Before 1915, there was no government aid available for unmarried mothers. Births at that time brought serious economic hardship and community disapproval to the birthmothers. Because of this, pregnancies to unmarried mothers were rare (about four percent). The only provision for young women was maternity homes run by private networks.
These homes existed in numerous locations around the country. They shielded mothers during their pregnancies and “after their confinement,” as it was referred to in those days. They provided nutritional and medical services that encouraged healthy deliveries and helped women prepare for parenting or adoption. They sought to ensure that, through moral and religious teaching, an unmarried mother did not bear further children out of wedlock. The average stay was twenty months, with about 60% of the mothers choosing to place their children in adoption.
The National Conference of Charities and Corrections argued in 1912 that, by giving maternity homes financial aid, the government was undertaking “a very dangerous experiment to try to solve social problems by merely giving money.” However, most of the maternity homes that existed prior to World War II were squeezed out of existence by the vast growth of Welfare. During this time, maternity homes were victims of a tragic error in social policy.
In the beginning stages of the housing ministry, maternity homes were primarily run by women, often nuns. In the early 1970’s, the model changed to a family structure, with a “house father” and “house mother.” House of His Creation, the maternity home founded by Jim and Anne Pierson, pioneered this structure.
Within a few years of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court Decision of 1973, many maternity homes had closed. Almost all homes established since then have been under the backing of the Christian pro-life movement. As the pregnancy centers multiplied across the country, the door was opened for more maternity homes to make a difference. As lives were saved by the pregnancy centers, they would be referred to a maternity home for long-term care.
In 1995, physicians Robert and Elaine Yodern of the University of Connecticut Health Center painstakingly surveyed 215 different social service agencies, WIC offices, and known maternity homes nationwide. The following information was published in Adolescent Pediatric Gynecology.
- Homes were found in urban, sub-urban, and rural settings
- 59% functioned as part of a larger organization (the Catholic Church, Salvation Army, etc.)
- Many homes included staff members motivated by religious commitment, and generally the day to day care was in the hands of loving, caring, and dedicated individuals
- 89% relied on private donations
- Executive Directors struggled each year to find funding
- The median number of beds available was eight