During the Great Depression

"Orphans should be placed under the care of public guardians. Men should have a fear of the loneliness of orphans and of the souls of their departed parents. A man should love the unfortunate orphan of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child. He should be as careful and as diligent in the management of the orphan's property as of his own or even more careful still."- Plato (Laws, 927)

Effect of the Great Depression on Orphanages

On Thursday, October 24, 1929, the stock market in the United States began an unprecedented decline. This day would later become known as “Black Thursday” and was soon followed by more “black” days. By Wednesday of the following week, the stock market had declined by 33 percent: the era in the United States known as The Great Depression had begun. Within days, every farmer, lawyer, butcher, and other professional who had sold their property to invest in the booming stock market of the 1920s had lost everything that they owned, and many of them owed money to the banks in addition to what they lost. The effect that this loss would have on American families was drastic. Added to the stock market crash was the ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl, where a giant dust cloud settled on nearly everything from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Washington, D.C. in the east. This caused many more families to leave their homes after having lost everything they had. Both of these disasters led to a drastic increase in the number of children in the American orphanage and foster care systems because many families felt they could no longer afford to provide adequate care for their children. By the mid-1930s, the number of children in American orphanages had risen to its peak of 144,000, and the number of children in the American foster care system had risen to 249,000.

Orphanages During WWII

As World War II began, the number of children placed in orphanages began to taper off. One reason for this was more children were able to make more money as “newsies” due to the popularity of the war. Once the war ended, American orphanages began to decline, even though the newsies did not make as much money anymore. This is primarily due to the rise of the American foster care system and the preference of placing children in small groups in a home instead of large groups of children in an institution like an orphanage.