Booth Memorial Hospital (also referred to as the Booth Home for Unwed Mothers) was a Salvation Army-run home for unwed mothers, where parents sometimes sent them there to hide them. It was first established in Oakland in 1887 2 and operated at least until 1967, possibly as late as the "mid-70s" but at some point changed the focus of its services. 2 Services continued into the 1980s as I was a resident in later 1976 and early 1977.
A book by one of the "Booth Girls", The Third Floor, recounts the author's life there in 1962. The girls were given chores and military-like rules, but no counseling. The title refers to when it was time to deliver, the expectant mother was sent to the third floor to deliver the baby, then sent home to pretend as if nothing happened. 1
Life was much more relaxed in the 70s as there were no military rules to follow nor was the third floor where the babies were delivered, instead girls went to the hospital and delivered their babies like any other woman would. We had regular chores which we received a small stipend for, there was a school for those still of school age. Counseling was available too.
A woman who grew up nearby recalls on Facebook frequently seeing the girls, "scared, ashamed, defiant all at once."
An article about an open house and bazaar held as a fundraiser in 1952 says:
"Guests will see the occupational therapy room, where girls in residence are instructed by volunteer workers in crafts, good grooming and skills that will help them start a new life. Many of the articles made by the girls will be on display there and some will be sold at the bazaar.
Also included in the tour are the dormitories, delivery room, two nurseries, wards, the nurses' station, utility room, laundry, sterilization room, library, school room and the newly renovated chapel."
Oakland Tribune, October 12, 1952 3
In July, 1959, Major Ellen Barton was appointed as superintendent of the hospital, replacing Major Helen Smeeton, who was transferred to duty in San Francisco. Barton had earlier in her 20 year career been an assistant to then-supervisor Colonel Ruth Pagan. 4
Part of a trend
’Twould seem that this “hiding from society” until a “shameful condition” could be “resolved” was part of a nationwide, Victorian-era trend, not at all limited to Oakland; see Wayward Past 5 for an eerie parallel from the other coast.
Links and References
Secret journey: Chico woman’s book recounts her time at a home for pregnant teens newsreview.com December 9, 2010
The Third Floor by Judi Loren Grace
Booth Records - Maternity Home and Hospital Records Salvation Army website
Major Barton New Head At Booth Oakland Tribune August 5, 1959
Wayward Past Washington City Paper March 19, 1999