Merrily We’re Marching Onward: Growing up at the Lynchburg Female Orphan Asylum

by Iva Campbell Burford

It doesn’t seem so long since the night I woke to hear voices in the front room downstairs. They weren’t angry voices, but they weren’t friendly voices either. I recognized an aunt’s voice. That was funny. Mama hadn’t said anything about expecting any of the kinfolks. My thoughts were interrupted by my aunt’s voice.
“But Ruth, I don’t, just don’t, see how you can give them up.”
Mama’s voice sounded tired and almost futile as she answered, “I’m not giving them up. I’m giving them a chance to have the kind of life I can’t give them.”
With exasperation edging her voice, my aunt said, “We’ve told you more than once, Ruth, that we would help you. And you could go to work, couldn’t you?”
“That’s just it,” Mama answered. “I do intend to go to work. However, you must remember I have had no training for work and whatever wages I get will be small. What kind of training and feeling of security can I give the children when I’m worried about finances? And then with all the housework and laundry to do at night, the children are bound to be affected by my emotional condition. No, I’ve made up my mind to give the children a chance to get the best in life.”
Now my uncle fairly sneered, “And you think an orphanage is the answer?”
By now I had gotten out of bed and was sitting on the top of the stairs.
Before Mama could answer, my aunt asked, “What do you think Ma is going to say about this?” Ma was our grandmother, our mother’s mother.
“I’ve told her and she is going to help me with the boy.”
As if she couldn’t believe her own ears, my aunt said, “You mean you are going to separate the children?”
I thought for a minute Mama was going to cry. I thought I could hear her swallow a sob. Then she said, “The orphanage is for girls only. I know it is a good place. There is no use to try to make me change my mind. I have already applied for their entrance and they’ve been accepted.”
My uncle, unwilling to give in graciously, said, “If it isn’t asking too much, may I ask where the orphanage is?”
Ignoring the sarcasm, Mama answered, “It is in Lynchburg and after I establish residence there, the girls will enter. And what’s more, I have a job.” Anticipating my uncle’s next remark, she said, “Yes, it’s in a factory and it’s honorable.”
By now I felt like I must surely wake and find that I had been dreaming. I knew in the morning that I had not been dreaming. Mama’s eyes were red and I knew she had been crying.


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