Where are the records for the Willows Maternity Home?

Willows Maternity Home

When the Willows Maternity Sanitarium closed in 1969, after 64 years of providing a haven and help for "unfortunate" girls and adoption services for their newborns, "the records were piled in the backyard and burned." This statement, published in The Kansas City Star, June 22, 1975, was repeated again in 1982 by Mrs. Sam Ray about the Willows in the historical article that accompanied the postcard in her column "Postcards from Old Kansas City" in The Kansas City Star.

The Willows, known as the "Ritz or Waldorf" of homes for unwed mothers, was not the only maternity home in the city. Others included St. Vincent’s Hospital, Eastside Maternity Hospital (changing its name in 1936 to Kansas City Cradle), Florence Crittenton Home, and the Fairmount Maternity Hospital.

Its central location in the United States with easy access by railroad contributed to Kansas City becoming "the baby hub of the United States." The back page of a Willows pamphlet called Interesting Willows' Statistics (1921) features a map of railroad lines across the United States all leading into Kansas City. The caption reads, "A glance at a railroad map of the United States will show the splendid position of Kansas City for the care of unfortunate young women. Its easy access from all directions, excellent train service and central location gives it the pre-eminent position in the country for its work."

At the Willows alone, it is estimated that, over its 64-year existence, 25,000 to 35,000 babies were adopted, lending credence to the observation in 1991 by Kate Burke, president of the American Adoption Congress in Washington, that indeed, Kansas City was "the baby hub of the United States."

A small collection of items pertaining to the Willows, saved by former nurse Florence Beal Bolte, was donated to Missouri Valley Special Collections at the end of 2016. The finding aid for the collection is available online. For additional information, search the Local History Index.

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Sherrie Kline Smith

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