The St. Joseph Orphanage — 1891
by Paula Bosse
The new Oak Cliff orphanage, ca. 1891 (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
The St. Joseph orphanage was built in Oak Cliff in 1891 on 6-8 acres donated to the Catholic Diocese by Thomas Marsalis. The building was a large house, built and furnished with funds raised from local donations.
The house itself, consisting of two stories and a basement, is well finished throughout. Rooms are large and cool, the ceilings high and the entire building is capable of being made a model of comfort and elegance. A great many liberal donations have been received which have assisted largely in this work. (Dallas Morning News, July 16, 1891)
The orphanage was a Catholic institution — run at various times by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word — but it was “non-sectarian” in that the children or families in need were not required to be of the Catholic faith.
Some of these children have one parent living, others are without parents or friends or, deserted by worthless parents, have been abandoned to the cold charity of the world and find parents and friends in the self-sacrificing sisters of charity…. (DMN, Feb. 9, 1902)
In the late ‘teens or early ’20s, the Catholic Ladies’ Aid Society of Fort Worth began an annual tradition of hosting a party for the children at Forest Park in Fort Worth. The 1923 picnic entertained 300 children. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran a story about the event under the unfortunate headline “It’s Not So Bad To Be An Orphan After All.” (Click article for a much larger image.)
According to William L. McDonald in his book Dallas Rediscovered, “the orphanage was converted into a Carmelite convent and school in 1929 and demolished in 1945.” In December, 1930, the girls moved into their new (huge!) home in Oak Lawn (at Blackburn), in the old Dallas University building (later the Jesuit campus). The boys, I believe, moved to the Dunne Memorial Home. Here is a photo of the girls’ new home, which was taken over by Jesuit High School in 1941. (The impressive building originally built in 1906 was demolished in 1963.)
Dallas Morning News, April 29, 1891
Sources & Notes
Top photo from Dallas Rediscovered by William L. McDonald, is from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.
Photo titled “Children and Nuns, St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Dallas, Texas” was taken by Frank Rogers and is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University; more information can be found here.
Photo of the old Dallas University/University of Dallas/Trinity University is from the article “Jesuit High School” by Liz Conrad Goedecke, which appeared in the Fall, 2005 issue of Legacies.
Bottom photo of St. Joseph’s Orphanage is from a PDF titled “A Brief Visual History of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas,” here (p. 19).
More on the original St. Joseph orphanage can be found here (scroll down to the 1902 article, “Charities of Dallas”).
The original St. Joseph orphanage was at the southwest corner of West Page and South Adams, in Oak Cliff. See the 1922 Sanborn map, here. According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District website, the land is currently owned by the Dallas Housing Authority, which, as recently as 2014, had sought permission to build a new “home for the aged” on this property. The Bing Maps aerial view shows the Brooks Manor low-income housing project which had occupied this block for several decades before its recent demolition.
The Google Street view from Jan. 2016 shows an empty block.
The original building at the top is not to be confused with the later St. Joseph home for girls (or the earlier Virginia K. Johnson home for unwed mothers), which was also on West Page, but a couple of blocks to the east. More on that can be found here. (It was at the Page and Madison, seen on the 1922 Sanborn map, here.) (Perhaps this was the campus the St. Joseph school moved to when Jesuit took over the campus in Oak Lawn in 1941?)
All photos and articles are larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
The 1923 Star-Telegram story says the orphanage housed 300 children. How is that possible? The Frank Rogers photo taken around 1915 shows 95 children, if I counted correctly. The 1920 census shows 62 children: http://i.imgur.com/mvBwsdM.jpg
I can see why they had to move to the much larger building in Oak Lawn in 1926.
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My father and his sister were brought to the St. Joseph’s Home in 1893, when they were infants. His mother had died and his father, a rancher in New Mexico, had given them up or abandoned them, I don’t know which. They were brought to Dallas by a Priest from Wichita Falls, Tx. and left at the Home. He was never adopted, but his sister, Grace, was adopted by a family by the name of Fahey in Ft. Worth.
This would have been around the late 1890’s or so.
My dad eventually came of age and moved on, never being able to track down his sister or her family. He passed away back in 1961 and I’ve never been able to pick up the trail either.
I was brought to St Joseph in 1953 after my mother gave me up for adoption, shortly after my fathers parents came to Dallas from Texarkana and got me raised me . Never heard from my mother again,as my father had divorced her July 1952 and married another lady Nov.1952 before I was born. Also have 1/2 sister born September 1953.Search records and never found much information on Mary Lou Proulx /Illinois resident.
Trying to locate any records of 6 children named: Arthur, Michael, Marie, Rose, Edward, and George Castro, abandoned by Conrad Eugene Castro.
If you are trying to find information on the St Joseph’s home girls from the fifty’s thru the 70s you will find very little information. I’ve not been able to get any records on myself or my siblings during those times. I’ve done a lot of research with no end results. I hope you might find what you are looking for. Good luck
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I worked in child placement in Dallas County for 28 years and strongly recommend DNA being used to search for genetic relatives. It is very reliable and I have heard from many many adoptees who have been successful using such searching methods. You will find many extended family members first, unless you are very lucky. Be certain to register on the adoption registries in existence. Just google them as it is hard to keep up with them. The one by the state of Texas is the most critical.
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Thanks for this helpful advice, Bill.
Good Morning. Is there anyway I can obtain pictures from St.Joseph Orphange from 1945-1955. My mother in-law was in the Orphanage during those years. Any information will be a blessing to share .Thank you
I’m afraid I can’t offer any suggestions, but perhaps someone who sees your comment will be able to help. Good luck!