Founder, Children’s Aid Society
New York City
University of Georgia
Charles Loring Brace is recognized as one of the founders of child welfare reform in the United States, particularly in the area of foster care and adoption. His work was conducted in the nineteenth century in New York City, in the midst of one of the most prolific eras of change in U.S. history. This paper will describe and summarize Brace’s background and the influences that led to his work, the impact of his work on the society of his time, the legacy of his work, and its influences on child welfare efforts today. Social Background
Charles Loring Brace was born June 19, 1826 in Litchfield, Connecticut, described as
a small but prosperous village, wholly lacking in urban luxury or vice, but providing its residents with something approaching urban levels of learning and culture. It was the home of the nation’s first law school…..also the home of one of the first secondary schools for girls in the United States, the Litchfield Female Academy, graduates of which included Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catherine Beecher” (O’Connor, 2001, p7). Charles was the second of four children born to John and Lucy Brace and, in the Puritan tradition of the time, he was primarily educated by his father. John Brace was a teacher at the Litchfield Female Academy, where he displayed a progressive slant on education by reforming the curriculum typically taught to girls to include more challenging subjects “including science, higher mathematics, logic and Latin--a curriculum that at the very least equaled that of most boys’ academies” (O’Connor, p. 8). Young Charles often sat in on his father’s classes and was undoubtedly influenced by the senior Brace’s feminist philosophy that female children should be educated on an equal level as males, in order to “improve woman’s ‘rank in society, placing her
as the rational companion of man, not the slave of his pleasures or the victim of tyranny’” (O’Connor, p. 8). John Brace and his wife also believed strongly in the Calvinist traditions of duty, diligence, sacrifice, fortitude, and self-control and passed these values on to Charles. The Braces valued nature and Charles developed a strong connection between the beauty and grandeur of the outdoors and his related feelings of joy and immense satisfaction of being alive. Perhaps the most enduring value that Charles learned from his family was moral philosophy, or “the attempt to determine the nature of one’s obligation to one’s fellow man—and to God—and the attempt to discipline one’s character so as to fulfill that obligation to perfection”. (O’Connor, p. 18). Another early influences in Charles’ life was Horace Bushnell, a Congregational minister in Hartford, CT, where Charles and his family lived after John Brace took a position at the Hartford Female Seminary (founded by Catherine Beecher). Bushnell is “regarded by many as the most important American religious thinker of the nineteenth century” (O’Connor, p 18). Rev. Bushnell promoted the ideals of spiritual development throughout the lifespan, which was in direct opposition to Calvinistic beliefs of the innate depravity of humans from birth. This idea would deeply impact Charles’ later work. Charles entered Yale in 1942 at age sixteen and he proved to be an excellent student. At Yale, Charles became close friends with his roommate, John Olmsted, as well as John’s brother, Frederick Law Olmsted, the future architect and urban designer. During his years at Yale, which also included some time at the Yale Divinity School, Charles demonstrated a strong interest in philosophy and he explored a variety of the world’s religions and spent lots of time debating various issues and ideas with his friends and classmates. This led to Charles’ development of a set of beliefs that would guide his life’s work: First, despite...