May 4, 1896: Children’s Home Society of West Virginia Founded in Charleston

May 4, 2017

Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On May 4, 1896, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia was founded in Charleston. The Society was part of a national movement to place orphaned and neglected children with caring families, rather than crowding them into county poorhouses, where children often lived in squalor, with conditions resembling a Dickens novel.

The Society’s original goal was to place children temporarily with foster families until they could be adopted. However, the small staff was soon overwhelmed with more children than they could find homes for. As a result, a house was purchased in Charleston for use as a shelter. The Davis Child Shelter, which opened in 1900, was named for the Society’s chief benefactor, politician and industrialist Henry Gassaway Davis. The Davis Child Shelter was the Society’s most identifiable institution for 60 years.

The Society eventually branched out statewide, operating facilities in Charleston, Morgantown, Northfork, Romney, Martinsburg, Beckley, Huntington, Parkersburg, Lewisburg, Logan, and Summersville. Today, the Children’s Home Society is our state’s largest child-service organization. In addition to adoptions, it also works to reduce child abuse and neglect and provides community- and home-based protective services.