Tag Archives: orphanage

The Murphy-Harpst Home: Writing About the Past

Rolling some ideas around in my head. I guess I should tell you where I am before I embark on something new. I have a tendency to get several projects going and bounce around between them.

It wasn’t like that when I wrote Red Clay and Roses. The idea for that story had rolled around in my head for twenty years. Having the time to put the words down brought it all together in a hurry. I didn’t really intend for it to become a published book. It isn’t set in a standard novel template and has its share of faults, but I’m proud of it just the same as if I had set out to accomplish writing a novel.

Naked Alliances was my first attempt at actually putting together a totally fictional story. There are things I like about it and things I don’t. I can’t say that I’m totally thrilled with it. I know authors are supposed to be very confident and write what they want to read and be all excited about putting it out there. I’d be lying if I said that I did not have any reservations.

At any rate, I know it has improved thanks to some wonderful beta readers and a couple of fantastic editors. I just got the novel back from its last pass through an editor’s hands and I am on chapter twenty-one of thirty finishing up those edits and I am much more excited about it now than I was at the start. I plan on continuing the Naked Eye series.

I have rough outlines completed for the next two novels. One involves missing elderly, and another involves development encroaching on wildlife habitat.

I still have Surviving Sister in the works, a 1950s-60 saga that continues with Hannah Hamilton’s family members, particularly her mother and her Aunt, who both suffer from mental illness during an era of major changes in how the mentally ill were treated. Concerning the Hamilton family members, it could be read as a sequel to Red Clay and Roses or a standalone. One of the biggest hindrances to writing this novel is the research required. There is so little documentation of treatment modalities in that era. My personal psychiatrist has given me some reference books that might help move things along. There is also a romance in that book that has slowed me down.

A nice lady from the orphanage that I lived in back in the mid-seventies has written to me. She found a blog post in which I mentioned the Harpst Home. That really has me thinking. I’ve done loads of research on Ethel Harpst and the Harpst Home and still have contacts there. Although it is primarily a treatment facility now, no longer an orphanage as most children are housed in foster care nowadays, it is still home to dozens of youth who would be at serious risk if the home did not exist.

Here is an excerpt on Ethel Harpst from “Georgia Women of Achievement”


Ethel Harpst
Ethel Harpst

 Perhaps Ethel Harpst’s biggest gift was the time and effort she gave to so many children in need. Harpst began her long career of caring for children at the McCarty Settlement House at Cedartown’s mill village. During her time teaching there, she took in a number of children who had been orphaned by parents who succumbed to illnesses. The Ethel Harpst Home opened in March 1924 and housed many children until the walls could expand no more.

Harpst traveled to raise funds for a new home, and in 1927 the first modern building, James Hall, was completed. And just in time for children who were displaced and orphaned during the Great Depression. An answer to prayer was the interest and attention shown by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of New York. Through the Pfeiffer’s and several other friends, money was raised to allow more buildings to be constructed on the campus over the next 20 years, and hundreds of acres of land were contributed to the cause. All this is thanks to the dedication and tenacity of Harpst to continue fundraising. Today, the site houses the Murphy-Harpst residential program, where Georgia’s severely abused children can go for healing and therapy. In 2010-11, the program served nearly 300 children, which included 97 children in residential treatment.”

Sarah Murphy
Sarah Murphy

Long after her death in 1967, the Harpst Home merged with the Sarah Murphy Home. Sarah Murphy was a black woman in the area who had created a home for black youth.  Harpst Home became the Murphy-Harpst Home in 1976, during my last year there when it started integrating.

So, I’ve been wondering if I should write a book about them. It would either be non-fiction or a historical fiction based on their stories.

OR, Should I write a purely fictional story about a resident there and how she saw her world and the changes she went through?

Having been a resident there myself, I could better relate to a fictional character and write in the first person. There were so very many different coming-of-age stories to come out of that place during my short time there, I think it would make for a most interesting read.

What do you think?

What would interest you most?

Historical Fiction about the founders?

An orphan’s personal story?

I remember the first black girl that came from the Sarah Murphy Home to the Ethel Harpst home, and her roommate. I’d love to tell their story.

What would you, my audience, like to read?

Any ideas you’d like to share?

A Christmas to Remember At the Ethel Harpst Home

My childhood was unique in many ways.  I was in Foster Care for several years after my mother passed. The last Christmas before my emancipation was spent at a children’s group home, otherwise known as an orphanage, the Ethel Harpst Home, in Cedartown, GA.

Christmas that year seemed bleak.  I did not expect to be able to go visit with my grandparents because they were ill.  A hundred miles away and there was no expectation that any family would be visiting me. There would be no siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins to reunite with this year.

I have been reading a lot of posts about holiday time and the hardships and humor of dealing with family members during the season.  You may not fully appreciate how much family “makes” the Holiday until you don’t have any.

At the Harpst Home, I had a roommate, Darlene.  She and I were both fifteen years old, certainly too old to be adopted.  Adoption at that age was rare.  People were quick to take in small children, but older kids were thought to come with too many issues.  It didn’t matter that we had straight A’s in high school, had never been in any sort of trouble, and tutored younger children in math and reading…we were undesirable by an age standard.  Darlene and I were on the “Family Unit” where smaller children and older children were housed together.  The younger ones looked up to us and we were considered role models.

Back to Christmas.

On this particular year, Santa came to the Harpst Home, as usual.  He brought lots of presents for the little girls. With enthusiasm, they gleefully ripped into their small gifts. Shiny bows and ribbons became hair accessories. They laughed and played, and it had special meaning to see them having so much fun.

Darlene and I were trying to be mature, but we were both holding back the tears when all of the presents were passed out and there were no gifts for us.  We were helping the smaller ones set up their Lincoln Logs and put their puzzles together, building with tinker toys and playing with Barbie dolls.

Our house parents, who had gone down in the basement, came in wheeling a pair of bicycles for Darlene and me.  Our frowns turned upside down and suddenly we felt included. We were most grateful. The bikes weren’t brand new, but they were ours, or so we thought.

It turned out that these two bicycles belonged to the weekend house parents who relieved our regular house parents.  For a week, Darlene and I had been all around the neighborhood on those bikes.  We were flying up and down hills feeling the freedom of the wind.  We took long rides to other neighborhoods meeting other kids our age. We went downtown to the store for candy and other treats to share on the unit. The weekend house parents came in and saw how much joy the bikes had brought to us and would not let us give them up, even though we offered the bikes to their rightful owners.

Today, I was stumbling through the garage tripping over six bicycles that we have not ridden in years.  What couple needs six bicycles?  We gathered up four of the bikes and tossed them into the truck.  We took them over to the Russell Home for Atypical Children.  We may give the other two away next year. It felt really good.

If you are tripping over excess, and there is a children’s home near you, clean up, and make the trip.

It’s worth it.