Growing Up in an Orphanage

Jacob G. Schneider grew up in the Lutheran Orphans' Home in Waverly. Years before, this home was the first orphanage in Iowa. It began in the little town of Andrew before it was moved to Waverly in 1900.

Jacob entered the orphanage when he was nine and a half months old. Two sisters and a brother came along too. Young Jacob went to the orphanage because his father was working and trying to go to school; he became very ill. The family had no money, so the mother went to the county home for poor adults. The children had to go to the orphanage.

"In all my younger years, never can I remember being taken into open arms and being loved tenderly. We were sheltered, clothed, and fed, and we were strictly disciplined. But genuine motherly love was a warm personal attachment that would continue to elude us."

The two places were only ten miles apart, but Jacob didn't know about his mother until he was 16. A woman at the orphanage drove him to see her. His mother was sad and depressed for a very long time and became mentally ill.

Life at the Orphanage

The first bell of the day meant it was time to get up. The small children had to wait until the older girls came to lower the sides of their cribs. Then it was bath time.

Jacob and Vaylord Zimmerman became close friends — in play and in mischief. To find more toys and tools for the sandbox, they went behind the smokehouse where garbage was put. They found broken jars of canned meat and beets. The odor of the meat was bad, and they left it alone. But they ate the beets, and the juice dripping down their faces and clothes looked like blood— which scared everyone.

The boys also picked flowers, which they weren't supposed to do; and they had fun chasing butterflies. In one chase Jacob ran onto a wet, smooth slab of cement. The man who laid it was patient and rubbed it flat again.

Growing Older

As he grew, he moved to the Boys' House, "where we grew up as a family of brothers." They learned to obey too.

"Work was our lot. We didn't ever know of a shortage of work. At every turn, it was, ‘Do this, do that!’ [This] would serve us well in later years. We… were capable of good performance when we needed to prove our worth when we started out into the world on our own."

Sundays were different. There was no work, but there was inspection. After the morning bell, the children lined up to be checked for clean hair, clean ears and clean hands. Then they marched to church.

Gardening was a big activity at the home. So was school. When Jacob grew older, he had a teacher named Julius Bredow. They called him Teacher Bredow. He expected students to be on time, to speak properly at school, to be patient with other students, and to act well. He had sayings to remind them of that. He said, "School is a time to learn that everything has its place, and when things are in place, then there is order."

Jacob said that Teacher Bredow was kind, not bossy. The students obeyed him because they liked the way he acted. They respected him.

The school was near a railroad track, and the children could see the train stop and then go in reverse down a short track into Waverly. The children made a game called "Dinkey." They stood in a line, with their hands on the hips of the person in front of them. When the first person said "Toot," the line moved backward around bushes and poles.

Jacob left the home in 1931 during the Depression. He found some work picking corn and doing other farm work. Later he drove a truck and then became manager of the trucking business. In 1955 he started his own milling business.

Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch 12, No. 2 (November 1990). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


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