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Mission Free School Records

Identifier: LH-wua00524

Mission Free Records includes bound volumes of enrollment and dismissal records, handwritten diaries, correspondences, a variety of financial documents, by-laws and legal records, and collected objects from the Mission Free School of St. Louis, Missouri.


  • 1863-1977


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.

Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University.

If you wish to publish or license Special Collections materials, please contact Special Collections to inquire about copyright status at (314) 935-5495 or (Publish means quotation in whole or in part in seminar or term papers, theses or dissertations, journal articles, monographs, books, digital forms, photographs, images, dramatic presentations, transcriptions, or any other form prepared for a limited or general public.)


6 linear feet

9 boxes

Historical Information

The roots of the Mission Free School begin in the 1840s when the Unitarian Church of Messiah, under leadership of Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, organized a tuition-free school. After St. Louis City enacted a tax-funded public school system in 1849, efforts expanded to include residential care. A small staff of women provided foster-care type services to children due to a parent’s death, illness, unemployment or other family crisis. Other programs offered were similar to those of neighborhood settlement houses. Services were offered regardless of religion, creed, or nationality. Although not stated explicitly, records seem to indicate all families and children assisted where white. [1]

On January 30, 1863 the “Mission Free School of the Church of Messiah” formally incorporated with the State of Missouri as a separate charitable organization, “for the purpose of reclaiming and teaching habits of industry to orphans and children of destitute parents.” The first board, all men, consisted of: John Cavender, George Partridge, Samuel Treat, John Tilden, Hudson E. Bridge, and Wayman Crow. In 1879 the first women were appointed to the Board of Managers: Mrs. E.H. Whedon, Mrs. Hugh McKittrck (Grace Kennett McKittrick), Mrs. E.A. DeWolf, Mrs. Davis Powell, Mrs. John H. Louderman (Katherine Switzer Louderman), Mrs. W.A. Noyes, Mrs. Thomas Tilden Richards (Agnes Dodd Richards), Mrs. J.W. Goddard, Mrs. George E. Leighton (Isabella B. Leighton), Mrs. Lewis McCall, Mrs. George Dana (Leslie Dana), and Mrs. Summer. [2]

Early paid staff included Lydia Johnson (matron 1867 – 1875), Mary Ellen Tucker (matron 1875 – 1888), Eliza A. Faulkner (teacher starting 1887), and Carrie A. Wright (teacher and later superintendent, 1928- circa 1955). [3]

The organization operated at different locations within the city of St. Louis. From circa 1840-1850s school was held in the basement rooms of the Church of Messiah at 4th and Pine Streets. In 1856 funds were raised for a Mission House building on 8th Street, between Locust and St. Charles. Circa 1880 – circa 1900, the “New Mission House” operated out of a building at 9th and Washington Street. In the early 1900s, some children were housed at 2817 Lawton Street, and then 2737 Locust Street. In 1905 a property and building at 369 North Taylor Avenue was donated by Mrs. William H. Huse, and was in use from 1907 - 1955. [4]

Supported by donations, primarily from members of the Unitarian Church, over time an endowment was established providing long-term financial stability.

With the anticipated retirement of Superintendent Carrie Wright, the board decided to close the residential program in 1955 and for two years undertook a study of how to better serve the needs of local children. In 1957 the property at 369 Taylor was donated to the Washington University School of Medicine, and the building remodeled for use by the “William Greenleaf Eliot Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.” Mission Free School board members served on an advisory committee for this new division, which was headed by Dr. E. James Anthony, the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Child Psychiatry. [5]

Though the 1980s the Mission Free School would continue to support area children by donating funds to other local welfare groups, such as Kinder Cottage and South Side Nursery. The institution would eventually evolve into the “St. Louis Unitarian Foundation for Children” and continues as of 2022 to financially support agencies that benefit children in the St. Louis-area. [6]

For published histories see: Carson, Elizabeth Chapin. “The Mission Free School.” Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, vol. 9, no. 4, part 1 (July 1953) 352-371. (reprint of article located in Series 2 of collection)

Corbett, Katharine T. In Her Place: A Guide to St. Louis Women's History. (Missouri History Museum, 1999), 138-140.

Notes: [1] “Unitarian Church of the Messiah” National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination, 1973.

[2] Carson, Elizabeth Chapin. “The Mission Free School.” Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, vol. 9, no. 4, part 1 (July 1953) 352-371. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Pro-Quest consulted for full names of female managers.)

[3] Carson.

[4] Carson; William Greenleaf Division of Child Psychiatry brochure, 1959. William Greenleaf Division of Child Psychiatry brochure, 1959. [5] “St. Louis Unitarian Foundation for Children” 2021.


The Mission Free School Records is arraged into series by material type.

Series 1: Bound Volumes

Series 2: Files

Series 3: Objects

Source of Acquisition

Accession number LH2021-010. Gift of Dana Hunsche, August 11, 2021

Related Materials

Additional records of the Mission Free School are held by the First Unitarian Church archives, 5007 Waterman Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63108. Contact church office for more information, 314-361-0595.

Additional records of the William Greenlead Eliot Division of Child Psychiatry are found in RG01C-SG01-S10-B30-F15, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.

Processing Information

Processed by Emily Alberts, 2021-2022.

Mission Free School Records
Description rules
Language of description

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Local History Collecting Area

Miranda Rectenwald
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495