Mar 2nd, 2011 by Marilyn
We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home by Sherry Matthews
We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home will ignite emotional discussion from the living conditions of the poor during the The Great Depression through the 1970′s, to the discipline that the children endured from the dorm parents. This book chronicles the first-hand accounts of those who grew up in the Home. “In these amazing stories, Texans who spent their youth in an institution for “dependent and neglected” children reveal both the positive outcomes and the horrific abuses that resulted when a government-run “home” was allowed to operate for decades without any public oversight.”
Book Description (from inside jacket)
“We were not orphans. Our parents were living; they just couldn’t take care of us.” This poignant remark captures the heartbreaking reality faced by thousands of Texas children from the 1920s through the 1970s. The Waco State Home provided housing and education for “dependent and neglected” children, but residents paid a price in physical and sexual abuse, military discipline, and plantation-style labor. Even so, the institution was the only home they had, and it rescued many children from an even worse fate. Continue reading...
Now for the first time, oral histories and newly unearthed documents reveal what went on behind the gates of the Waco State Home. Sherry Matthews has tracked down former residents and uncovered criminal abuse that went unpunished and unpublicized. She first became aware of the Waco State Home at age three, when her three brothers were taken there to live. Years later, she attended a reunion at the Home and began collecting the alumni stories with assistance from author Jesse Sublett.
We Were Not Orphans gathers riveting recollections from nearly sixty alumni who share the horror of abuse as well as their triumphs of spirit and ingenuity. Some alumni recall only the positive—bountiful food, caring teachers, victorious sports teams, and friendships and values that have lasted a lifetime. Others recount bloody beatings and sexual molestation that have left physical and emotional scars. These personal narratives and Matthews’s relentless pursuit of the truth show how much can go wrong when a government-run institution operates without adequate public oversight. The Waco State Home finally closed after a landmark federal court decision and a courageous superintendent stopped the abuse and helped shepherd the children out of institutionalized care.
“The single most stunning feature of these monologues is the resilience of childhood. Even in a climate of brutal lovelessness, boys still reveled in juvenile pranks and girls still obsessed over their hair. Laughter, furtive and fumbling romance, raucous gatherings at the escarpment towering over the Bosque River known as Lovers’ Leap, everyday subversion of the rules – these elements are persistent, and therefore miraculous. For just as this tale is replete with obvious villains (the sadistic Coach Whigham, the perverted Pop Taylor) and at least one heroine (the much-loved English teacher Mabel Legg), We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home is inspirational for one reason: the story-tellers. They dared, after all, to be children.” —Robert Draper, from the foreword
Book Club Ideas
For your book club party you can include music from the decades the Home was in operation.
- Great Depression: Amer Music in the 30′s
- Songs That Got Us Through WWII
- Big Hits of 50′s
- Pure 60′s: The #1 Hits
- 20 Hits from 70s
Square dancing was an important part in some of the residents’ lives. The Home’s square dancing team won national honors.
Book Club Menu
The food seems to be a fond memory for the alumni. They tell of the abundance of food, harvesting watermelons and making ice cream with fresh cream from the dairy on campus.
One alumni says, “I love Saturdays because we had beans, cornbread, macaroni, and tomatoes.” (Page 30)
Another alumni says’ “The food was probably one of the best memories I have of the Home. It was simply delicious. Every Sunday for lunch we had fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, and rolls, and for dessert, ice cream.” Here is another meal option for your book club party:
- Crispy Chicken Cordon Bleu
- Mashed Potatoes
- Steamed Green Beans
- Pillow-Soft Classic Dinner Roll
- Homemade or premium store bought ice cream
Book Club Resources
- “A first-rate investigative report that has it all: the cold, hard truth of a heart-wrenching chapter in Texas history, unforgettable characters, terrible secrets, legal wrangling, and the ultimate triumph of justice over unforgivable wrongs.” —Dan Rather
- “We Were Not Orphans is a harrowing, haunting, and, in its own way, uplifting human saga…A deeply compelling read. Highly recommended!” —Douglas Brinkley, author and history commentator, CBS News
- “We owe Sherry Matthews a profound debt for transcending the personal pain that she leaves elegantly unspoken in order to give voice to those children who without her would have been, if not lost to history forever, certainly, tragically misfiled.” —Sarah Bird, Author
- “Most amazing of all is the triumphant, heroic spirit that reverberates throughout the stories.” —Richard Linklater, Director and Screenwriter
- “This book is real… If you can put down this book, if you do not learn from it, if you are not moved by it, then you have forgotten your own childhood.” —Robert Fellmeth, Children’s Advocacy Institute, University of San Diego School of Law
- “Matthews’ book serves as a wake-up call for those who advocate for children and their families.” —Janice L. Cooper, Interim Director, National Center for Children in Poverty
Purchase We Were Not Orphans at your favorite bookseller
* All proceeds go to the Waco State Home Ex-Student’s Association *
WE WERE NOT ORPHANS: Stories from the Waco State Home,(University of Texas Press February 2011) is Matthews’ first book. She is currently working on others, including a family memoir. She was born in Los Angeles, California, during World War II, and grew up on her great-uncle and aunt’s farm in East Texas. Matthews first became aware of the Waco State Home at age three, when, after a series of family tragedies, her three older brothers were taken there to live. Half a century later, she attended a reunion of the Waco State Home with her only surviving brother and decided to publish a book of alumni stories as a gift to the ex-students’ association.Matthews is the founder and owner of Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, a public service marketing firm with offices in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Matthews opened her company in 1983 with a roster of real estate clients, and it was named “Hot Shop of the Southwest” its first year in business. Continue reading...
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