Her empathy for children—especially those born out of wedlock—seemed infinite, and that empathy came to her naturally.
Edna Kahly was born in Wisconsin in 1886 to an unwed mother. In 1907, after Edna’s marriage to Sam Gladney in 1906, Edna Gladney experienced a tubal pregnancy that almost killed her and left her unable to conceive.
Edna Gladney would spend the rest of her life helping the children of others. (Photo from The Portable Handbook of Texas.)
Some background: In the midnineteenth century East Coast cities such as Philadelphia and New York were inundated with orphans and abandoned children. Beginning in 1854 so-called orphan trains carried such children from the East to the Midwest and South, where they were placed with adoptive families. Between 1854 and 1929 orphan trains relocated almost 200,000 children.
In 1887 the Texas & Pacific railroad brought the first orphan train into Fort Worth. Isaac Zachary Taylor Morris, a Methodist preacher, and his wife Belle began taking in orphan train children—as many as fourteen at a time—and finding adoptive families for them. The Morrises’ work evolved into the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society. It was organized in 1896 and chartered in 1904.
In 1903 Edna Kahly moved to Fort Worth to live with an aunt and uncle.
The year 1906 brought two important events:
(2) Edna Kahly broke her engagement to Mr. Ehman and instead married Sam Gladney, “one of the Fort Worth beaux whose devotion to her has been pronounced.”
Sam Gladney was manager of the Medlin flour mill.
In 1910 Edna joined the board of Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society.
But three years later the Gladneys moved to Sherman when Sam bought the Sherman Mill and Grain Company and renamed it “Gladney Milling Company.”
In Sherman Edna continued her charitable work. She and Sam became foster parents “to every lonely waif in Sherman, the Star-Telegram wrote. But Edna was not a stay-at-home do-gooder. She founded the Sherman Nursery and Kindergarten for Working Women; she joined the Sherman Civic League and inspected local meat markets and public restrooms for cleanliness; to finance her charitable work, she collected change in milk bottles that were placed in stores around Sherman.
On one of her sanitation inspections, Gladney found that the Grayson County poor farm was (1) unsanitary and (2) little more than a dumping ground for the unwanted, including unwanted children. You guessed it: Edna led a brigade of women who personally cleaned and whitewashed the poor farm. Then she arranged to have the children moved to the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth.
Sam and Edna moved back to Fort Worth in 1918. Sam worked for various mills, and Edna continued her work for the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society.
In 1927 Edna was named superintendent of the society. She planned to stay in the position for only a year, mainly as a fundraiser. She would overshoot her deadline by thirty-two years.
After the Star-Telegram printed this story at Christmas 1929, how many minutes do you think passed before Edna Gladney’s phone began to ring?
Under her leadership the society would begin to place more emphasis on helping unwed mothers and their babies. In 1936 Gladney lobbied the Texas legislature for passage of a bill that made the state the first in the Southwest to remove the label “illegitimate” from birth records. Her argument to the legislature: “There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.”
Four years later Ralph Wheelwright and his wife adopted a baby girl from Mrs. Gladney. Ralph Wheelwright was a publicist for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. He envisioned a movie in the inspiring work being done by Edna Gladney. He pitched the story to Louis Mayer, head of MGM.
(After Greer Garson died in 1996, her charitable foundation donated $500,000 to the Gladney Fund.)
The good works of Edna Gladney continued to be recognized. In 1953 she appeared on the TV program This Is Your Life.
The year 1950 brought two more important events: (1) In recognition of her service, Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society was renamed the “Edna Gladney Home.” (2) The society bought the thirty-five-bed West Texas Maternity Hospital at 2300 Hemphill Street, which had opened about 1935. The Edna Gladney Home at the time was located at 1315 West El Paso on Quality Hill.
The home continued to expand its Hemphill campus into the 1980s. It eventually included the hospital, three dormitories, recreation hall, dining hall, offices, nursery, chapel, swimming pool, and miniature golf course. In addition to adoption services, the home provided education for middle school and high school students and a GED preparation and testing program.
The home could accommodate 150 mothers.
By 1951 Edna Gladney was back in Austin to fight for the rights of adopted children. She convinced lawmakers that adopted children should have the same inheritance rights as biological children and that they should be legally adopted rather than placed in long-term guardianship.
Because of her tenacity, Edna became known as “that Gladney woman” to members of the Texas legislature.
In recognition of her advocacy, in 1954, after more than forty years of helping children, “that Gladney woman” was profiled by Woman’s Home Companion in a feature entitled “I Gave Away 10,000 Babies.”
The Edna Gladney Home expanded beyond the 2300 block of Hemphill. The Carnes Court apartments at 2100 Hemphill were built in 1918. Alva R. Carnes was a traveling salesman. In 1960 the apartment complex became part of the Edna Gladney campus. The home added an auditorium and a cafeteria.
The apartments consisted of twin buildings with a courtyard between. Today the buildings house The Bastion restaurant and catering company.
Also in 1960 the Edna Gladney Home bought the Tanner House (circa 1925) at 2110 Hemphill from Aggie Pate Jr. The house had been built for Jacob F. Tanner, whose family owned Tanner-Williams Printing Company. Today 2110 Hemphill is part of The Bastion complex.
In 1959 a music studio had occupied the house.
Edna Gladney died in 1961.
In 2001 the Gladney campus at 2300 Hemphill was renovated and expanded to house the school district’s Daggett Montessori School.
In 2002 the Edna Gladney Home, now known as “Gladney Center for Adoption,” moved to its new campus on John Ryan Drive in southwest Fort Worth.
Of course, the Gladney Center for Adoption has continued its mission in the sixty years since Gladney died. According to the center’s website, the number of children placed is now thirty thousand, the number of birth mothers served, thirty-seven thousand.
Edna Gladney, the childless woman who “gave away 10,000 babies,” is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.