Friday, 12 August 2011

The Nursery

This is a series of posts about Owatonna State School Museum (starting here), within a series of posts about our three week holiday in the US in June, which starts here.

When we first arrived at the State School Museum, I was pretty emotional.  I snapped pictures of everything, most of which didn't come out well because things were in glass cabinets.  It's not a big place, the museum itself, as the building now also serves as office space for other government departments.  Once I'd been all the way through the three corridors of photos and mementoes I realised I wouldn't find anything there that was specific to my Dad.  I knew he was there for a relatively short period of time, having been born in April 1918 and adopted in January 1920. 

Then I started getting interested in the place for its historical aspect and also to try to understand what it would have been like for those who grew up or who worked there.  I needed some detachment to get through the visit and not just because my Dad was there at some point. 

The Nursery was built in 1912 to care for children under three years of age.  It was demolished in 1970. 

"Upon arrival in the nursery, the small child was placed in total isolation for three weeks, during which time a physical, various tests, and immunization shots were given.

The goal was to place the small child out for adoption as quickly as possible.  This often did not happen.  As a result, the small child's early mental development was greatly hindered."

Excerpt from the head nurse in the 1937-1938 Biennial Report:

"It is my belief the addition of nursery school facilities, ie a trained nursery school teacher and the small amount of standard equipment necessary, would aid greatly in fostering the more rapid development of these borderline children.  It is not possible at the present to devote any appreciate amount of time to individual training expect in the physical sphere."

My question is, if the nursery was built in 1912, what were they doing with the babies up to 1937?  In the absence of trained staff and equipment it must have just been a big warehouse.

"As farmers, my husband came in one day and said, 'You know, I would like to adopt a little boy.'  I said, 'Fine, and I'd like to adopt a little girls, too.'  We went to Owatonna and a matron took me to a large room with baby girls lined up around the walls.  The matron said, 'You can pick any baby you want.'  I said, I couldn't look at all those babies.  I took the first one I came to...and I got a good one."

Although today children are placed in foster care, in individual homes, their futures are still blighted compared with children brought up in 'forever families'.   


Terri said...

this is so terribly sad...

Shelley said...

Terri - It is sad and yet it is not. As I said, it was quite an emotional experience for me to visit this place, but I couldn't help remember that people in the world still starve to death and die of exposure and preventable diseases. These buildings and grounds were grand and beautiful and there will have been food on the table. The deprivations were mainly emotional; bad enough, but there were so much worse alternatives for these children. It was a positive place as well, because it kept them alive long enough to find their own futures.

Rick Stone said...

After the war, The War of Northern Agression (1861-1865); The Great War (WWI); and even WWII, the were many children left as orphans. Warehousing them was maybe not the best answer but was still probably better than life on the streets, on their own, whould have been.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shelley,
I can imagine what mixed feeling you had on this part of the trip. It brings tears to my eyes, especially for the children,and there were many, who did not find loving homes, some staying here right through childhood. Also those who came with siblings only to be split up and lose contact.It is hard to think that as a little bub your Dad was here but so wonderful that such good people chose him. Certainly makes you appreciate your lovely grandparents even more if possible.