Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences

Document Type



The 19th century was an era of social reform, particularly in regard to women. Religious middle- to upper-class women joined forces in an effort to end prostitution and immoral crimes. In an attempt to “heal” prostitutes and other delinquents, reformers founded institutions including maternity homes. The Evansville Home for the Friendless was one such maternity home, established in 1870 and operating for almost 100 years. The Home for the Friendless housed unmarried mothers and wrote logbook entries detailing the lives of others whom the women judged to be morally felonious. The matrons in charge of the Home for the Friendless and similar maternity homes wrote descriptions of “inmates,” and their records reveal as much about the writers as about the inmates. The judgments and biases shown by matrons toward the “fallen women” are astounding and expose unexpected and unexplored sexism. Evansville’s Home for the Friendless serves as a prime example of how female reformers harmed the women they were trying to assist using methods that have transcended time and are still in use today.