February 4, 1932: Why Is The Memory Still So Vivid?

Our Dad died when my brother was seven and I was four. I have some very vague memories of him, his long illness and death at age 36. Two years later, on February 4, 1932, my Mom placed me in Girard College, the free Philadelphia residential institution for fatherless boys. The image of that moment is clearly with me every year on this day.

Of course, it was the only thing to do for the poverty-stricken widow on $15 weekly relief (welfare) with no job prospects during the Great Depression. On that February day, taken away from home, I was frightened and confused. Suddenly gone from my own bedroom to a dormitory with 40 other boys, it was several months before I could get accustomed to institutional living. Discipline was strict, and we marched everywhere in formation: to meals, school, chapel and playgrounds.

I had some comfort after my tearful mother left me, knowing my older brother would be there to help. He had already been a resident at Girard for a year. However, brothers were permitted only a single half-hour together on Sundays after chapel services.

Fortunately, for my brother and me, as well as for thousands of other fatherless children over nearly two centuries, Girard College was and is a very positive experience. We had an excellent education through high school and solid preparation for college and life beyond.

On this February 4th, along with memories of what happened on that unhappy day 83 years ago, I am very grateful to Girard College. I also thank my widowed mother for making that difficult decision to give me the opportunity for a better life.

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