31 December 2020

The Rescue Home for Unmarried Pregnant Women

Children in early perambulator, ca 1890s. From UDSH.
In the 1890s a home for unmarried pregnant women was founded in downtown SLC.
The Rescue Home was established in SLC in March 1892 as “a place of refuge and assistance to friendless, destitute and fallen women…[and] to offer an avenue of escape from their life of shame.”

It was run by several prominent women including Cornelia Paddock (an anti-polygamist and novelist), Anna Plummer (schoolteacher), Dr. Ellen B. Ferguson (Mormon convert and suffragist), and others. Similar homes had been established in other cities in the US.

The first location in SLC was opened in Feb 1893 at 517 S 500 East, which was the home of Dr. Helen Ritchie who also served as the first matron. The house was a one-story frame structure which burned down in Nov 1893 and has been replaced by a still standing historic apartment building.

The Rescue Home was originally intended as a voluntary private rehabilitation home for both female prostitutes and unmarried pregnant women of all backgrounds, class, color, and conditions.

By 1899 it had morphed into an institute partially funded by the SLC Council (paid by the fines of prostitutes) and used by the SLC Police and Courts as a quasi-penal institution for runaway girls and prostitutes.

The Rescue Home taught employable skills such as sewing and housekeeping and provided free medical care for their residents. The residents were required to relinquish their past and strive for matrimony, or at least domestic service.

Some women found the home to be helpful and found jobs and husbands. Not all women found the life offered by the Rescue Home to be appealing.

A woman who gave her name as Sally Walters was arrested for prostitution in Feb 1896 and was given the choice of paying a $10 fine (~$300 today), jail time, or going to the Rescue Home. She told the judge that she was not interested in marriage and could not raise her child on the wages paid for “honest work” as provided by the Rescue Home. As she could not pay the fine, she was taken to jail.

Sources: Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power by Jeffrey Nichols; SL Trib 1893-03-29; SL Herald 1896-02-08; SL Herald 1899-01-22

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