Historical Marker Tells Story

Posted on October 05, 2022

They were called “guttersnipes,” “urchins” and “waifs.”

Thousands of homeless children lived in the streets in large American cities in the 1800s. Orphaned, lost or deliberately deserted, they survived any way they could, fighting through poverty, abuse, danger, and disease.

Today we would be appalled by the conditions these children endured and by society’s disregard for their welfare. Social and human services were minimal; conscientious individuals stepped up to help improve the lives of those suffering.

Eventually, orphanages sprang up, first in cities and then across the nation. In 1893, Elizabeth and William Sherrard established the organization that would become Children’s Home Society of South Dakota in a rented home across from the University of Sioux Falls (then called the Baptist College).

The home filled up quickly. Elizabeth managed the house and tended to the children while William spread the word about their mission and tirelessly raised money. By the end of the second year, they had taken care of almost 400 children. A board of directors was formed in 1895 to govern the organization.

Many of the children at Children’s Home Society were orphans. Others came from homes where they were abused or neglected; just like today, some parents struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues. Some children were sick and undernourished. And a fair number of children in those days were brought in by parents who could not afford to raise them. Some were later retrieved, and some weren’t.

The house of stone

The small, rented home was soon over capacity. In 1898, William began pressing the Society’s board to act regarding the crowded conditions.

Finally, the State Senate passed a bill providing free Sioux Falls Quartzite for the new structure, to be cut by inmates of the state penitentiary. It was stipulated that the construction cost of the new children’s home “should not exceed the sum of $25,000.” (Karelovitz) The building site, on a hill overlooking the city (where Lewis on 10th and Cliff currently stands) was acquired for $1,518.

In January 1902, the Sherrards, their staff and 20 children moved into the 33-room structure, designed by William Dow. By that time, “more than 600 children of some two dozen nationalities and races had passed through their care.” (Karelovitz)

Elizabeth Sherrard was 63 when she and William founded Children’s Home Society of South Dakota, and she worked until she passed away at age 78. Fortunately, the organization attracted other compassionate men and women called to help, so that when the Sherrards were no longer able to serve, their important work continued. In 1928, leaders reported caring for 2,928 children as legal wards and another 3,000 or more in temporary care, all with a budget that averaged less than $12,000 per year.

The 10th Street location provided a home for three generations of children. But in 1968, the building was closed, and Children’s Home Society moved to 15th and Western. During that time, orphanages fell out of favor. Children’s Home Society adapted and evolved by providing residential and foster care in addition to adoption, which had become the accepted models.

The current Sioux Falls Children’s Home site was purchased in 1983. Owing to the drive and generosity of board members and donors, Children’s Home Society built new, made-to-order facilities in Sioux Falls and in the Black Hills.

Today, laws prohibit child abuse and neglect. Government, nonprofit and faith-based organizations help children who are orphaned or homeless. Despite the many protections, the conditions endured by hundreds of children in South Dakota and thousands nationwide are appalling, as is society’s tolerance of child abuse, neglect, trafficking and homelessness.

Children’s Home Society continues to lead efforts to help vulnerable people in the state of South Dakota, offering residential care, emergency shelter, foster care and adoption services, forensic interviews, child abuse prevention and nurse-family visitation.

Historical Marker Dedication

As Children’s Home Society approaches its 130th year in 2023, as well as the November completion of the newly built Shelter for Family Safety (formerly Children’s Inn), a historical marker at the 10th and Cliff location will be unveiled.

Funding for the marker was given to honor longtime Children’s Home Society supporters, Loren and Mavis Amundson, by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Amundson family has supported the orphanage for many years, and their generosity continues today.

Join us!
Children’s Home Society of South Dakota and Minnehaha County Historical Society
Friday, October 14, 11:00 am

Lewis at 10th and Cliff, Sioux Falls

Contact Rick Weber at Rick.Weber@chssd.org or 605-965-3127.