior to my Uncle John passing, he took us there to the grounds and we walked to Drexel school which was still standing and boarded up at the time. They reminisced about the school days and the corner store where there was candy placed near the door. My Uncle went back years later and talked to the shop owner during which time he confessed to helping himself on more than one occasion. The gentleman reassured my Uncle that he and other kids weren’t taking anything that wasn’t put there intentionally for them.

      I always asked Mom who the girl was in the middle of the picture and she was unable to remember your name. Now I have shared with her that I found this article. It was nice to see the building and the room where they had the Christmas parties, those tall steps and the windows from where the Mummer Parades were watched. The stories told created those exact images of the actual place in my mind. It was really something to see them, especially the one of Mayday which is one that I cherish. I never imagined I would see that on a search of the internet.

      Many thanks to all who shared them for this publication. I hope you all continue to do well and I send regards from my Mom.

      Valerie Martin

      1. Agapito Vazquez says:

        My mother’s name was Marie and her old sister Betty Beisher was sent to Southern home around 1944 she was there for 10 yrs from age 7 to 17. She really never mentioned much only that it was hard. They did teach her many great skills and work ethics. There is another photo on here where the girls are playing around Maypole, I swear the blonde girl[on the left] in the back might be my mom as the girl looks just like my Granddaughter. my mom would be about 11 years old in 1948. My mom passed in 2019 and her sister in 2009. Thank you, for the great story. Brenda

  3. Jackie says:

    Loved the story …..

  4. Jackie says:

    Great story ….

  5. Jackie says:

    great story …..

    1. Bill Elliott says:

      enjoyed story very much brought back lots of memories tks. Bill Elliott

      1. Susan Spina says:

        Hi Bill, my mom is Grace Spina, maiden name Elliott. We believe she is your sister. The other day she was driving past the area where Southern home used to be and she told my youngest sister a story about her brother that she was remembering. My mom is 74 years old now so her memory is not as good as it used to be but she was crying because she said she never saw her brother or sisters again. She can remember all but one sister’s name Ruth, June, Edna, Barbara, born to parents Andrew and Ruth Elliott. We so hope you are her brother and we hope you guys would be able to see each other again. We hope you are well and hope to hear from you soon. My name is Susan Spina you can also find me on Facebook if you have any children who are Facebook savvy. Lord willing we will talk soon. Blessings to you

  6. Fred Allen Barfoot says:

    Great story about an institution that was my daily life for several years in the 1980s when Southern Home Services was at Broad and Packer. I worked there as an administrator, but my fondest memories were when children completed classes in rooms across from my office and came into my office for a piece of candy or fruit — always asking politely but excitedly. And a great joy — and a great chore — was the summers when one of the teachers and I volunteered after hours to cultivate a garden with some of the children. The kids who stuck with it were in awe when they harvested potatoes. Thank you for stirring my heart.

  7. Robert (Bob0 Barfield says:

    Was in Sothern Home from 1937 (age 3 ) till 1947 (age 10) with my brother John who was a year & a half older. We both live in Orlando ,FL. I am married with 4 sons and one daughter. Have been married 32 years (2nd marriage). Article brought back a lot of memories some bad, most good. Served 3 years Army in Korea, was a sergeant First Class at age 18 earned Silver Star, Bronze Star with “v” for valor, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachutist Badge and found out in 1995 that I was recommended for the “Medal of Honor” for my actions in 1953!! Was told by the Army my “Time Limits” had expired for the award. Was a Parachutist in the Army. I then served 4 years in the Navy and made one free fall parachute jump in the Navy as a 2nd Class Parachute Rigger. I retired as a letter from the US Postal service.
    Remembered the May Pole dances, Mummers Parades, Drexal School, Church, Savoy movie. Church has a big beautiful organ, It’s a shame it was tore down. Visited S Home while I was in the Navy in 1958 before it was demolished. One girl I knew was still working there. If any one
    knows me please contact me, email rnj187@ yahoo.com Bob Barfield

  8. PAMELA B DOLMAN says:

    I believe this is the home my mom, and her sisters were in. “The Daring Girls” if anyone remembers them. Millie, Ethel, Alice, and my mom Eleanor.
    She tells me many stories of this home. She says it was a blessing to have been there.
    They were there for many years, and went home to their mother and grandmothers home when they were teenagers.
    She has told me some wonderful, and heartbreaking stories of the home, but even still is thankful she lived there, and was treated very well.
    My Aunt Ethel has passed away many years ago, Aunt Millie is now in a nursing home. My mom, Eleanor and Aunt Alice are inseparable, they are together every day, and call each other all the time.
    If anyone remembers them, please contact me, happypammy3@gmail.com
    I’m trying to find pictures or anything from their past for them.
    Thank You,
    Pamela Dolman

  9. Jennifer says:

    This is the home my father was placed in after his parents divorced. His father left him and never came back for him, started a whole new family and had more children while my father remained there until he was 16 and ran away.

  10. Maggie says:

    My mother, now deceased, and her two brothers lived there after their parents divorced and her mother had to work. The years would have been 1930 until 1941. My mother told me they had to leave when they were 16 so she, her twin brother, and their older brother went to live with their Mother. My mother was reluctant to talk about her life there and both of her brothers were troubled and committed suicide when they were only in their 40’s. She did talk of the harsh treatment that her brother had when he wet the bed and was made to stand there and be ridiculed. Her memories were not fond ones. Their names were Harry, Robert, and Grace Hendrickson. Growing up, I never knew anyone else whose parents grew up in an orphanage so I appreciated the article to see that it was more commonplace in those days than I had thought. I was surprised that some people had good memories of growing up there despite the abuse that some children suffered for not following the rules.

  11. Donna says:

    Hi there – A few years ago, I found out through census records on Ancestry.com that my grandmother, then Edith Coxhead, lived at the home – it was the 1930 census, when she was nine, but I am not sure how many years before or after she was there. She also was, according to the 1940 census, at a farm school for girls. Anyone recall? I believe at the Southern Home, two of her siblings also appeared on the census – Mary Virginia and Edward Thomas. I will also email a few of you who have put your addresses here. Mine is donnatalarico@gmail.com.

  12. jennifer says:

    My mother Martha Hoene lived in the home from 1939-1948..she has nothing but fond memories…I wish a piece of it was there for me to see, or for her to see as it was the biggest part of her childhood..she often says she doesn’t know what would have become of her and her twin brother George without it.
    thank you for this article and the memories.

    1. Louise Lindinger (Gudknecht) says:

      My brother Bobby was best friends with your brother, George. I don’t remember Martha—she might have been older than I was. I was there from 1947 to 1951. Driving down the White Horse Pike, I would see “Hoene’s Gas Station.” I told my brother Bobby—he had a place in Brigantine and would ride by there. He said he was going to stop, but he never did. My brother Bobby died in 2016. I feel about the Southern Home as your mother did—I have mostly good memories, as recounted in the article.

  13. Renee Windon says:

    I was in the Ivy House home for children in the 1970s. Located in Bala Cynwood PA. I am looking for information on the place and am having no luck. Please, can anyone help me? Please?

  14. James Curtis says:

    I lived in the Home 1950 – 1960. My brother Harry, and sister patricia. We came to the home after our mother’s death, Feb. 5th, 1950. I will say, it was a place that taught me to respect of others. Yes, Drexel School, Vair Jr. High, Bok Vo Tech, and Southern High. I too remember Frankie Avalon, Fabin. Harry and Tom Summers, Bob Buffington, Jack bolti, Frank Ingram and his sister Helen. There were hard times, and times of joy. My sister Pat, took me from the Home, when she turn 19. I was in the Navy, Traveled the country. Lived in San Diego, Van Nuys, North Hollywood, San Francisco, Calf. Las Vegas, Nev. Now I live in Willow Grove, PA.

    1. Tom McCurdy says:

      To James Curtis:
      Out times in the home overlapped: I was there from 1952-1958 and brother Bob was there until 1960. If you want to talk about old times, my email is: landtmccurdy@gmail.com.

      Sarah: good article.

  15. James Curtis says:

    The Southern Home, Yes. There was a pool, monkey bars, sliding board. We played Baseball, Football, Basketball. A dog followed me on my way Home from School, and they let us keep her, WOW. I was allowed to collect papers, and tin from the neighborhood. I bought a bike from that money, and shared it others.
    I look back at that time, and say, YES, it was good. We had more freedom then most. I played a Violin, swam on the school swim team. Today, I LOVED THAT PLACE.

  16. Cara says:

    I enjoyed reading this. My nana, Helen Street (at the time) lived in this home. She has fond memories of it as well.

  17. Betty Foreman says:

    Bobby Foreman lived there in the early 1980’s. I would love to hear from Bob Superoious, can’t remember the spelling of his last name.

  18. Betty Foreman says:

    Oh my worker name was Joe Suprious, ,can’t remember the spelling of his last name well.

  19. Betty Foreman says:

    Thisbis Bobby Foreman. I like to know how cani get my records from Southern Homes or my school records ???

  20. Nicole says:

    Hello. Does anybody still frequent this page? I had 2 aunts and my mom at the Ivy house.

  21. George Lesher says:

    I found that my father was in this home from the 1920 census. His name was George Lesher. His older sister possibly could have been there too her name was Marion Philma Lesher. If anyone has any info it would be appreciated.

  22. Grace Sullivan( Detrick) says:

    I graduated from Drexel Universite in 1963 ( when it was still known as Drexel Institute of Tech.) I came across this website when I was doing some research about the University. I could not believe the names that I recognized in some of the comments here. My brother Harold and I were in the SH from 1947 – 1954.Harold got in touch with Jack Bolti on Facebook. Louise my mother gave me an article from the Philadelphia paper you wrote over 20yrs ago. I tried to locate at that time but no luck. I to have pictures of groups of children that Harold and I could not identify all. But Louise I think I have one of your brother Eddie, and also Jimmie Curtis . And I have pictures I think of Bette Dimes. Those of you that have left messages here, who were in SH between 47-54, please get in touch. I have lived in FL over 50yrs but make regular visits to the northeast. Would love to get together with anyone. groupspark101@aol.com

    1. Thomas McCurdy says:

      My brother and I were in the SH from 1952-1958 for me and 1952-1960 for Bob. The home basically provided a refuge from a bad home environment, etc. I am interested in contacting fellow residents who were there at the time. (Administrators were Archibald Cooper and a series of social workers/phychologists who took over when the Home became oriented toward children with mental issues.) By the way, it is John Bolte , not Bolti.
      Tom McCurdy

      1. Dennis Pedicone says:

        I lived there from 1964 to 1967
        It was horrible.

        1. Cheryl Wachter says:

          Thank you for the article. Gave some insight to my fathers and aunts childhood. My father George Whitney and his sisters Rita and Blanche were left at the orphanage in 1929 after the death of their father. They had an older sister Mary and a younger sister Emma that remained at home. My father was 4 when his mother left them and never came back. He was there until 1945 when he turned 16. He was adopted by an episcopal priest, father George Baldwin, when he was 16. My father took the last name Baldwin. I can not find anything on father Baldwin. My father tried to escape from the orphanage on a few occasions. He was caught and the punishment was cruel. I did find my aunt Rita. She is 98 years old and of good mind. Her memories were that kids there had more advantages than if they were not placed at the orphanage. If anyone knew my father, aunts or father Baldwin please send a response. Any information will be greatly appreciatd.

  23. Susan Law says:

    After many years of researching myorphan GF Charles Johnson Law(b1878, d1916age38)I just found a newspaper article from 1908 that he was in this home at age3 when his mother died.In the newspaper, He was searching for his 2 older bros.who had been put in other homes. Our family never knew ANY of these details as he was killed when my dad was just 2.would like to see ANY info from 1880-1900

  24. Alan Jay Holma, Sr says:

    I stayed at Southern Home around 1966-67 or 68. Can’t remember many names, however there was a left handed guy with whom I played baseball and a crush on a girl named Joette. It was at Broad & Packer at the time. Can any one remember anyone else? I’m a genealogist working on my autobiography.

  25. Alan Jay Holman, Sr says:

    Btw, I think the left handed guy was named Ronald. We had a friend nick named “Gook”. A very smart young man…

  26. l says:

    My grandmother grow-up there, before she went to live with a foster mother. She was there between the years 40 and 49.’She was African American

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