The House of the Good Shepherd was a charitable and reformatory institution on Reservoir Road in Burleith.
The House of the Good Shepherd, seen from Reservoir Road, circa 1898. The house at the left is Richard S. Cox’s “Burleith”, which had served as the National Colored Home during the Civil War. (Senate Report on Charities, 1898)
In 1883, Miss Anna Smith, a convert to Catholicism, donated her house on 9th Street to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for use in furtherance of the mission of that order. In 1884 the Sisters incorporated in the District of Columbia for the purpose “of affording a refuge to females who have had the misfortune to lead an evil life and who wish to abandon their vicious course and to reform their lives”. Proceeds of the sale of their first convent on 9th Street, supplemented by a grant from Congress, were used to buy a part of the Burleith tract, which had been subdivided in 1887. The cornerstone of the House of the Good Shepherd was placed in 1890.
“The House of the Good Shepherd has purchased from Allan Rutherford and J.S. Poole, trustees, and others, for $25,000, all of block 133 in Burleith addition to West Washington. The property is on the “New Cut Road,” or continuation of Eighth street, one square west of Fayette, and was formerly the residence of Richard S. Cox.” (“The House of the Good Shepherd”, Washington Post, November 28, 1888, p.6)
“There is also a large old residence on the land, which will be remodeled and used by the persons having charge of the institution.” (“The House of the Good Shepherd.––A New Building to be Erected Beyond West Washington”, Washington Post, February 17, 1889, p.3)
Plaque honoring the founder of the Washington House of the Good Shepherd, on the 4th floor.
The Order of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd had convents in many American cities, which generally housed three kinds of inmates: Penitents, who came of their own accord, or were consigned by parental or civil authorities; Preservates, children whose home conditions put them in danger of “falling into evil ways”; and Magdalens, who had arrived as Penitents and subsequently taken a vow to remain within in the convent, and devote their lives to work and prayer. In Washington generally only “penitents” were taken. They had to be white, and over 14. In some cases “unmanageable” girls were admitted as young as 10 or 12. At 18 they were free to leave.
Although the city’s Board of Children’s Guardians paid for the care of children it placed there, and the House of the Good Shepherd received modest support from Congress for several years, it resisted oversight. Newly arrived girls were given new names, ostensibly to help them forget their past, and spare their feelings, as well as those of their families. The Superintendent of Charities of the District of Columbia objected that this shielded potential abuses at the Home from scrutiny, and provided an easy way to make a child “disappear from public knowledge”, but the practice remained.
To enable the inmates to earn a living after they were discharged –– and in hopes of making the institution self-supporting –– the girls were taught needlework. In more recent times the girls learned to type, and by the 1930s greater attention was paid to classroom work.
From the beginning, the House of the Good Shepherd also operated a commercial laundry, the proceeds of which were its main support. In 1952, when the institution desired to add a five-story dormitory to its campus, this laundry was a sticking-point. The Burleith Citizens Association, which saw a correctional institution employing inmates in a commercial enterprise, objected to black smoke emitted from the laundry smoke stacks.
Over time the standards of child welfare placed less emphasis on residential care, and the House of the Good Shepherd in Washington––which had been for white girls––was consolidated with the one in Baltimore, which had at one time been for black girls. Ten women who had resided voluntarily in the House for years, and had no place to go, were accepted by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The school was phased out starting in 1966.
The House of the Good Shepherd was razed to make way for the Reservoir Road campus of the Washington International School, which opened in 1998.
Notes and Sources
For a time the House of the Good Shepherd operated as the white alternative to the District of Columbia’s Reform School for Girls (at the present site of Sibley Hospital) which opened in 1893, and initially admitted black girls only.
“Another building was completed by 1901, making it possible for the school to accept white girls, although very few were admitted. Most of the white girls were sent to Houses of the Good Shepherd, in either Washington or Baltimore.” “In 1912, Congress changed the name of the school to the National Training School for Girls (NTSG), and in the next few years the board increasingly agitated for a new site. The institution was badly crowded and situated on limited acreage, and the board was never comfortable having black girls and white girls in such close proximity. In 1923 Congress [authorized] purchase of a site at Muirkirk, in nearby Maryland; finally, in 1926, the girls (including seven from federal courts) were moved to the new campus where the 30 white girls and 115 black girls were housed in widely separated buildings.” “In the 1930s, the girls’ school closed; it was succeed by new juvenile facilities operated by the District of Columbia near Laurel, Maryland, a short distance from the former Muirkirk site.”
(Paul W. Keve, Prisons and the American Conscience: A History of U.S. Federal Corrections, 1991, p.88-9)
Report of the Superintendent of Charities of the District of Columbia, 1897, p.12
1898 Senate Report II, pp.161-3, 307
Winfield S. Montgomery, Fifty Years, National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, 1914 Library of Congress Rare Books
Hastings Hart, Child Welfare in the District of Columbia, 1924, pp.63-5
Kober, Development of Charitable and Reformatory Institutions in the DC, 1900-1926, 1927
Louis G.Weitzman, One Hundred Years of Catholic Charities in the District of Columbia, A Dissertation, Catholic University, 1931, pp.66-77
Georgetown Courier, August 17, 1867
Washington Star, August 9, 1913, p.3
Washington Post, August 9, 1913, p.1
“Zoning Board Gives Approval To Six Appeals––Decision on 4 Delayed, including Good Shepherd Laundry”, Washington Post, November 25, 1939, p.15
“Zoning Action On Laundry Is Delayed”, Washington Post, December 14, 1939, p.17
“Zoning Board Grants Request For House of Good Shepherd”, Washington Post, October 4, 1952, p.25
“Girl’s School Zone Permit Opposed”, Washington Post, September 24, 1952, p.24
“Zoning Board Grants Request For House of Good Shepherd”, Washington Post, October 4, 1952, p.25
“Incorrigibles” in the Press
Accounts of girls committed to, or escaping from, the House of the Good Shepherd, appeared in the press frequently in the early years of the 20th century.
Theresa Whalen, seventeen years old, was brought to this city yesterday by Officer P.M. Hubbard, of the police force of Atlanta, Ga., and was committed to the House of the Good Shepherd. The girl was one of six children committed to the Sheltering Arms, a charitable institution for children in Atlanta, several years ago, and as she grew older she became incorrigible. She could not be detained at the orphanage any longer, and was consequently committed to the local institution.
She was brought here under close guard, as she asserted before leaving that she would never be committed to the House of Good Shepherd alive. She is alleged to have attempted to swallow laudanum before leaving Atlanta. Officer Hubbard reported to the local police headquarters yesterday afternoon after escorting his prisoner to the House of the Good Shepherd.
(“Brought From Atlanta.––Girl Committed to House of Good Shepherd for Incorrigibility”, Washington Post, April 28, 1902, p.10)
“Florence Carey, a 16-year-old white girl, an inmate of the House of the Good Shepherd, committed to that institution December 22 by the juvenile court escaped in a partially clothed condition and bareheaded. The police all over the city are looking for her.” Marie Worthington, 16, was treated for injuries sustained in leaping from a window. Two other girls, Florence Walton, 16, and Edith Daly, 14, escaped at the same time by walking out of the front door during the commotion.
Edith Daly had been committed to the House of the Good Shepherd by her husband, whom she had threatened to leave. Mr. Daly charged that his fourteen-year-old wife was an incorrigible child, and Judge De Lacy of the juvenile court was hard put to disagree. Edith Daly used her time in the institution to plan the annulment of the marriage she had entered into two years earlier.
(“Police Hunt Fugitive Girl”, Washington Post, January 16, 1911, p.2; “Solves Wife Problem”, Washington Post, January 19, 1911, p.12; “Planned Escape Of Girls––Florence Carey Says She Is Leader at House of Good Shepherd.––Declares Five Inmates Were to have Left, but Three Refused––Tells Court She Soon Will Escape Again”, Washington Post, February 11, 1911, p.2; “Third Flight from Refuge House Vain––Florence Carey, In Hospital With Ankles Sprained, To Be Arraigned”, Washington Times, February 18, 1911, p, p.2; “Risks Life In Leap––Girl Jumps From Third-Story Window to Gain Liberty”, Washington Post, February 18, 1911, p.1;)
Recaptured, Carey escaped again. After her arrest she testified that five girls conspired to escape this time, but that only two did. After Carey vowed to escape from the House of the Good Shepherd as often as she was sent there, the judge threatened to send her to reform school, and Carey replied that she preferred that to the House of the Good Shepherd. Carey was as good as her word, and a third escape followed. She was now front-page news, and was described as an orphan with “very engaging features”!
The story of the resourceful runaway drew attention to a longstanding practice of the juvenile court. “Startled by the revelation, as a result of inquiries into Florence Carey’s case, that the Reform school, created many years ago by Congress for incorrigible girls, has been conducted in recent years for the exclusive benefit of negroes; that, in consequence, there is no proper school of that nature for white girls in the District, and that there are white girls now being unlawfully detained at several private institutions in the Capital, the Board of Trade probably will ask congress for an appropriation of $150,000 for the erection of a reform school to supply the want.”
The Board of Trade held that, by law, the juvenile court was only authorized to send incorrigible or delinquent girls to the reform school. “For years this was done, with both whites and blacks. In recent years, however, the number of colored girls to be cared for has grown so large that they have completely crowded out the whites. Since then the custom has been to send white girls to various private charitable institutions.”
Judge Delacey defended the policy on the grounds of custom and expediency. “It has long been the custom, both of the police court and the juvenile court, to send incorrigible girls to places other than the District of Columbia Reform School for Girls. I send them to the Florence Crittenton Mission, the House of Mercy, and the House of the Good Shepherd. Whether there is any legal authority for doing so is another question. It happens that all the girls at the Reform School are colored. Would it be better to send white girls there, and run the risk of a race issue, or send them elsewhere?”
Several prominent lawyers, “aroused by the third thrilling escape of Florence Carey”, prepared to investigate whether white girls were unlawfully detained in private institutions in the District of Columbia, and whether public money was being spent to support religious institutions. Personal liberty is endangered by non-governmental institutions, which are unaccountable to the public. “The sooner the practice of sending girls to them is stopped the better it will be for the young women of the Capital. The Florence Carey case is timely. There can be no excuse for further delay in correcting conditions. The idea of the District having a reform school for colored girls and no such institution for white girls is disgraceful.”
(“Girls Illegally Held––Florence Carey’s Case Leads to Inquiry Into Law”, Washington Post, February 22, 1911, p.12; “Would Free Girls––Business Men to War on the Houses of Detention.––Demand an Investigation––Decide at Meeting to Resort to Habeas Corpus Proceedings––Incorrigibles, They Assert, Are Held Without Legal Authority––Plight of Florence Carey, Who Thrice Escaped from House of Good Shepherd, Inspires Movement”, Washington Post, February 25, 1911, p.3; “Handling of Girl Delinquents”, Washington Post, February 26, 1911, p.E4; “Court Acts Assailed”, Washington Post, February 28, 1911, p.2)
Florence Carey had three younger siblings, of whom two were in the Industrial Home School, and one in foster care. Florence’s father asked the court for permission to establish a home for all his children, and Florence promised to “keep the house tidy, care for the little ones, and do the cooking”. “You just wait until we get fixed, and then come around and see if I can’t keep house. There is nothing I will not do to help out. Keep your eye on me and see if I can’t be good.” For the rest of the month the press pursued a heartwarming story.
The Woman’s Interdenominational Missionary Union had been looking into the matter as well. “We have gathered data from the House of the Good Shepherd, the House of Mercy, the Crittenton Home, the Girl’s Reform School, now devoted exclusively to colored girls; the Board of Charities, the Board of Children’s Guardians, and the records of the juvenile court. We found Catholic children in Protestant institutions, and protestant girls in catholic homes, where there were only one faith taught. We have been advised that the intention of Congress in providing for the Girl’s Reform School was that children of all beliefs should be corrected there. We will work to obtain separate religious classes in the new reform school. We want Protestant homes for Protestant children, and Catholic homes for Catholics. The need for a reformatory exclusively for white girls is apparent. The accommodation for them elsewhere, except at sectarian institutions, is limited.”
(“Florence Carey Free––Court Grants Her Permission To Manage Father’s Home––Promises To Do Housework––Parent Makes Pathetic Plea to Judge DeLacy––Young Woman Who Escaped From House Of Good Shepherd Says She Will Be Good and Care for Little Brothers and Sisters”, Washington Post, March 8, 1911, p.4; “Aids Florence Carey––Tot Contributes One Hen to Her Poultry Farm”, Washington Post, March 12, 1911, p.14; “Wanted––Chicken Doctor––Florence Carey’s Leghorn Hen Eats Mackerel and Is Ill”, Washington Post, March 13, 1911, p.14; “Florence Carey Finds Home––One Landlord Who Does Not Object to Number of Children”, Washington Post, March 20, 1911, p.3; “Ask Separate Homes––Women Would Change Correction of Incorrigible Girls––Want National Institution”, Washington Post, March 20, 1911, p.3)
Annie Braddock, 17, of 3010 Georgia Avenue, escaped from the House of the Good Shepherd with the aid of an outside confederate, and did not return home. “The suddenness with which the girl disappeared after scaling the wall about the home leads the police and the sisters to believe that the escape was carefully planned, and that someone was waiting in an automobile to hurry her away.”
Five months after her last brush with the law, Florence Carey, now seventeen, was arrested in Baltimore. As the House of the Good Shepherd declined to accept the three-time runaway, Florence’s father––who had sworn out the warrant against his daughter––asked that she again be placed under his protection, but was denied.
“Florence Carey, confirmed runaway, who has tormented the authorities of the House of the Good Shepherd, so that no Washington home for erring girls will take her in, yesterday was passed along by Juvenile Court Judge William DeLacy to John Cisco, agent for the board of children’s guardians. Mr. Cisco last night declared he could not send the girl to the House of the Good Shepherd, nor to any other home in the District. All refuse to receive her. He has authority to send her to the Reform School for Girls, but only negro girls are confined there.”
(“Girl In Daring Flight––Annie Braddock Scales House of Good Shepherd Wall––While Other Inmates Are at Play Little Prisoner, Sentenced as Incorrigible, Eludes Guards and Vanishes Suddenly––Police Can Find No Trace, So Suspect Outside Aid”, Washington Post, June 5, 1911, p.3; “Carey Girl Brought Back––Arrested in Baltimore, She Will Be Tried for Incorrigibility”, Washington Post, July 7, 1911, p.2; “Carey Girl Is Barred––Not Wanted in Home for Incorrigibles, Judge Hears––Arrested in Baltimore After Escapade, She Appears in Court With New Hat, and Questions Jurist’s Authority in Case––Father Relents, Asking Privilege of Taking Her Home”, Washington Post, July 8, 1911, p.14; “Carey Girl A Worry––Officials Cannot Decide What To Do With Her”, Washington Post, July 11, 1911, p.14; “May Send Girl Away––John Cisco Hopes a New York Institution Will Take Florence Carey”, Washington Post, July 12, 1911, p.5; “Must Keep Carey Girl”, Washington Post, July 15, 1911, p.5)
The editor of the Washington Bee, an African American daily, was unsympathetic to the court’s dilemma. “From the report of the daily press it is quite evident that this girl is a dangerous element in society, and yet we find the court and other institutions dealing with her as if she was a saint. Would the juvenile Court deal with a Negro girl as it has with Florence Carey? No! The Bee ventures the assertion that there is not a Negro girl in the reform School as bad as Florence Carey is. What right has the Juvenile Court to send colored female offenders to the Reform School and white female offenders to so-called homes?” (“What Does It Mean?”, Washington Bee, July 15, 1911, p.4)
Applications by the Board of Children’s Guardians to send Florence Carey to an institution in another state were rebuffed by those states, and declared illegal by the D.C. corporation counsel. Carey, having taken ill, was transferred from the house of detention to the Washington Asylum Hospital. John A. Cisco, of the Board of Children’s Guardians remained determined. “In time I will have Florence placed in a home where she will derive great benefit. I have hope of making her an obedient girl.” When an institution willing to take the troublesome minor was finally found, in an undisclosed jurisdiction, Florence Carey was secretly transferred. Aside from the complaints of Edward Carey, who could not learn his daughter’s whereabouts, no more was heard of the matter.
(“Will Not Take Carey Girl––New York Institution for Residents of the State Only”, Washington Post, July 26, 1911, p.14; “Girl ‘Spirited’ Away––Florence Carey’s Father Angry at Board of Guardians––Is Sent To Another City––Placed In Protestant Institution, Though She Is Catholic––Parent Is Not Allowed To See Her––Authorities Explain Move on Ground That Change Is Best for the Girl”, Washington Post, August 31, 1911, p.3)
“In an attempt to escape from the house of the Good Shepherd Early yesterday. Florence Cleland, 17 years old, was so badly hurt that she died last evening in Georgetown University Hospital. The girl had made a rope of bed sheets, and was trying to slide down to freedom, when she lost hold of the improvised rope and fell to the ground, a distance of 35 feet, the impact fracturing her skull.” (“Girl Dies In Escape––Florence Cleland Loses Grip on Bedclothes Rope”, Washington Post, August 9, 1913, p.1)
The House of the Good Shepherd was obliged to explain its practices in greater detail. “That the inmates are forced to do manual labor, such as working in the laundry, was not denied by the sister superior, who stated that the laundry attached to the House of the Good Shepherd was one of its principal means of support.” Citizens called for regular inspections of the conditions, as in other penal institutions used by the courts. (“Sought To Free Girl––Florence Cleland’s Stepfather Had Begun Action, He Says”, Washington Post, August 10, 1913, p.8; “Probe Of Home Urged––Girl’s Death at House of Good Shepherd Stirs Citizens”, Washington Post, August 11, 1913, p.3)
Others, armed with facts and figures, wrote in defense of an institution unselfishly devoted to “those who have fallen by the wayside”. In thirty years the home had provided for 1,038 women. There were currently 68 inmates, of whom 35 were “of age” and free to leave, but who preferred to remain. “The remaining 33 have been committed to the institution by legal authority––9 by the Board of Children’s Guardians, 2 by the police court, 18 by parents or guardians, and 4 women for deserting their children by the juvenile court.” The rule of the order prohibited physical punishment. Finally, Florence Cleland, committed to the sisters by the Board of Children’s Guardians, had previously escaped from the Industrial Home School. (“Defense of the House of Good Shepherd”, Washington Post, August 11, 1913, p.2)
As the House of the Good Shepherd denied the right of District authorities to investigate conditions, it was again asked in the press why the juvenile court had availed itself of a private and religious institution, and there was renewed agitation for a non-sectarian national training school for delinquent and incorrigible (white) girls. The Woman’s Interdenominational Missionary Union weighed in again as well, noting that on a visit of the House of the Good Shepherd two years earlier, where girls were observed “ironing, sorting linen, etc.” in the mangle plant, she learned “that the only lessons from books given any of the inmates was the catechism of the church”, even though a number of the girls were from Protestant families. Marguerite Du Pont Lee wrote to object to the fact that a white-robed sister always hovered nearby when a girl was interviewed. (“Urge Home For Girls––Welfare Workers Say District Should Own Institution”, Washington Post, August 12, 1913, p.2; “Urges Inquiry of Home––Mrs. Culbertson Would Send Women to Examine House of Good Shepherd”, Washington Post, August 13, 1913, p.7; “Wants Home Investigated”, Washington Post, August 20, 1913, p.12)
When the attention of the Washington Post drifted to other matters, Thomas E. Watson, a rabble-rousing polemicist––and future United States senator from Georgia––informed his followers that this editorial silence was the result of a threatened boycott of the Post by Catholics, intent on suppressing the truth.
“The Catholics of Washington City are raising three million dollars to build a “shrine” in that godly town — the town where the little Protestant girl, Florence Cleland, was virtually murdered because of her faith. The Romanists had kidnapped and imprisoned that little girl, and she was made so desperate by her captivity and her brutal treatment, that she risked and lost her life in the endeavor to safely leap from a third-story window. For a time, the Protestants demanded an investigation, but “Monsignor” William Russell, and other Washington priests roared so indignantly against it, that the Protestants, as usual, backed down.” “The Washington Post was threatened with ruin, because of a headline which alluded to little Florence Cleland as a martyr to her faith. The insolent “Monsignor” William Russell, who is bound to the Italian pope by an act of treason, preached against the Post, and hand-bills were scattered at the Catholic Church doors, urging a boycott of the paper that had dared to tell the truth about the virtual murder by the Catholics of that Protestant girl. To illegally hold her in jail and force her to kill herself in the wild effort to escape, was murder, in the sight of God. Florence Cleland was a martyr to her faith. But because the Post said so, this insolent traitor, Russell, inaugurated a crusade to kill the paper.”
(Thomas Edward Watson, Watson’s Magazine, Volume 20, December 1914, p.342)
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