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Florence Crittenton died of scarlet fever at the tender age of four. The year was 1882 and her father, Charles Crittenton, was wracked with grief at the loss of his youngest child. Being a successful business man and self-made millionaire did not help protect his family from disease we can easily treat today.
Although raised in the Episcopalian faith, Charles was not a particularly religious man. However, in his grief, his attention was captured by a street preacher, Smith Allen, preaching to “wayward women” on the streets of New York.
As he sought an outlet for his feelings of loss, Charles Crittenton’s attention was captured by the plight of these women and their children.Ever the practical man, Crittenton felt that, preach as you may, providing practical solutions to these women would also impact their lives, and possibly save their young children from a similar fate.
A pioneer and social entrepreneur well ahead of his time, he dedicated his energy and his finances toward the “betterment of this needy class.” This “needy class” consisted of girls and women being exploited for sex, escaping violent relationships, single mothers, homeless/abandoned girls, immigrant women who came to this country with no one there to meet them and all girls and women forced into “unsavory” circumstances.
Galvanized to action, Crittenton purchased a home on Bleecker Street in New York City, opening the Florence Crittenton Night Mission in 1883. Providing a safe haven for young women, the Crittenton Mission was so successful that Crittenton was approached by other cities to help them recreate the Crittenton Mission in their area. Long before the term “evidence-based practice” was coined, Charles Crittenton and co-founder Dr. Kate Waller Barrett began a movement founded on humanitarianism to reproduce a successful Crittenton program city by city. The name “Crittenton” would only be used if the Mission was reproduced in its entirety – now the hallmark of “fidelity” to a proven model.
City by city, traveling by railroad car called the “Good News” car, Charles Crittenton and Smith Allen would assemble people of faith and communities of purpose to recreate the Florence Crittenton Mission.
For the next decade, Crittenton and Allen spread the word literally from coast to coast, opening more than a dozen homes from Baltimore to San Francisco. This effort was so successful that the “Crittenton movement” as it came to be called was recognized by congressional charter under President McKinley.
That charter is renewed every 25 years by the seated President. Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush have all contributed to our rich history by the charter’s recognition and renewal.
In the ensuing decades, the National Association of Florence Crittenton Agencies was formed to carry on the legacy of Charles Crittenton. At its peak, the Association claimed 65 domestic and a dozen international Florence Crittenton Homes. For a time, this association was operated under the Child Welfare League of America’s banner. In recent years, an affiliation of agencies with a historical connection to the Crittenton movement have been reconnected and rebranded as The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF). Now located in Portland, Oregon, TNCF has been active at the policy level in Washington D.C. and strives to bring attention to the plight of girls and young women and to restore national recognition to the Crittenton name.
Our own story continues from the opening of the Florence Crittenton Home in Los Angeles in 1892 (now closed). Studies conducted by the Orange County Grand Jury in the early 1960’s documented a need for a variety of social services program for the county’s growing population. Judge Carl Davis called together a meeting of stakeholders to solicit support for developing, among other things, a group home for pregnant minors.
The National Association of Florence Crittenton Agencies, agreed to act as a consultant to set up such a program in Orange County. A group of volunteers, many of them from the Florence Crittenton Center in Los Angeles, hosted a fundraiser, headlined by John Wayne and Mickey Mouse. Office space was donated in Newport Beach to serve as the headquarters, and plans were under way for a Florence Crittenton Home in Orange County.
Incoporated in 1966 as Florence Crittenton Services Orange County, the agency formed a Board of Directors and continued to raise funds until finally, in 1970, a home was purchased in Santa Ana, CA. Within a year, the home was full with a waiting list.
In the early seventies, the former Fullerton Cottage Hospital was purchased and renovated, becoming a home for up to 65 teens and babies.
Based on the request of the Orange County Juvenile Court, the campus adapted to include boys and girls, not just teen mothers. Independent living services were later added, making this one campus a microcosm for child welfare services in Orange County.
As demand for services continued to increase, Crittenton purchased the Fullerton Community Hospital in 1988. After renovations, the campus opened in 1991 and housed 84 adolescent girls and up to 37 babies. The original campus was converted to a children’s program.
From our humble beginnings as a six-bed home for unwed mothers in Santa Ana, CA., Crittenton is now a non-profit agency of 500+ employees on a 24/7 operation cycle with a service planning area that covers Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego Counties. We provide a full array of short-term residential, in-home, and community based programs to the families and children we serve throughout Southern California.
Today’s Crittenton movement of Southern California has made every effort throughout the years to keep true to Charles Crittenton’s initial vision of helping women, children, and families piece their lives back together again.