The Oral History Project
The State Home and School Project is an interdisciplinary effort attracting faculty, students, staff, former residents, and representatives from the Department of Children, Youth, and Families in a collaborative enterprise to tell the story of the state’s orphanage. The project is funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH).
The Beginnings of the Project
A public meeting in July 2002 presented the early findings of archeologists, social workers, sociologists, and child welfare administrators about the State Home and School. This gathering and the ones that have followed have attracted a key group of people—former residents of the Home. These men and women some in their thirties and some in their nineties provide us with a unique opportunity to enrich our understanding of children in care.
The major aim of the State Home and School Oral History project is to create an archive of oral interviews pertaining to the State Home & School, later known as the Patrick O’Rourke Children’s Center. These interviews are a rich community resource that could be used by researchers, members of the community, and others interested in learning about the history of how our community cares for its dependent and needy children. Former residents have come forward and have expressed strong interest in telling their stories. We intend to cast a wide net here providing an opportunity to mark, through the voices of those involved, an important history that has not yet received adequate attention. Those opting to donate their stories to the Archive will be given the option to tape record or videotape their interviews.
Contributing to the Oral History Project
Those interested in telling their story about the State Home and School should contact any one of the individuals listed below. Confidentiality will be maintained.
Memories of the State Home and School
Some research has already been done in Spring 2003. Susan Hughes, an Anthropology honors student, completed a study that collected oral histories from former residents and staff. Typical of their recollections are the following:
“ There was one nice house mother. She was a black woman. She made us pancakes on Saturday mornings. She was very nice. I felt that you getting up and making me a blueberry pancake is very important. That was special. It had to be that special because I had the feeling that is was special. I know it wasn’t something that happened all the time…there was another black woman, I remember her. She was pretty. I remember saying the night before, I was sort of crying, that I would never get to go home in a million years. I remember saying that. The next morning or the next day she told me I was going to go home. So she was very nice.”
- Female resident, placed 1973
“ I’m very grateful I ended up there because I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t. I learned all the things in life I should have learned at that School and not at home…They taught me the things that should have been taught by my parents…I had respect when I got out of that school but I think it was something that was within me. Respect, they can teach you but you have to practice it.”
- Male resident, placed 1941
“ I know what a child feels. I know the hurt. I felt the hurt at such a young age—a lack of being, a lack of feeling important, a lack of acceptance. I experienced that at a very young age. I think anybody who has lived in the State Home or the Children’s Center will recall those feelings as though it was yesterday.”
- Female resident, placed 1973
Financial support for the Oral History Project has come from a RIC faculty research grant and from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH).