Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dr. Kate Waller Barrett - A Lesser Known Advocate for At-Risk Girls

A young wife and mother opens the front door of the parsonage on a cold an snowy night. On her porch stands another young mother, grieving over her desperate state, especially for the sake of her baby. The pastor's wife invites her in and listens to her story of a girl deserted by her child's father and likely thrown out of her parents' home, because of being unwed. This situation forever changed the life of her hostess, Kate Waller Barrett.

As I did research on homes for unwed mothers in the Detroit area, while writing Rumors and Promises and found (by Divine guidance I’m sure!) the Florence Crittenton Mission, I also learned about a unique Christian woman ahead of her time, Dr. Kate Waller Barrett. Brought up in the south, the eldest of eight daughters in a wealthy family, Kate Waller had aspirations of helping those less fortunate.

Dr. Kate Waller Barrett
She married a minister by the name of Reverend Robert South Barrett, moved with him to Georgia, and aided him in his work. Soon her heart became tender toward a specific group. After having borne her first child, son Robert, Kate was faced with an impoverished young mother on her front doorstep, desperate for help. The girl told a story of being deserted by a man who had promised to marry her.

Aquia Church in Stafford, VA. This was where Reverend Barrett's
first and last assignments were. Kate Waller Barrett and her
husband were buried in the cemetery here. 
Kate felt that one thing had separated them—this other young woman had been ill-used by an evil man, while she had been able to marry a good man. This fueled her compassion for a marginalized class—fallen women—especially unmarried mothers. She was determined to start a home for unwed mothers. By the time she had five children of her own, she decided to further her education to add weight to her expertise. She went on to pursue a doctorate in science and M.D. degrees.

Doorway to Florence Crittenton Home in Charleston, SC.
Dr. Kate Waller Barrett went on to establish a maternity home in Atlanta. However, while she traveled abroad, the city created ordinances against such work and it was closed. She heard about the work of Charles Nelson Crittenton and sought out his help. Eventually they were able to partner in this effort. While Crittenton’s main desire had been to rescue prostitutes, Kate had been more interested in the unwed mother. She was instrumental in eventually changing the primary focus of the Crittenton Homes. In 1895 she became the General Superintendant of the homes on a national level. When her husband, Robert, died the following year, she took on a greater role, traveling widely on behalf of the Crittenton Missions.

As their superintendent, Kate Waller Barrett wrote a manual for establishing a standard for The National Florence Crittenton Mission rescue homes. This manual gave instructions for order, how to set the homes up, and how to run them. She also made inroads to more positive racial relations and established Florence Crittenton homes for African American women as well. Unfortunately, due to Jim Crow laws, these homes were separate rather than integrated, but for the times, her outreach can be considered a step against racism.

Headline on Rockefeller's combatting human trafficking
from a San Francisco paper. 
Dr. Kate Waller Barrett became the organization's president after the death of Charles Crittenton in1909 and her work went beyond that of the mission. In 1914 she was named as a special agent to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. She became involved because of the policy of deportation of women due to their alleged immorality. Often these women were victims of human trafficking, then called "white slavery." In a speech she gave as early as1896 she had mentioned the steps of these mistreated women as going from the brothel, to imprisonment, then into hospitals, and winding up in unmarked graves; and that this process often took as little as five years.

In her concern she influenced philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, in the making of the film, Traffic in Souls. Such films helped publicize the cause of human trafficking across the United States. She also advocated for the way young women were treated in custody. She traveled to Europe, studying and giving recommendations on women's immigration issues between 1914 and 1919. She was even one of only ten women to attend the Versailles Conference in 1919!

Poster for the sensationalized movie.
Around the time she died in 1925 there were over 70 Crittenton homes existing across the United States and internationally. Two of her children, Robert South Barrett, Jr. and daughter Reba Barrett Smith were part of leadership in the National Florence Crittenton Mission, continuing their mother's work.

The seeds she planted, along with Charles Crittenton, to minister to at-risk girls and young women, showing compassion rather than judgment, and giving them a chance to flourish, continues today through the work of The National Crittenton Foundation. In taking many steps of faith to minister to those less fortunate Dr. Kate Waller Barrett has left a rich legacy of care and kindness toward those less fortunate. In the scope of her roles, work, and influence, she was truly a woman ahead of her time!

Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She desires to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She is a long time member in good standing of ACFW and a former board member of its Great Lakes Chapter. Kathleen has been published in anthologies, including the Amazon bestseller, Christmas Treasures, as well as in both print and online magazines. Her debut full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, was recently published by Heritage Beacon Fiction in April, 2016.

Previously a home-school mom of three, she has more recently been a college student and sometimes a mild-mannered dental assistant by day. Along with her sassy tail-less cat, she lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of 34 years, who not only listens to her stories, but also cooks for her. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I remember hearing so much about the Crittenton homes as my paternal grandmother believed whole-heartedly in what the Crittenton foundation was doing. (Not so much my other grandmother...the girls were "trash") Then my senior year in high school in 1953, it hit close to home as a good friend from my class found herself pregnant the spring. She was able to keep it a secret until after graduation, but once the news was out, she was no longer suitable as a friend to us who had been her friends for 4 years. I'll never forget her going to a Crittenton home, where she had her baby boy and kept him to raise as a single mother until she married the boy's father a year later. I still remember her name and her face, I went off to college and became involved with college life and we never really connected again as I moved to Houston from college.

    Amazing how long human trafficking has been with us. Our church is working in India to rescue some of the girls there, and we have mission center to help the girls who are found and set free.

    Your post brought back a lot of memories, some good, and some not so good. Thank you.

    1. Hi Martha, thank you for your thought-provoking comment. I was concerned as I've been writing about unwed mothers and the Crittenton Homes the last couple of months it could bring up raw
      memories for some women and their families--whether the mothers or the adoptees.

      I appreciate your willingness to share your memories--good and bad. It definitely makes
      my post hit closer to home. I was surprised as I researched the life of Kate Waller Barrett
      to find out she was part of the movement to stop human trafficking, but it made sense.
      And young women were so often held responsible at that time though they were the
      victims. She was a brave woman for her time to stand up for others the way she did.

  2. Thank you for your interesting post.

    1. You're very welcome, Melanie. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Very interesting.....I learned a lot. God bless this foundation.

    1. Thank you for your comment, "chappydebbie." You can find more information about
      the National Crittenton Foundation here: