Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Scott R Nelson

Committee Member

Melvin P Ely

Committee Member

Frederick Corney

Committee Member

Catherine A Jones


No research has been done on institutions created for African American orphans in the South after the Civil War, leaving a significant gap in the literature surrounding not only the nature and operation of these institutions but also how they reflected the various conceptions of the New South that competed for acceptance during Reconstruction and beyond. How individuals and organizations, particularly religious organizations, imagined the “problem” of the black orphan and the nature of a society that failed to deal with it affected the “solutions” they devised in the form of orphan asylums. Four case studies of orphanages in Virginia, operated by individuals from four different Christian denominations in different periods following the Civil War, provide insight into the changing visions of the New South over approximately fifty years. These visions in turn affected the operational values of each institution and the factors which ultimately led to their success or failure. Chapter 1 examines the Friends’ Asylum for Colored Orphans in Richmond, a Quaker orphanage begun during Reconstruction and which saw the African American orphan as emblematic of the hope and opportunity available post- emancipation. This motivated the inclusion of and eventual transfer to African American leadership, which enabled the institution to continue into the mid- twentieth century. Chapter 2 looks at the Lynchburg Colored Orphan Asylum and Industrial School, an institution founded by an Episcopalian minister during the violent reactionary period of the 1890s; his imagined orphan was dangerous, suggestible, and representative of an out-of-control society. His goal was to raise a tractable generation of African American children to restore white superiority which precluded any African American involvement in the project; this, combined with personal failings, resulted in the closure of the orphanage within a decade. Chapter 3 inspects the St. Francis Colored Foundling and Orphan Asylum and its later iteration Holy Innocents’ Asylum, Catholic foundling orphanages in Richmond also started in the 1890s. These saw African American orphans as little more than potential converts, a view somewhere between the hope and control models of the previous two institutions, and this white, foreign-led institution lasted just over twenty years. Chapter 4 analyzes the Weaver Orphan Home, a Hampton orphanage operated by a black Baptist family during the height of Jim Crow segregation. Their early adoption of a family-based model of child welfare, centered on promoting the dignity and personhood of the child, was hugely successful and enabled them to operate for over half a century.



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