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Catherine Fay Ewing

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Catherine Fay Ewing

Article by Henry Robert Burke

The Honorable S.S. Knowles, a Senator from Washington County, Ohio, prepared the law for funding of Children’s Homes. The Children’s Home Law was passed by the Legislature of Ohio in 1866 and amended in 1867. The Children’s Home Law empowered County Commissioners to provide a means of taxation to purchase and maintain property for Children’s Homes in the State of Ohio. Children under the age of 16, who were abandoned, orphaned, or whose parents were unable to provide for them were placed under the care of the Children’s Home.

Credit for starting the Children's Home System in Ohio belongs to a wonderful lady named Mrs. Catherine Fay Ewing, of Marietta, Ohio. Catherine Fay was born on July 18, 1822, the daughter of a farmer and educator in Westboro, Massachusetts. In 1833 she came to Marietta with her father who had secured a job with the struggling Muskingum Academy, (soon after became Marietta College). At age 16, Catherine Fay attended Marietta College and became a teacher. After teaching in Marietta for a short time, she left Marietta and traveled west to Oklahoma to teach at a mission school for Choctaw Indians. For board and a salary of $100.00 per year, she remained at that position for ten years.

Catherine stated that in the fall of 1853, while laboring as a missionary among the Choctaw Indians, a physician called upon her and asked her to visit a poor family where the mother, a New England woman of culture and refinement, had died leaving five small children. Their drunken father had deserted them and the physician wished for Catherine Fay to adopt a beautiful little girl who was two years old. Catherine very much wanted to adopt the little girl but she was but a poor teacher hundreds of miles from home, and it seemed impracticable. Subsequently the little girl was taken in by a man and his wife who sold whisky to the Indians. One day there was a drunken fight, and the child was thrown down the steps of the house and killed. This tragedy affected Catherine Fay so deeply that she determined to secure a home of her own where she could care for homeless children. From that time every dollar she could possibly spare was laid away and directed toward that purpose.

She left the West and taught a few years in Kentucky before returning home to Marietta in1857 where she purchased 12 acres of land about ten miles east of Marietta at Moss Run. On April 1st, 1858, she moved with nine orphaned children, all of them under ten years of age, into a small two room house on the land. The first few weeks were very difficult. When she took five of her children to the district school, sixteen men barred their entry. They told her she could not send her little paupers to school with their children. She promptly went to Marietta where she petitioned the Washington County Court to gain legal guardianship for the children. She won the lawsuit and obtained permission to send the children to school, but still the children were taunted and ill treated.

Catherine Fay returned to the county infirmary and found more children who were constantly in association with older, vile characters. At this time fortune smiled on Miss Fay’s venture and she received two inheritances from an uncle and aunt. With these funds and credit extended by a contractor, Catherine built a twenty room structure at a cost of $2000.00. During the next five years she invested over $4000.00 on the property, and she paid every debt!

Due to the Civil War, many soldiers' orphaned children were added to the number in her care. At one time she had 35, and she felt strongly that these war orphans deserved better than their country was providing. Catherine was determined to separate orphaned children in name and in fact from the status of the poorhouse. She advocated a distinct appropriation by the government to pay for the care of orphans. In 1864 she conferred with county commissioners about the expediency of applying to the legislature to bring this change about. A bill was presented that year, but failed. In 1865 it was again presented and rejected, but in 1866 it became an Ohio law!

In 1867 a 100 acre farm was purchased for $18,000 by the Washington County Commissioners near Marietta, (present day corner of Muskingum and Colegate Drive). Meanwhile Catherine Fay had married Mr. Archibald Ewing, a farmer. The position of superintendent was offered to Mrs. Ewing, but a man other than her husband was hired to manage the farm. Her reply was simply: “When you leave my husband out, you leave me out.” On the 1st Day of April 1868, for the last time Catherine Fay Ewing furnished all her children with flannel garments and bedding. Amid tears and hugs Mrs. Catherine Fay Ewing severed her connection with the children she had cared for as lovingly as they move to their new home.

The plan, which Catherine at first had thought of only as a relief to her own Children's Home, became the means for establishing Children’s Homes all around Ohio and the Ohio Children’s Home Law became the model that was eventually enacted throughout the United States! During 2003 Ohio’s Bicentennial, Catherine Fay Ewing was honored by the American Association of University Women. Today Ewing School, named in honor of Catharine Faye Ewing, stands at the site of the former Children’s Home in the Washington County Complex on the corner of Colegate and Muskingum Drive in Marietta, Ohio.

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