Twas A Hard Knock Life: The Tabor Home Story

[Picture of cover of Twas A Hard Knock Life: The Tabor Home Story] When the idea of publishing the memories of Tabor Home alumni was proposed, my first reaction was that it would be the ideal format to convey to readers what it was like growing up in a children's home. It became evident early on that the vast majority of potential authors lacked the confidence to put pen to paper and submit their recollections. A scheme was established to interview any interested participant and draft their remembrances for their review. This approach proved to be a workable strategy.

This anthology is divided into chapters by decades, starting with the 1920's and concluding with the 1970's. Sadly, several of the older authors died before seeing their stories published.

The genesis of Tabor Home for Children occurred in 1907. Mrs. Emma Chidester of the Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia offered her suburban residence in Cheltenham, a nearly town in the adjacent county, as a home for destitute children. The congregation of the Tabor Church elected a board of trustees and the state courts chartered the home.

A serious problem arose when the Cheltenham School Board refused to admit Philadelphia children. The school-aged children were transferred to the former residence of the Reverend Philip Lamartine at 111 Wyoming Avenue in Philadelphia, from which they could attend public school. The younger children stayed at Mrs. Chidester's home.

The cost of maintaining two homes was too expensive, so a year later a single residence on East Tabor Road in Olney was purchased.

A real breakthrough occurred in 1913, when Tabor Home acquired the Fretz estate, a magnificent property located in Doylestown, Pa., 30 miles north of Philadelphia. It contained a mansion, carriage house and laundry building. It was situated on 99 acres of rich farmland and included a large barn and quarters for a tenant farmer.

With this move away from the church, the Home became autonomous. Although staffed with Deaconesses from the Philadelphia motherhouse, financial support came partly from local and state government. The courts determined which children entered the Home and their length of stay. A small number of orphans were assigned to Tabor by the courts, but most of the children in residence came from broken homes and had at least one parent living. Without the daycare options now available, single parents who did not live near extended family had difficulty providing care for their children during the workday. Most parent sent contribution towards the care of their children.

In reality, the head administrator at Tabor Home established the rules of conduct and decided whether a child should remain, based upon behavior. The two head administrators that managed the Home for five decades, Sister Lena Biedeck and Sister Wilma Loehrig, dominate the stories of the first 70 years of Tabor Home. Their names appear repeatedly in the memories of the children who grew up at this venerable institution.

A confluence of events contributed to the eventual demise of Tabor Home as a residential institution for needy children. In the 1970s, the number of children assigned to the Home started to decrease dramatically. For instance, from a full house of 80 children in the 1960s, 50 were being cared for in 1970. That number dropped to 34 only two years later. In addition, the reasons children came to the Home changed by the 1970s. Instead of single parents requesting that Tabor Home care for a their children, the courts sent children who had been removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect, and youth who had involvement with the juvenile justice system. A third factor was the growing belief among child-development professionals that institutions did not prepare children for adult family life as well as foster care would. The expense of maintaining places like Tabor Home was also substantial.

In the early 1970s the Board of Directors decided to change the tone of Tabor from a Lutheran, religious-based Home to a non-sectarian, private non-profit organization. The change became official in 1978, and a year later the name was changed to Tabor Children's Services, Incorporated.

The written memories of the authors underwent an editing process to enhance readability but no attempt was made to purge unpleasant or unsightly remembrances. Facts have a way of changing in an individual's long-term memory. Therefore, some inconsistency may be noticed when the same story is told by several people.

This centennial project is dedicated to the thousands of children who experienced adolescence at Tabor Home and had their lives profoundly influenced by the encounter. I am confident that every reader will be affected by the events recorded so honestly by the individual authors.

Orville Wright
Tabor Home 1941-1951

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