The word “orphan” is a multi-faceted one that can be used as a noun, verb and adjective. Of course, the noun version is most common and defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents, a young animal that has lost its mother, or one deprived of some protection or advantage.”
When it comes to cemeteries, orphans are an obvious result of the death of both parents, being cut down in the prime of life. In some cases, the “orphaning” is the result of one parent dying, and the widowed parent not being capable to raise a child (or children) on their own. Then there are those cases that were not talked about, wherein a child may have been born out of wedlock. Although the older concept of orphans seems to be a thing of the past, thanks to advances in medicine/healthcare (keeping parents healthier), and the practice of adoption becoming more accepted over the last century.
I see this situation of “orphaned” children often in my geology and historical research endeavors. Even in my own family, I had a great-grandmother (on my father’s side) who lost both parents to illness as a young teen, thus causing her and siblings to be raised by her grandmother. On the other side of the family, my mother’s mother (grandmother) lost both parents by age six. She almost went into an orphanage, a residential institution for the care and education of orphans. Thankfully, her oldest sister turned 18 days before a court ruling which resulted in permission given to said older sister to be recognized as her legal guardian.
Many children were not as lucky as those family members I just mentioned of mine. We had orphanages here in Frederick, two of note included the Loats Orphan Asylum (1879-1956), once housed in the Baltzell home on East Church Street. This building has served as home to the Frederick Historical Society/Heritage Frederick for decades since the old orphanage was closed. Immediately next door, an earlier established orphanage once existed across the alley under the purview of the local Protestant Episcopal church here in town. Mount Olivet has a lasting reminder of that benevolent institution.
To find it, you have to make your way to a section within Area G that is enclosed with an iron fence—what I guess you could call our only “gated community” within Mount Olivet. Known commonly as the Potts lot, this is the site of the final resting places of several members of prominent past families including the namesake Potts, Murdochs, Marshalls, Ross’ and Francis Scott Key’s parents.
On the north side of this large burial lot are two additional lots enclosed by ancient iron fencing. One lot (G 59) encloses the grave of an 1812 veteran named Daniel Hughes (1774-1854) who had married into the Potts family. The other (G58), located directly behind the Hughes lot, was once owned by the Episcopal Female Orphan Asylum of Frederick. Today it is owned by the All Saints’ Protestant Episcopal Church. It was established for the burial of orphans in conjunction with the church’s former Orphan House on East Church Street.
The Orphan House and Episcopal Free School Society of All Saints’ Church
There are two prime sources for information on the All Saints' Orphanage. One was a small pamphlet written by Eleanor Murdoch Johnson (1860-1945). Miss Johnson was a devout member of All Saints' and a longtime member of the board of managers for the Episcopal Orphanage. In 1915, she published her work: A History of the Orphan House and Episcopal Free School Society of the All Saints' Church FrederickTown, Maryland 1838-1915. The daughter of John Ross Johnson and Maria Louisa Ann Hammond died at age 84 and is buried about 25 yards from the Orphanage Lot in Area E/Lot 62.
Another source of information comes from the History of All Saints Parish (Frederick County, Maryland), a book researched and written by Ernest Helfenstein with help from two of my friends among others, the Carroll H. Hendrickson and C. Lynne Price. The following passage comes from this work published in 1991.
As early as 1833 the lot on which the present orphanage stands was occupied by a small building in which was conducted the “school of Industry,” a fee school. As the attendance of this school increased from eight to thirty-two scholars the idea of an Orphan Home and School developed in the minds of the ladies of the congregation and by a series of “Fairs” a fund for the erection of a suitable building was started. In March, 1838, an Act of Incorporation was passed by the Maryland Legislature and the building was erected in 1839 by George Cole. This was made possible largely through the generosity of Mrs. Eleanor Potts who conveyed the lot upon which the Orphan House now stands to the trustees, the lot having been purchased by her for one thousand dollars from the “Vestry and Council of the Lutheran Church, Fredericktown.”
Daniel Hughes’ wife, Elizabeth (Potts) Hughes served on the first Board of Managers of the new orphanage, as was her mother (Eleanor Potts). For almost a century, this institution would serve as a haven for many orphan children and "in the world today are many useful women who can refer with pleasant memories to the time they were taught to read, write and sew at All Saints’ Orphanage and School." In 1856, Richard Potts (a trustee of the operation) wrote:
“The congregation of All Saints’ is in prosperous condition, a new and beautiful church having been built, in a short time will be ready for consecration. But whatever gratulation may be allowable upon the result, the most sparkling gem in their diadem will be this hopeful nursery and home for the little ones.”
Mount Olivet Cemetery was officially dedicated in late May, 1854. Three months later, on August 30th, 1854, the Episcopal Female Orphan Asylum of Frederick purchased Area G’s Lot 58 consisting of eight grave sites. Interesting of note, nearly 44 years would pass until a burial would be made here. The date would be June 17th, 1898 and the decedent was 12-year-old Bertha Virginia Cleary who had died the previous day, June 16th.
News of Bertha’s death made the local newspaper, and so did her funeral. The article made known the fact that this was the first death related to an inhabitant of the girls orphanage. It would continue to be so for the next 48 years.
As you could imagine, I haven’t been overly successful in attaining additional info on Miss Cleary, but we have a birthdate of December 6th, 1886 and her obit claimed she was a native of Frederick. Now the local papers have her last name spelled as Clary. However, our interment book spells the name as “Cleary,” and the stone does the same. I found no other Clearys in our cemetery, and 19 Clarys. The latter was more prevalent around here with many living in the Unionville/Mount Airy area in the eastern part of the county.
I was better prepared to simply chase after Cleary so I searched the Frederick census records for Clearys. In 1880, I found three girls with this surname as students of the Academy of the Visitation here in town, roughly two short blocks from the All Saints’ Orphanage.
The ladies can be found as natives of Howard County, living with stepfather Alexander A. Fahey and their mother Isabella Cleary. This raised a flag for me and put my focus on the three girls as longshot potential mothers of Bertha Virginia Cleary. I felt that since they were familiar with both Frederick, and likely the All Saints’ Orphanage as well, that perhaps they may place a child here—especially one holding the Cleary surname. If so, we would certainly assume the child was born out of wedlock—but absolutely no judgment here.
I also thought of the stigma assigned to Catholic girls and a potential illegitimate child. And yes, Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” did cross my mind—and remember that our subject does have Virginia as a middle name, mind you.
I soon learned that the girl’s father, William Cleary (b. 1814) and a native of Ireland, had died in 1878. Their mother, Isabella (b. 1838), was the daughter of Baltimore merchant Edwin Bailey as I found her in the 1860 US census. Miss Bailey married William Cleary, and later would remarry Mr. Fahey as mentioned earlier. She appears to have died around 1885.
Daughter Helen Cleary (1864-1937) married Alexander Benzinger in 1885 and had four sons, the first (Fred) born in November, 1886. I found it ironic that the family also had an orphaned boy (John Keenan) living with them here in Howard County in 1900.
Laura Gertude Cleary (1866-1929) married Edward Aloysius Benzinger on October 25th, 1887 at the Baltimore Basilica of the Assumption. According to a family tree posted on Ancestry.com, she would go on to have four children. Youngest sister Mary Grace is residing with the family.
I found a few mentions in local newspapers of Wilhelmina Maud Cleary (1869-1949) making return visits to Frederick to visit old friends (teachers/classmates). She married John Daniel Simering in 1889 and went on to have six children. The family lived in downtown Baltimore and later Elkridge.
Nothing definitive at all as it was just the hunch of a curious historian trying to find the parents of an "orphaned orphan" here in Mount Olivet. Like I said, it could be a clerical error in spelling with the right name being Clary. I will leave that research rabbit hole for someone else.
In the All Saints' History book, I found mention to an oral interview conducted with parishioner Nellie Effie Wenner. She actually lived at the orphanage 15 years after the death of Bertha Cleary, having suffered almost fatal burns at the age of five. Mrs. Shaw, born in 1908, lived at the orphanage for 15 years and discussed the duties assigned to the inhabitants of the home. She said:
You are never too little to work! The usual number of 15 girls attended Sunday School, followed by the 11 o'clock service, during which they sat "way up front" near Judge (Glenn) Worthington's family. Evening prayer saw them back in church again."
Many of the girls went into parishioners' homes as domestics or as personal maids until they could be on their own. Mrs. Shaw remembered women board members who took personal interest in the girls' welfare. Birthday parties were also thrown for the orphaned girls as well. An annual picnic was held for the children at the farm of Joseph D. Baker, namesake of Baker Park. These gestures helped instill a life-long dedication to All Saints' Church, and a desire to help others more needy than herself.
Nellie Wenner married Charles Henry Shaw and worked as a seamstress as an occupation. She would pass away in 2001 and is buried in Mount Olivet's Area MM, Lot 139. Here (Area MM) is where are buried many of those re-interred from the old All Saints' Graveyard including Governor Thomas Johnson, Jr. and parish standouts like Rev. Maurice D. Ashbury (1902-1996)
As far as the legacy of the All Saints' Orphanage, I return back to Mr. Helfenstine's history:
“In the mid-1940s, changing social conditions and theories brought to an end an All Saints’ institution that had perhaps been the most important outreach program of the parish for over 100 years. In April 1946, an announcement was made by the Board of Managers that the Episcopal Orphan House and Episcopal Free School Society of All Saints’ Church would be closing. Through the years, generations of women had given themselves to help “destitute female orphans,” and many board members were descendants of the first board women. Just as the opening of public schools brought to a close the Free School, so a new method of placing children in foster homes replaced the Orphan House. Special care was given to finding homes for the only two girls left in the orphanage, and on June 14, 1946, they made their farewells. In November, the building was sold for $20,000 to Drs. Tyson and Lansdale to be converted into apartments.”