The Yearly Meeting Orphanage
Almost no one today remembers that North Carolina Yearly Meeting ran an orphanage for many years, and that it was largely under the care of Springfield Friends Meeting.
A concern for an orphanage arose and was sent to North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 1892. A committee was appointed to investigate the matter, and recommended that an orphanage be started. Rufus P. King was appointed to raise funds, and soon over $2,800 was collected.
A 175 acre farm was purchased along South Main Street, near the location of today’s Peppermill Restaurant. A team of horses and a wagon were bought, and a 20′ x 40′ building erected. Friends from all over North Carolina donated household furnishings.
The orphanage opened in 1895 with 12 children – 8 girls and 4 boys. 5 of the children were Quakers, 3 were Baptists, 3 Episcopalians and 1 Methodist. Calvin and Elizabeth Osborne were hired to run the orphanage. By 1896 there were 26 children (11 girls and 10 boys) and by 1897 there were 31. Also in the second year, a schoolhouse was built near the orphanage building and a teacher employed so that the children would not have to go to Springfield to school. This building is also where they held prayer and Bible meetings during the week.
Many of the children didn’t stay in the orphanage but were placed in homes. These children were not legally adopted. A family had to sign a paper saying that they would be good to the child and send him to school.
Rufus P. King loved the children dearly and was tireless in raising funds for the orphanage. One story tells of his being in Indiana and asking for one of three small pigs to take back to the orphanage. When he started with the pig, he turned back to the farmer and said, “This little pig will die of loneliness unless thee lets me take one of the others for company.” After receiving the second pig, he again turned to the farmer and this time said, “The poor little pig that’s left will surely grow weak and thin missing its two companions. Thee must let me take it also.” And so he returned to North Carolina with three pigs. Mollie Burton, who was the youngest child at the orphanage for four years, tells how Rufus would say, “Come sit on poor old Rufus’s lap who has to beg for you.”
Every Saturday, we learned, the children carried water to an iron tub for their weekly bath. After their baths they were given their clean clothes for the rest of the week, changing only to go to meeting on Sunday.
On Sunday morning Calvin Osborne put on his long frock-tail coat, put his big Bible under his arm, lined the children up behind him and walked solemnly to meeting at Springfield, where they had to sit very still without falling asleep. No cooking was done on Sunday, but when they’d return from Sunday School, they stood around a long table (which was the practice at all meals) and ate cold beans and leftovers. Clabber, butter and cheese were kept in a cool spring house.
In 1908, the orphanage was closed, and in 1911 the farm was sold and the proceeds were given to Guilford College to create a trust called the Orphanage Fund.
Learning more about this orphanage helps us to understand and appreciate some of the economic sacrifices that Friends made in an attempt to meet the needs of the community. The compassion and generosity of Friends, as well as the spirit of mission helped provide a living and an education for those who are unable to help themselves. This orphanage is a good example of some of the contributions that have been made by Friends.
Adapted from a Memorial Sunday talk given by Sara Beth Terrell in 1977