One hundred years ago, women had little access to birth control or legal ways of ending pregnancies. For unwed women, an unplanned pregnancy could lead to expulsion from the home and social disgrace. At the turn of the nineteenth century there was not only a demand for charitable organizations for unwed mothers and ‘street women’ but also a push from evangelists to administer to those "fallen" women.
Philanthropist and preacher Charles Nelson Crittenton opened several homes for unwed mothers across the country. Crittenton traveled through the United States, holding services for those “outcast girls” preaching salvation. The first home, named after his late daughter Florence, was opened in New York’s red light district in 1882 and more followed.
The Florence Crittenton Home in Spokane opened in 1903 and was housed in a small church building with funding from various sources including the Elks, the Masons, the Woodsmen, and from a selection of charitable ladies organizations. It provided a safe place for unmarried mothers and was designed to encourage “destitute, homeless and wayward women to seek reformation of character and responsibility of life through the religion of Jesus Christ.” In 1923 the building was outdated and overpopulated and additional funding was needed. Letters and ads were sent out and money poured in from local business merchants and charities to provide an addition to the home. That same month, however, a freak fire broke out and the building burned to the ground.
The money raised earlier that month was used to move the home to a building on North Cedar Street and it continued to operate with accommodations for around twenty-five mothers and their babies until the beginning of the 1940’s. In 1942, with a greater need in larger cities such as Seattle and only a few mothers still in the Spokane Home, the Florence Crittenton Home closed its doors.
Today, the National Crittenton Association continues to support women and children and their families across the United States. Although the Spokane office moved, the building itself is still operational and houses several businesses including two beauty salons and an attorney’s office.