Since 1894, the Methodist Children’s Home has provided a home and family for needy children in Central Texas. Though its role in the community has changed over the years, its devotion to helping the most vulnerable in society has remained constant.
In the late nineteenth century, Methodist Bishop Joseph S. Key saw the profound need for an institution to care for the plight of orphans in Texas. He enlisted the help of Dr. Horace Bishop, the pastor of Waco’s First Methodist Church, and drew up plans to present at the Northwest Texas Methodist Conference in Abilene. In November of 1890, the conference unanimously voted for the creation of an orphanage, proclaiming that “practical religion cares for the helpless.”
A Methodist committee met in 1893 to determine a suitable location for the home and elected Waco after the city donated a ten-acre estate, including a sixteen-room residence. Dr. W. H. Vaughn, the first superintendent of the home, and his wife Pauline, moved in at the beginning of 1894. By the end of that year, twenty-six children lived at the Northwest Texas Conference Orphans Home.
The home’s primary source of support during its early years came from special offerings collected at Christmas by the five regional Texas Methodist conferences. Despite the generosity of the congregations, these funds did not fully support the rapidly growing orphanage. By the end of 1895, forty-three children resided at the facility and homes in the local community cared for twenty-one others. Moved by the orphanage’s important work and financial struggles, Methodist evangelists Abe and Louisa Mulkey pledged the proceeds from one night of each of their revivals to the home. This money funded the construction of an administration building in 1899, and in 1901, leaders dedicated the new building and the remainder of the orphanage at an official ceremony. When the Vaughns left the home in 1905, the debt-free institution resided upon 28 acres of land supported by a 173-acre farm on the Bosque River.
The orphanage continued to thrive and develop over the next several decades. New directors changed the home’s fundraising methods, inviting Methodists to contribute to the welfare of the orphans year-round. Individuals’s contributions soon became the largest form of support for the orphanage. Decreased funding brought by the Great Depression hit the orphanage hard. To make ends meet, director W. F. Barnett cut staff and used his own salary to fund the institution. The economic hardship eased some in 1934 when philanthropist Joe J. Perkins became a large donor to the home after meeting several of the children residing there.
During the early twentieth century, the Mulkeys’s support allowed the orphanage to construct additional buildings, such as a dining hall and a few dormitories, to meet the needs of the growing orphanage. Dr. Hubert Johnson later changed from the dormitory model to provide a more homelike atmosphere for the children residing at the orphanage. Between 1938 and 1952, small numbers of children were moved into cottage-style homes under the care of a houseparent. Around this same time, the children began to attend local schools such as Waco High and A. J. Moore High School, rather than classes taught at the Methodist Orphanage.
The home’s role shifted with the new social trends of the 1950s. More children were arriving at the home due to divorce, mental illness, or physical abuse than as orphans, and the staff and organization of the home evolved to meet these needs. It was in this period that the institution’s name changed one final time to the Methodist Children’s Home. The facility became increasingly known for developing programs for foster-home placement and family rehabilitation. In 1971, the home established a ranch ten miles east of Waco for troubled teenage boys to build a solid foundation for their lives through education and leadership opportunities.
The Methodist Children’s Home celebrated its centennial in 1990, having sheltered more than seventeen thousand children in Central Texas in its long and storied history.