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. 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 was moved by the plight of these women and their children, and ultimately found a new purpose in life. 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.” The “needy class” he spoke of consisted of girls and women being exploited for sex, escaping violent relationships, single mothers, homeless/abandoned girls, immigrant women who came to this country alone, 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 Charles Crittenton was approached by other cities to help them recreate similar shelters in their area. Long before the term “evidence-based practice” was coined, Charles Crittenton and co-founder Dr. Kate Waller Barrett began a social welfare movement founded in social justice and a commitment to the rights of women.
City by city, traveling by railroad car called the “Good News” train, 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.
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. In recent years, an affiliation of agencies with a historical connection to the “Crittenton Movement” has been reconnected under the leadership of National Crittenton. The National Crittenton organization has been active at a national level promoting public policy that continues to bring attention to the plight of girls and youth affected by system-involvement.
Our own story continues with studies being conducted by the Orange County Grand Jury in the early 1960’s documenting a need for a variety of social services programs for the county’s growing population. Judge Carl Davis, at that time, 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 now-defunct Florence Crittenton Center in Los Angeles, hosted a fundraiser, headlined by Mickey Mouse.
Incorporated in 1966, the burgeoning 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 their babies. During the 1980s, based on a 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 the Fullerton Community Hospital was purchased in 1988. After renovations, the campus opened in 1991 and was able to house 84 teen girls and up to 37 babies.
From our humble beginnings as a six-bed home for unwed mothers, Crittenton is now a nonprofit mental health and child welfare agency operating and serving an area that covers Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties. We provide a trauma-responsive continuum of care programming effort that helps nearly 2,000 families and children annually throughout Southern California.