Soldiers Orphans' Home
1863 - 1876


"Soldiers Orphans' Home, 1863 - 1876";

By Val Martin, Edited by O.R. Schmidt
for the Cedar Falls Historical Society and University of Northern Iowa.
Cedar Falls Historical Society,
June, 1983,
303 Clay Street, Cedar Falls, IA, 50613.
For more information, please contact them at (319) 266-5149.

The following information was taken from the above mentioned booklet about the Orphans' Home. IAGenWeb and TreeVines Genealogy holds no credit for information, only in transcribing for the interest of genealogy purposes.


founder of

Soldiers' Orphans' Home

Annie Whittenmeyer

Annie told of a memory of years ago when she stood in the hospital by the wounded and dying men who imploringly asked "Oh, what will become of my children?" She assured the men that their children would be cared for. That is when the thought of a home first came to her. The reunion of the staff was the first time that she visited Cedar Falls.

The movement which helped to establish the Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Cedar Falls, IA, began with the widow Annie Wittenmeyer of Keokuk, IA. she had gone behind the lines to establish hospital diet kitchens for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. On October 7, 1863, a meeting was called in Muscatine, IA to figure out a way to support and educate the children which were orphans of Iowa's dead soldiers. The Iowa State Orphan Asylum was then established, with its first location at Lawrence in southeast Iowa, Van Buren county. The officers of the association were Iowa Governor Willliam M. Stone, president, and six vice-presidents, one from each congressional district; two secretaries, a treasurer and twelve trustees, two from each congressional district.


The trustees of the Iowa State Orphan's Asylum met with the Iowa Hall of Representatives (legislature) and Governor Stone, on February 14, 1864. In addition to the persons names as incorporators, anyone paying $5 became a member for one year. The Iowa State Orphans' Asylum Association continued to be supported voluntarily until 1866 when support was taken over by the State of Iowa.

November 11, 1864, the Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society adopted six orphans, committing itself to $150 in support money for them. This was also the first Orphan Festival of the Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society

November 18, 1864 saw the appointment of G. M. Harris as the treasurer of the Iowa Orphans' Home Association. The name was changed from Orphans' Asylum to Orphans' Home. Harris contributed $3000 worth of bonds to the association and collected the amounts pledged by the people of Iowa.

By June 30, 1865 there was need for another home. The State Board of Trustees thought it should be located in a northern or at least a central part of the state. A committee was appointed of the Honorable R. P. Lowe, the Honorable John A. Parvin, the Honorable John A Elliott, Mrs. M. W. Porter and Mrs. He. E. Boardman. The meeting would be in July, Davenport and Cedar Falls were the likely choices

The Soldiers' Orphans' Home was the subject of a meeting on July 1, 1865 by the Boards of Trustees of the Iowa Orphans' Home Association (Iowa State Orphan Asylum). It was at that time the decided that a location needed to be secured and further information would be shared at another meeting on July 8.

Peter Melendy laid the plan out at a citizens' meeting July 12, 1865 in Cedar Falls, IA. He was a resident of Cedar Falls with the occupation of farmer and philanthropist.

On August 21, 1865, Dr. S. N. Pierce, chairman of the local orphans' home committee, secured an option on the old American House Hotel.

On July 21, the Soldiers' Orphans' Home Committee received a proposition from the citizens of Cedar Falls for a second soldiers' orphans' home. A dispatch was sent from the meeting in Marshalltown stating that the second home would be located in Cedar Falls and told that the site would be ready by September 10. It would receive orphans from two to sixteen years of age, an exception could be made if a child lost both parents.


Dr. S. N. Pierce, A. Morrison and S. A. Bishop began to solicit subscriptions for the building and raised $475. The American House had been used as a hotel and would accommodate the officers of the home and about 85 orphans, providing a dining room and a kitchen and one other room which could be a classroom for fifty pupils. Adjoining the lot was another frame building which could be used as a wash house and a brick tenement house of twelve rooms to accommodate forty orphans. The nearby Presbyterian church could also be used for more classrooms.

They would need $500 for improving the hotel. Part of the expense would be deducted from the rent for improving the property. An adjacent brick and frame building, an extra lot, a 40-acre farm, and the hotel could be all leased for less than $700 per year.

The American House Hotel, 4th and Main Streets was readied for the first orphans.

Peter Melendy became the vice-president and advisor to the orphan's home, serving in this capacity until 1876.


The Reverend A. G. Eberhart made an appeal to the people of Cedar Falls for funds shortly before the orphans began to arrive in September. Eight orphans arrived before the remodeling of the old hotel had been completed:

  • Rufus D Bauer
  • Mary L Bauer
  • Emma L Bauer
  • The other five are not named

Eventually 150 orphans were expected, even though the capacity was for 100. S. N. Pierce became the orphan home's first doctor, and Mrs. Elias hamer, the nurse. The State Board of Trustees of the Soldiers' Orphans' Home turned over 100 iron cots, 100 bed ticks, 100 pillows, 300 pillow cases, 300 sheets, and 200 army blankets to the superintendent for beginning operations.

On September 22, 1865, Arthur Morrison of Cedar Falls became superintendent of the new institiution. The Soldiers' Orphans' Home formally opened for the reception of children on Monday, October 2, 1865.


On Thanksgiving, 1865, fat turkeys were served to the 43 orphans living in the Cedar Falls Orphan's Home. A fund raiser, a Thanksgiving supper held at the orphans' home, netted over $100. Two Cedar Falls citizens, a Mr. Grover and a Mr. Baker, donated an early Christmas gift of a $60 sewing machine with attachments. A group of little girls from Cedar Falls, all under the age of 12, began planning a Christmas party for the orphans, and, by Christmas time that first year, there were 80 orphans at the orphans' home.

Before Christmas dinner, earlier in December, the home suffered a calamity. A fire alarm sounded as smoke poured from the roof. Men ran with pails to put out the fire, but it proved to be only an open chimney flue. Everyone was relieved.

From the Editor of the Courier, February 20, 1866:

I have just visited the Soldiers' Orphans' Home at Cedar Falls and I desire to assure the citizens of Waterloo as well as those of the whole county that it is not only a worthy enterprise, but one to which we should all give our hearty support. There are now at the Home 102 orphans varying in ages from 2 to 15 years; and a more happy and cheerful class of children it has never been my pleasure to see. There are 47 girls and 55 boys. Of these there are 25 boys and 17 girls under 10 years of age and 8 boys and 12 girls over 12 years of age. These children occupy two school rooms, save those kept in a nursery and are taught by most faithful teachers, all the branches of learning common to our public schools. In fact this home is no more nor less than a nursery. The children sleep in pairs on army cots and in each sleeping apartment there are from 2 to 6 cots. Each little fellow has his special chores to do and it is interesting to see with what avidity he enters upon his tasks. The inmates of the Home sawed and split all their wood. The Superintendent told me that they have burned as much as five cords of wood a week. And it is quite amusing to see these little boys at work in the backyard as soon as supper is over, some sawing wood while others are either splitting it of piling it up, or playing "ruff and tumble" on the snowbanks. Many a sweet little maiden gets her ruddy cheeks moistened by a snowball in the rude hand of some male rogue. They have two regular meals and a lunch each day; and their victuals are of the most substantial kind.
Every Saturday they are required to go through a regular system of personal scrubbing, and obliged to keep themselves at all times clean and their clothes and hair neatly tidy. Their food, cleanliness and exercise, no doubt, accounts for the wonderful health of the home.
The Home is governed principally by a Superintendent, matron, and two teachers, but there are several others who assist in this great, benevolent and Christian enterprise, and while there I could not help feeling "God Bless them All."
Mr. Morrison of Cedar Falls is the Superintendent; Mrs. Platt is matron-she came from the Home at Davenport-I can cheerfully say that no better persons could be selected for these responsible positions. They are both Christians and are in deep sympathy with the interest of those precious little souls. Mr. Morrison is excellent in governing and keeping the financial and other physical wants of the Home in excellent condition and the public can be assured that whatever they may entrust to his hand will be scrupulously applied to the welfare of those children and in the manner the donors may request.

The expenses of the Home are about $800 per month and the pay of those good Samaritans who work in that Home is but a trifle indeed.

In conclusion I would say that I was most happily gratified and even surprised in my visit to that home and I would urge all who take an interest in the orphans of our slain soldiers to go and see for themselves. They will be heartily welcomed by the Superintendent and his assistants. These little children are to be supported for the coming year at least, by public benevolence and, as a Christian people, we cannot desert them.

There are several rooms fitted up in the Home by the ladies of Independence, Manchester, Dubuque and other places, and still the children are in great need of clothing, bedding, etc., and I say frankly that it is our bounden duty, as citizens of Waterloo, to render assistance to these noble objects of charity. These children are the supplicating aid, and who is there so hard in heart in our midst, that would, after having their country restored through he blood of their martyred fathers, turn these little ones from their door? It cannot be done as long as there dwells in our bosoms a spark of human sympathy. We must provide for all their wants and I sincerely trust that our citizens will at once take the proper measure to help that Home, I should say "Our Home." (W.H. Curtiss)


An epidemic of measles in 1866 struck 55 or the 147 children, and 9 of these children died, including Lizzie Ward, age 6. The Cedar Falls Gazette listed cause of death as pulmonary dropsy. Lizzie Ward is listed as Lizzie Eleard in the Fairview cemetery Records of Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Burials, Cedar Falls Cemetery Division. List of orphans buried at the Cedar Falls cemetery.

In April 1887 a monument was erected under the direction of Capt. R. P. Speer, G.B. Van Suan and P.S. Robinson, assisted by old soldiers in the new (Fairview) cemetery in memory of the soldiers' orphans'.


There was a reunion that took place some 27 years after the forming of the Soldiers' Orphans' Home.

Nancie Dobyns, Transcriber
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