Barrett, Kate Waller (1857–1925)

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Barrett, Kate Waller (1857–1925)

Social worker and administrator of the National Florence Crittenton Mission for unwed mothers. Born Kate Harwood Waller in Falmouth, Virginia, on January 24, 1857; died in Alexandria, Virginia, on February 23, 1925; attended Arlington Institute for Girls, in Alexandria; Florence Nightingale Training School and St. Thomas' Hospital, London, England; Women's Medical College of Georgia, M.D., 1892; married Rev. Robert S. Barrett, in July 1876; children: seven.

Kate Barrett's interest in the plight of prostitutes and unwed mothers is said to have begun when a young girl holding her baby appeared on the doorstep of the rectory where Barrett lived with her husband, an Episcopal minister. Engaging the young woman in conversation, Barrett was surprised to discover that her background was remarkably like her own. This recognition of commonality galvanized Barrett; she decided to do what she could to help this "outcast class," as they were known in her day.

After attending training courses in social work and receiving a medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Georgia, Barrett contacted Charles N. Crittenton, a businessman turned evangelist, who had opened four homes for "fallen women" in California, naming them for his deceased daughter Florence. In 1893, with $5,000 from Crittenton, Barrett opened a fifth in the chain of Florence Crittenton homes for unwed mothers in Atlanta.

The following year, Barrett moved to Washington, D.C., where she aided in the foundation of the National Florence Crittenton Mission. As vice president and general superintendent, she took charge of the nationwide chain, now numbering 50 semi-autonomous homes. In addition to visiting the homes and establishing a training course for workers, Barrett started a magazine and published a book, Some Practical Suggestions on the Conduct of a Rescue Home (1903). Following Charles Crittenton's death in 1909, Barrett succeeded to the presidency of the organization but retained her former duties. Gradually, the homes began to move away from their evangelical approach to a more practical program of training in mothering skills and vocational guidance.

Meanwhile, Barrett became a much sought-after expert in her field. In 1909, she was invited to the White House Conference for the Care of Dependent Children and, in 1914, was a special representative of the Labor Department on a commission investigating the treatment of women deported from the country on moral grounds. She was also active in the National Council of Women, the Virginia Equal Suffrage League, and the National Women's Auxiliary of the American Legion.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Barrett, Kate Waller (1857–1925)

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