'Father living, mother dead': How Maryville's old logbooks reveal its mission to save children

We can put 2018 in our past, but the memories — good and bad — are going to stick around. They might even grow stronger.

Making pilgrimages to Maryville Academy, the Des Plaines institution that has taken in tens of thousands of needy children since 1883, adults researching their family history often are given details about a mother or father who lived there as a child. Those facts, many preserved in beautiful cursive writing penned by a quill dipped in ink, still have power.

“One woman cried when she realized her mom didn't have many visitors,” says Mary Ellen D'Amato, compliance officer at Maryville Academy and keeper of those recently discovered century-old log books and records. The books often raise as many questions as they answer.

“There's an entire page of Sister Marys,” D'Amato says. “Maybe those were the teaching nuns. They could have been bringing children. They could have been picking up children.”

Many of the names feature a full address of a child, and the harsh reason they were left at Maryville.

“Parents Insane,” reads a description for one 8-year-old girl.

Some entries explain how children were “paroled” for a day to attend a parent's funeral. Many of the entries are so similar that Maryville officials developed abbreviations such as FLMD (Father Living Mother Dead). Under one Father Dead Mother Living entry, a separate note explains, “Mother unfit to care.”

“The parents of these children both drink. The mother drinks and entertains men at all hours,” reads one entry.

“So very sad,” came the response from a man learning these things about his grandparents.

Finding out about his dad's stay at Maryville gave 79-year-old Robert Mitchell new insight into his grandparents.

“I'll be blunt. They were lousy parents,” Mitchell says. His grandparents' drinking was so out of control that the court placed his dad, Bruno D. Mitchell, at Maryville from age 12 to 18. “I did not know that until I got the paperwork from Mary (D'Amato),” says Mitchell, who grew up in North Chicago and Waukegan and now lives in Gilbert, Arizona.

His father told “tales” from childhood about living in an orphanage, but Mitchell says he didn't know if they were true until he reached out to Maryville. Maryville records revealed that his grandparents never visited his dad “not once” during Bruno Mitchell's six years living there.

“My dad had a hell of a childhood. Thank goodness for Maryville,” Robert Mitchell says, noting that his father, who died in 1988 at age 74, got an education at Maryville and became a good father. “I truly believe that was because of Maryville.”

Maryville also has health records, with check marks next to diseases of the day such as scarlet fever, measles, German measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, typhoid fever, mumps, rheumatism and St. Vitus Dance, a neurological disorder resulting from the infection that also causes rheumatic fever, characterized by involuntary, rapid movements and known today as Sydenham chorea.

Many report cards are included in the record, showing ratings for “character” as well as “intelligence.” Character ratings included Honest, Industrious, Reliable, Indifferent, Lazy and Insubordinate. Intelligence ratings went from Genius to Bright to Average to Slow to Below Average.

On one of the pages from 1918, visitor entries included prominent bishops from Northampton and Oxford, England; a distinguished visitor from Paris; and the broad scrawl of “Adolf Hitler.”

“We suspect it was left where the children got their hands on it,” D'Amato says, noting that other fake entries included World War II pinup Betty Grable, President Roosevelt, a host of movie stars from the 1940s, and a note from the pope, with the papal postscript, “Don't forget the sandwiches.” Some children drew pictures on the pages. The first 30 pages of the log book are missing.

“I was happy to get whatever I could,” says Patty Beaudet-Frances, whose mother Helen Joiner was placed in Maryville in 1930 at age 7 after her mother died in childbirth. The girl lived at Maryville for eight years. Once, when she ran away with her older brother, the girl received an unusual punishment. “She had beautiful red curly hair,” Beaudet-Frances says. “The nuns gave her a bowl haircut.”

Joiner, who died in 2006 at age 83, “turned out to be the most nurturing person,” says Beaudet-Frances, 67, who lives in the neighborhood of Edison Park on Chicago's Far Northwest Side. “She said she had a lot of nurturing from the nuns.”

Joiner went to reunions and the annual Chuckwagon Days fundraising benefit at Maryville, which still offers residential care and an array of other services for families and children.

“If there wasn't a place like Maryville, I don't know where my mother would have ended up,” Beaudet-Frances says.

“All these stories,” D'Amato says as she thumbs through the old books. “It just brings back the whole mission of Maryville.”

  "Parents insane," "mother dead, father in penitentiary" and "parents unfit" are just some of the reasons children 100 years ago ended up at what is now Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. Mark Welsh/
Since 1883, children have found a respite living at what is now Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. Courtesy of Maryville Academy
  Records from 100 years ago help descendants realize why a parent or even grandparent needed help as a child, says Mary Ellen D'Amato, compliance officer at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. Mark Welsh/
  Century-old records recently discovered at Maryville Academy tell stories of heartache and joy. They also show that a prankster kid in the 1940s listed Adolf Hitler as a visitor. Mark Welsh/
  Flipping through century-old records, Mary Ellen D'Amato, compliance officer at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, also found examples when kids got their hands on the books and had some fun. Mark Welsh/
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