Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Edgewood Records
SFH 29  
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Related Archival Materials at Other Institutions
  • Related Archival Materials at San Francisco History Center
  • Processing Information
  • Organizational History
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Edgewood Records
    Date (inclusive): 1851-2014
    Identifier/Call Number: SFH 29
    Creator: Edgewood (San Francisco, Calif. : Orphanage)
    Physical Description: (30 Linear Feet)
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: Annual reports, board minutes, admission and discharge records, indenture and adoption files, correspondence, administrative and financial records, property and maintenance records, and photographs of children, staff, buildings, activities, and events for the San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum, which became Edgewood. The collection also includes a small amount of records from the San Francisco Nursery for Homeless Children that were acquired by Edgewood.
    Physical Location: The collection is stored offsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.


    The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Collections that are stored offsite should be requested 48 hours in advance.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Edgewood Records (SFH 29), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


    Gift; from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, Sept. 20, 2003. Second gift; from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, July 16, 2015.

    Related Archival Materials at Other Institutions

    Related archival materials at other institutions include: photographs of some of the early Managers at the California Historical Society; and photographs of early orphanages at the Society of California Pioneers.

    Related Archival Materials at San Francisco History Center

    Related files in the San Francisco History Center may be found in the San Francisco Ephemera Collection under "SF Buildings. Edgewood Orphanage." Some annual reports of San Francisco orphan societies are available in the San Francisco History Stacks, searchable in the library's online catalog.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Pennington Ahlstrand, with help from Barb Heddy, Stacia Fink and Mary Gentry. Completed May 2001. Second gift processed by Katherine Ets-Hokin in 2019.

    Organizational History

    Edgewood, currently known as Edgewood Center for Children and Families, was the first children's services agency in San Francisco. Founded by the San Francisco Orphan Asylum Society in 1851 as the San Francisco Orphan Asylum (SFOA), it has undergone many name changes and several alterations in mission and function over the years. In 1862, in order to distinguish it from other agencies then in existence, its name was changed to San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum (SFPOA). In 1944, encouraged by popular parlance of the children, the name was officially changed to Edgewood. Over the years, the institution evolved from being an orphanage to a home additionally serving children and adolescents with problem family situations; and in 1951, it became a residential treatment program for teenagers. In subsequent years outside of the scope of this collection, Edgewood has also provided day treatment, educational services, and services to children and adults with learning disabilities. It has occupied several sites and campuses throughout the city.
    San Francisco Orphan Asylum (SFOA) was founded in 1851 to help a group of siblings orphaned by cholera en route to San Francisco, probably from Australia. The Reverend Albert Williams and his wife hosted meetings in late January and early February of 1851 at the 1st Presbyterian Church. The ladies who attended the meetings agreed to found the San Francisco Orphan Asylum Society. Although the originating meetings were held at the Presbyterian Church, the orphanage was never affiliated with any specific denomination. ln 1854, the motto "Feed My Lambs" was adopted and incorporated into the official seal of the Society, which was used until 1920.
    The Board of Managers of the SFOA were all women until 1958, and the first elected Managers were Mrs. A. Williams, Mrs. S.H. Will(e)y, Mrs. Emily A. Warren, Mrs. Harriet Boring, Mrs. Elizabeth A. Waller, Mrs. C.V. Gillespie, Mrs. Dub(b)s, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. O.C. Wheeler. Many other women attended meetings and served on committees for the Society. For legal reasons, the Managers appointed three gentlemen to hold property in trust for the SFOA, and the first Trustees were Charles Gilman, Stephen Franklin and Daniel L. Ross. The first matron was Mrs. Wilson, and Dr. Coit was the on-call physician.
    On March 12, 1851, nine children moved into the orphanage's first home, a prefabricated cottage in Happy Valley. The cottage had been imported from Boston by Mr. W.D.M. Howard and the "family" lived there rent-free for three months. The children ranged in age from 3 to 12 years. Elizabeth Dodds, Agnes Dodds, Charles Dodds and Henry Bacon were siblings, as were Robert & Eliza Plumbridge and Margaret, Patrick & Agnes Ward. (Spelling of names varied from document to document.) More children were admitted to the orphanage within days as the Managers visited assigned areas of the City, inquiring about children in need of aid. Most of the children were not actually orphans. Many were half-orphans (one parent was deceased), and in later years, they were children of "broken homes" or other problem family situations. By 1852, there were 26 children in the orphanage and the family clearly needed a new, larger home, so they moved a short distance to a house owned by General Halleck in Pleasant Valley. General Halleck refused to accept rent for the use of the home.
    The Board of Managers heard about land in San Francisco that was available through public auction. For $100, they purchased property considered to be far beyond the City limits and basically in the middle of nowhere. Within a few years, the City grew up around the orphanage, which was located on a two-block lot bounded by Haight, Buchanan, Hermann and Laguna Streets. (In 2001, this site was occupied by the University of California Extension building and campus.) Legend has it that Haight and Waller Streets are named for Mrs. Haight and Mrs. Waller, both prominent San Franciscans who served on the SFOA Board of Managers for a time. The orphanage would be located on Haight Street from 1854 to 1919.
    The Managers funded the purchase of this property and the intial construction of the building by canvassing door-to-door throughout San Francisco, sometimes collecting up to $1000 per day. The Managers had to borrow $5000 at 10% interest to complete construction of the building. On March 22, 1854, the children moved from Pleasant Valley to the new building, "located near Mission Dolores." It was a two-story dormitory-style building built of stone quarried from the site of the old Mint and carted free of charge by the Spring Valley Water Company. In addition to the children, the residents included a matron (and sometimes her husband and children), a nurse and a teacher. As the number of residents grew, so too would the number of staff. The children were schooled at the orphanage from 1854 to 1897. Before and after this period, they attended local public schools.
    When the Society was first founded, the Managers raised awareness by placing an article in the Alta California and raised money for operating expenses by requesting donations from local Protestant churches, encouraging regular "subscription" donations and requesting board for half-orphans when the parent or friends of a child could afford it. An August 1852 meeting of the Managers reports a charity concert by Signora Biscaccianti, probably at the Jenny Lind Theatre. The Managers were very concerned with propriety and would refuse money raised in inappropriate ways, such as through the purchase of raffle tickets. As the reputation of the orphanage grew, community leaders and clergy from other areas (Nevada, Sacramento), would ask the Managers to admit children from their region. The Managers refused "without some appropriation being made for their support." Managers discontinued requesting money from San Francisco citizens, relying instead on government funding, in-kind donations and bequests.
    Finally, in 1855, SFOA received a grant of $5000 from the State of California to help with the expenses of the children, who were often wards of the State. In 1860, SFOA received another $6000 from the State, and this money was used to enlarge the building. In 1862, the SFOA re-incorporated and changed its name to San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum (SFPOA) to distinguish it from other children's agencies that were in existence. In 1861, SFPOA had received the title to a building and the lot on Montgomery between Jackson and Pacific Streets. The building had served as the Sansome Hook & Ladder Company, and the lot was owned by James Lick. The building and lot were sold to raise money, and the resulting funds were used to construct what became known as the "Sansome" wing of the orphanage in 1863.
    In 1865, the Managers noted that very few of the children living at SFPOA were actually from San Francisco. Because of this, the Managers continued their policy of not soliciting donations from the local populace and continued requesting funds from the State. While the Managers refused to actively request money from the people of San Francisco after the home on Haight Street was built, they did continue to accept "subscriptions" -- a regular annual donation -- and donations in many forms. Many of the names of people who contributed to SFPOA over the years are familiar still -- Levi Strauss, Eadweard Muybridge , H.H. Bancroft, Mrs. Stanford, Mrs. Crocker, Adolf Sutro, John McLaren, Bruce Porter, Spreckels, Milton Bradley, Mrs. Dean Witter, James Phelan, Gabriel Moulin, James Flood and Lillie H. Coit. The children who lived at SFPOA were fondly remembered by philanthropists and merchants alike. The children were given trips to the movies, circuses, the Mid-Winter Fair of 1893, the Pan-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, Mt. Tamalpais, Sutro Baths, the Chutes, a wide variety of concerts and other events. For decades, the children were allowed to ride the Muni streetcars and the merry-go-round at Golden Gate Park free of charge. By 1913, Mr. Scott Southwork came by once a week to give children rides in his motorcar.
    The Managers were heavily involved in the lives of the children. A Visiting Committee regularly inspected the orphanage building and occupants, observing the children's health, manners, clothing, cleanliness, lessons and the methods used by Matrons and teachers in handling the children. When necessary, the Managers themselves helped the Matron-- for example, by mending the children's clothes during their board meetings. And when Elizabeth Dodds (the first orphan admitted to the orphanage) left to learn the dressmaking trade, the Managers presented her with $50 to help her on her way.
    The Managers also decided which children to accept for admission to the orphanage. They investigated the habits and health of parents, whether living or dead. They thoroughly researched couples requesting to adopt children or take them for indenture, often checking references and asking neighbors about the applicant's character. Even after a child was sent for adoption or indenture, the Managers checked on the child once a year, ensuring that the child was receiving education, food, clothing and a generally appropriate upbringing. By 1867, new guardians had to sign a contract, specifying the terms of the indenture or adoption. Even when a parent returned to remove their own child from the orphanage, the Managers checked on the parent's financial situation and living accommodations to be sure that a child would be well-cared for. It was not unusual for children to be repeatedly admitted to the orphanage over the course of a few years.
    The number of children living at the orphanage on Haight Street grew from a couple dozen to 300 in later years. The children were divided by age and gender and lived dormitory-style in large rooms. Reports indicate that the Hayes Valley neighbors enjoyed having the children in the area, and the orphans socialized with the local children. After the children began attending the public schools in the late 1890s, it was not unusual for the neighborhood children to play in the orphanage garden with their friends. At the home, the children were allowed to have small garden plots, to keep a dog or cat, or sometimes tend chickens and other animals at the orphanage. The older boys learned the Sloyd method of woodworking skills and the girls learned cooking and sewing. Children were expected to do their homework, do chores as assigned, and some children took drawing, dancing or music lessons. During the Spanish-American War, the boys became fascinated with military practices and formed their own marching regiment with uniforms. The girls did calisthenics and made articles of clothing for needy people. One year the girls made and dressed several dozen "Chinese" dolls and donated them to the Red Cross.
    A diphtheria outbreak in 1902 necessitated a quarantine of the children for several months. Morale declined severely when the orphans were not allowed to see their school chums nor play with neighbor children. The Managers were very concerned about this and arranged a camping trip at Armstrong's Grove near Guerneville. They memorialized this summer outing as "Camp Alvord" when Mrs. Mary E. Alvord, then President of the Board of Managers, suddenly passed away. This was not the first time the children had been away from the City during the summer, but this "camp" was so successful that it was decided that the orphanage should make this an annual event. A bequest enabled the Managers to purchase land in Rancho EI Rio, near Alamo and Danville in Contra Costa County. The orphans attended "Camp Swain" (named for Ann T. Swain) from 1911 to 1946, when the property was sold. (Some of the original SFPOA camp structures are still standing on the land, which is now a park.)
    In the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, devastation was everywhere. Orphanages were no exception. Everyone escaped the building unharmed. (Some records and ledgers that were kept at Managers' homes were lost in the Fire; but the orphanage itself, being west of Van Ness, was not destroyed, and that is why this collection exists.) The building was damaged but repaired by November. In the meantime, the children lived for a few weeks in the State Normal School, located on the southern half of the orphanage property, which had just been leased to the State of Califorma. Later, the children were sent to Petaluma, where they reportedly lived in the stables near Kenilworth Pavilion at the county fairgrounds.
    In 1910, Mr. Ginn arranged a legacy to pay for boys to attend the Lick/Wilmerding vocational schools. Some fifty-five boys from SFPOA served in the military during World War I. The Managers tried to stay in touch with children who left the orphanage to make their way in the world. In poor economic times, they encouraged the former residents to return to the orphanage rather than suffer the embarrassment of bread lines, etc. Many alumni returned for Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday parties. Sometimes they had younger siblings who still lived at the orphanage and other times they were interested in mentoring or helping orphans themselves. By 1926, at least two former residents graduated from the local high school and went on to college--a boy to California College of Arts & Crafts and a girl to nursing school.
    By 1919, the orphanage building on Haight Street was no longer habitable. The repairs done after the Earthquake and the age of the building were conspiring to make the children homeless until the Managers negotiated a deal to rent the Maria Kip Orphanage until SFPOA could build a new facility. The Kip home was located at 7th Ave and Lake Street, near the Presidio. The Kip children went to an affiliated home while SFPOA occupied their building. After much deliberation, the Managers decided to sell the Haight Street property and build a new orphanage elsewhere in San Francisco. The Haight property was sold to the State of California, which had been leasing it since 1905. None of the Managers could bring themselves to attend the razing of the old Orphanage building.
    SFPOA ended up being in the Kip Orphanage for five years. It was a difficult time for the staff and administrators. The Kip home was much smaller and arranged differently, with a yard that did not allow for the gardens and play areas the children had had at the old home. Sloyd and sewing classes were halted for lack of space. The older children were allowed to go to thc YMCA and the YWCA for recreation. At this time they also started a Boy Scout Troop and a Girls' Friendly Society. There was a great deal of personnel turnover during these years, and the Managers were trying new procedures in managing the home, including having a Superintendent instead of a Matron. Many of the new procedures were due to the fact that the State of California, and the City and County of San Francisco began regulating social services agencies more heavily. Enormous amounts of documentation were required when applying for financial aid for any child, and SFPOA had 80-120 children in residence. Admissions often came from the San Francisco Juvenile Court. Reports and forms had to be completed and sent in regularly. Officials came to visit and inspect the orphanage and could withhold funds from agencies that were not adhering to new standards. The Managers also re-incorporated as the San Francisco Protestant Orphanage Society in 1920.
    As the Managers explored available real estate, they also researched the styles and methods of other orphanages. They visited the Pacific Hebrew Orphanage in San Francisco and a dozen other institutions in California. In 1923, the Managers negotiated the purchase of a 10-acre property on Vicente Street in the Parkside District of San Francisco (the property abuts what is now Stern Grove). They also decided that instead of building another dormitory-style institution, they would adopt the cottage system for SFPOA, similar to that of the Pacific Hebrew Orphanage. The cottage system was intended to better simulate family life for children who were separated by choice or chance from their parents and other family members.
    On the new campus, there were six cottages, an administration building and a laundry building. In 1951, a Recreation building would be added. Each cottage housed up to 20 children and a cottage mother. The rooms were big and airy. Each child had her or his own closet. There was a living room, kitchen and dining room in each cottage. The buildings were designed by Bliss & Faville, and constructed by Lindgren & Swinerton. John McLaren offered to move vegetation from the old orphanage site to the new campus. By the time the children moved into the new orphanage, the neighborhood was being settled. Streets had been graded, street lights installed, streetcar routes added to service that part of town, and some sidewalks had been installed. An oral history interview with a former resident revealed that the children actually walked to their new school on a boardwalk for a time.
    Great care was taken in deciding how to divide the children into the cottages. Most of the time siblings were housed together, but it was to the orphanage's benefit to segregate the older boys into a cottage of their own. The children were allowed to visit any cottage and play with any other children, and there was some friendly competition between cottages. The children continued to spend their summers at Camp Swain.
    The staff and teenagers of SFPOA noticed that some of the children were embarrassed about being called "orphans," either because of social stigma or because they did have parents--only about 6% of the children were actually orphans. For psychological benefit, the children of each cottage were invited to designate a name to replace the cottage's original number. Even seven decades later, the cottages are called Lane Hall, Dimond Cottage, Stow Hall, Halleck Hall, Pine Lodge, and Williams Cottage. As early as 1930, the children began calling their home "Edgewood," and in 1944 the name was officially changed. Sometimes the children referred to themselves as "P.O. kids."
    At Edgewood, life for the children was very similar to regular family life. Each child was expected to perform chores according to his or her abilities, they could do extra work to earn pocket money, they had bicycles and pets, they played basketball and baseball in the park with the neighborhood children. Edgewood children went to school, did homework, participated in scouting activities, went to dances, hosted parties in the gymnasium, exchanged gifts and took photographs of each other. Camp Swain was "self-governing" in that the children elected a "mayor" to be in charge of planned activitics throughout the summer.
    During the Depression, children stayed an average of 35 months at Edgewood. When other orphanages closed, some of those children were sent to Edgewood. Some children were admitted to Edgewood for the summer months only, so they never lived at the Vicente campus as the children were at Camp Swain for vacation.
    In 1948, a group of women got together and founded the Edgewood Auxiliary. Volunteer fundraising and assistance groups had been started at least twice before, circa 1883 and 1923, but these women were determined to make a profound difference in the lives of Edgewood children. In the first ten years, the Auxiliary took the children to the Ice Follies, threw bridal showers for young Edgewood brides, bought a school bus to facilitate transportation to and from special events, hired a tutor for children who needed help with schoolwork, decorated the recreation room, funded birthday parties for the children, paid for hot lunches, gave gifts to those children graduating from high school, and purchased flashlights for the children to have at Camp Swain, a television set, an encyclopedia and sports equipment. The Auxiliary made sure that Edgewood celebrated its centennial in 1951 with a great deal of media attention. The Auxiliary hosted annual fundraising events such as the Garden Fair and the Crystal Ball.
    In 1951, Edgewood officially changed from a child-care agency to a residential treatment program for emotionally-disturbed children, mostly teenagers. In 1964, the residential day treatment program was initiated, with a focus on younger children and their families. Edgewood programs continued to change and grow over the years. Other programs that Edgewood sponsored during this time were: the Edgewood Learning Center, an intensive assessment and treatment program for learning disabled children and adults;a day-treatment program, a fully-independent non-public school; the Primary Intervention Program in San Francisco public schools; a sub-acute unit that is a fully-accredited alternative to psychiatric hospitalization; a diagnostic shelter care program; Parents Helping Parents; Grandpatents Who Care; and Therapeutic Foster Care. For a time, Edgewood was open only to boys of a certain age (the age group changed several times), but was again coeducational by 1979. In 1980, the Lucinda Weeks Center merged with Edgewood. In 1998, Edgewood won the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award for its Kinship Support Network, which started in 1995. In 2001, Edgewood has three campuses: the original Vicente campus, the Kinship Support Network on Rhode Island Street near Pacific Bell Park, and the East Palo Alto campus.

    Scope and Contents

    The San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum (SFPOA) / Edgewood records contain listings of children admitted to and discharged; the minutes and annual reports created by the Board of Managers; photographs of children, staff, buildings, and events; and administrative records of the institution. Included are documents regarding all facets of management of institutional management, including personnel, taxes, construction and building repair, supply of foodstuffs and other goods, transportation of children and staff, entertainment, schooling, contact with parents and guardians, financial obligations, endowments, investments and legacies.
    Also included in the collection are records of the San Francisco Nursery for Homeless Children, San Francisco Female Hospital and San Francisco Foundling Home. Exact provenance of these items is unknown, but it is assumed that these homes sent their residents and records to SFPOA/Edgewood when they closed.


    The collection is divided into two record groups: Record Group 1: San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum/Edgewood; and Record Group 2: San Francisco Nursery for Homeless Children. Each record group is divided into series and subseries.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Adolescent psychotherapy -- Residential treatment -- California -- San Francisco.
    San Francisco (Calif.) -- Social conditions.
    Orphanages -- California -- San Francisco.
    Children -- Institutional care -- California -- San Francisco.
    San Francisco Nursery for Homeless Children
    San Francisco Orphan Asylum
    San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum