My great-aunt Esther Hanson worked for many years at the Covenant Children’s Home in Princeton, Illinois. She devoted several pages of her photo album to what look like happy memories of the time that she spent there.
The Covenant Children’s Home in Princeton, Illinois was founded in 1921 by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Apparently, many old-time Covenanters remember regular fundraising efforts publicized in their Sunday Schools. By the year 2000, Illinois (like other States) changed their philosophies about providing care for orphaned, abandoned and neglected children and withdrew funding from institutions like the Covenant Children’s Home. The Home discontinued its residential program in 2000 after 80 years of ministry serving 1,700 children.1
I believe Esther began working at Princeton in about 1929. The June 18, 1931 edition of the Ceresco News (Saunders County, Nebraska) noted that “Miss Esther Hanson came home Sunday to spend the summer with home folks after having spent two years at the Covenant Children’s Home at Princeton, Ill.”2 The February 18, 1932 issue reported that “Miss Esther Hanson has returned to her work at Princeton, Ill. and reports that it seems natural to be back again.”3 It’s not clear whether she had been home since the previous June, or if she had gone back and forth more than once in the interim. Finally, on June 15, 1933, the Ceresco News noted that, “Mr. and Mrs. E.M. Toren and Mr. and Mrs. C. Berg of Lincoln, enroute to Chicago, Ill. enjoyed a visit with Miss Esther Hanson at the Covenant Children’s Home in Princeton, Ill. Miss Esther plans to spend the summer with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Hanson.”4
In a letter from her mother dated November 13, 1936, Hulda asks, “Did you go to Chi. last Sun. sure hope you got of [sic] we have not heard any more from [Cliff?] is he stuck to that job or not.”5 (The envelope for the letter has not survived.) If Esther was within easy distance of Chicago, it could be that she was still in Princeton, about 100 miles away and presumably accessible by train.
She is listed in both the 1930 and 1940 censuses at the Covenant Children’s Home. In the 1930 census, Esther is listed as a “servant” and as of April 14, 1930, there were 75 children and 7 staff persons residing at the Home.6 In the 1940 census, she is listed as a “matron” and as of May 9, 1940, there were 81 children and 6 staff persons residing there.7
I think I can conclude from these records that she worked at the Home for at least 11 years and perhaps longer.
I found 56 photos related to her service at the Covenant Children’s Home. Many of the photos are of the children, but she appears herself in a large number of the photos. I recognize her smile and spunk in many of them. Based on the photos and my parents’ recollections, I believe she was primarily charged with caring for the boys at the home. That makes her a very brave woman! I added one more photo to the collection, which is a picture of her at the Midwest Covenant Home in Stromsberg, Nebraska, sometime around 1990. She has many small children gathered around her as she likely tells a story. I remember Esther as being fun and full of smiles, and I know she loved children very much. (In that photo, she is wearing a monogram pin that I gave her, and that I now have.)
Several of the boys maintained contact with her. There are a few photos at the end of the collection that are of young men who must have kept in touch with her. I wish I knew names for these photos, but none of them are labeled, front nor back.
As always, click on any photo to navigate the album at full resolution.
1Covenant Children’s Ministries, “Our History” (https://www.ccmprinceton.org/history/)
2Ceresco News, 18 Jun 1931, page 4 (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91891945/esther-hansons-returns-from-princeton-i/)
3Ceresco News, 18 Feb 1932, page 1 (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91892084/esther-hanson-returns-to-princeton-il/)
4Ceresco News, 15 Jun 1933, page 4 (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91892026/esther-hanson-in-princeton-il/)
5Letter from Hulda Hanson to Esther Hanson, 13 Nov 1936, in Karen’s private files
6United States Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Princeton, Bureau, Illinois; Page: 8A-8B; Enumeration District: 0044; FHL microfilm: 2340143, pp. 8A-8B
7United States Federal Census, Year: 1940; Census Place: Princeton, Bureau, Illinois; Roll: m-t0627-00762;Page: 81A-81B; Enumeration District: 6-44