A Brief History of the Children's Home Society of Florida





Cover of Children's Home Society of Florida Yearly Report, 1938
 

Any child who was adopted in the state of Florida in the twentieth century likely had a connection to the CHSFL.  While the state organization was created to serve the poor, neglected, and abandoned children in Florida, the society became the leading advocate for child rights in the nation.  Few know of the remarkable advances this society made for children in addition to the stories of many thousands of children who were placed with loving families.  The society was the only recognized organization to handle adoptions in the state of Florida before the Department of Children and Families took over in the early 1970s.  Without these documents, one might never have had the chance to fully know the many achievements of the CHSFL.

 In 1902 the CHSFL was started in Jacksonville, Florida as a response to the growing number of abandoned and destitute children in the state of Florida.  A small group of wealthy community members organized the society from their homes, raising money and collecting supplies to aid in the care of orphan children.  Two of these supporters, Mr. and Mrs. Elwes, offered their residence as the first home for the society’s children.  The society called this house a ‘receiving home’ since this was the place where children were received into the society’s care and lived until a proper home could be found.  The CHSFL mission was unusual for its time; the society strived to keep families together rather than take children from their homes.  Only if a child’s life or health was in danger would the CHSFL take action.  If a family was placing children for adoption because of financial constraints, the CHSFL would work with the parents in order to keep the family together.  The goal of the CHSFL was not just to place an orphan with parents, but to strengthen the well-being of the child through the care and support of the family.

Most organizations revere their founders and first administrators as ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’.  The CHSFL points its achievements, awards, and survival to its third state superintendent, Marcus C. “Daddy” Fagg.  Fagg was the CHSFL state superintendent from 1910-1951.  It was because of Fagg’s financial savvy that the society not only pulled itself from severe debt but raised large sums of money for Florida’s children and families.  Laws and child rights legislation were a big part of Fagg’s legacy.  He participated in the White House Conference on Child Welfare at the request of the American Child Welfare Association and President Herbert Hoover in 1938.  Fagg was an active contributor to the writing and editing of several state and national child welfare laws including the Child Labor Law, the Compulsory Education Law, and the Wife Desertion Law, among others.  Fagg was also responsible for helping to start the first Florida state run public welfare organization, the Florida State Board of Welfare, and serving as its first president.   Additionally, while Fagg was raising money and advocating on the behalf of Florida’s children, he also personally cared for the children at the Jacksonville receiving home, helping children to find homes.  Fagg’s compassion towards children and families helped earn him the moniker ‘Daddy Fagg’,  which he carried with him well past his death in 1958.  It was through the work of Daddy Fagg that the CHSFL could flourish and remain in operation to the current day.

The CHSFL celebrated one hundred years of service to Florida in 2002, donating its papers a year later to the University of Central Florida Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.  During the anniversary, the society moved its headquarters from Jacksonville to Winter Park, and uncovered several boxes of historic organizational records.  The society knew that these records were important and in need of preservation, but did not have the personnel or a proper storage facility in which to house them.  The materials included paper records, scrapbooks, film reels, and photographs among other items.  Through the efforts of the Carla Summers, head of the UCF Special Collections and University Archives, and Elizabeth Konzak, University Archivist, the UCF Special Collections and University Archives became the home for the current and future archival records of the CHSFL. Records generated by the society in the future will be accessioned by the UCF Special Collections and University Archives, thus providing preservation for important records early and keeping the society’s operational history consistent and intact.  By making the UCF Special Collections and University Archives the sole repository for its papers, the CHSFL can take comfort in knowing that its records are being preserved for many decades to come. Researchers can now use this collection to rediscover a society that did so much for the children of the state of Florida as well as the nation.

The collection was processed in late 2006 by UCF graduate student April Karlene Anderson as part of her thesis project to complete her degree requirements for a Master of Art in Public History.  An accompanying thesis and this website were also part of the project.  For further information regarding the collection or the project, please contact the UCF Archives through the links provided on this website.

   

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