The Good Samaritan Agency Bangor Maine – History
On May 8, 1902, three hundred women from Bangor churches gathered together at the invitation of Mr. Robert Jordan, a prominent gentleman who recognized that a special home was necessary for young girls in need. Mr. Jordan’s commitment to young people spanned his 39 years of service as secretary for the YMCA. Two women from each church, a total of 40, were subsequently appointed to formulate plans for finding a residence shelter to pregnant girls. A room in a Hammond Street residence was the first location for the Deaconess Home Association of Bangor until a small house was purchased on Larkin Street. The home relocated in 1905 to Third Street and in 1917 to Union Street. In 1907, the name was changed to the Good Samaritan Home Association.
Reports from the early years indicate that the home did “not admit the lawless, reckless, abandoned type girl who needs a reformatory”, neither did they admit degraded women. Rather, the efforts were ” directed towards that rescue of young and friendless girls, whose feet for the first time have strayed from the paths of virtue.” Early reports also consistently mention that almost never in the history of the institution were the babies born of the young women placed for adoption. The basic philosophy was that the birth family was the best place to raise a child, unless to do so also placed the child in jeopardy.
Young women and girls, who came from all over the state, were required to stay for at least six months after giving birth. During this time, they received instruction in parenting and homemaking. In many cases, they were subsequently placed in homes of wealthy area families as domestics. Their children continued to be boarded in the home for up to three years, during which time the mothers were able to get established so they could support themselves and their children. Often, during the time the mothers were in the home, the superintendent worked toward arranging a marriage with the young men responsible for the pregnancies. Local physicians provided medical services in the home, including delivery of babies, until the early 50’s.
The home also boarded infants and children under age 3 who were orphaned, abandoned, malnourished, or abused. It was one of only two facilities in the state which cared for such children. Adoptions were sometimes arranged for these children through the home.
The home was supported entirely by the church women. Initially, the Committee of the Month collected food and money each day. Later, Board members collected money to run the home and conducted fund-raisers, such as the annual flower sale on the streets of Bangor and surrounding towns. Eventually, the home became the recipient of gifts which were combined to form an endowment. The income from the endowment continues to provide a base of funding for agency services.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, adoption became a more necessary choice for young mother and other children in care. Economic conditions made it impossible for many young women to support themselves, and families were less able to take on an additional child. Most placements in the 30’s and 40’s were with out-of-state families of status and wealth who had summer homes in Maine. During the 40’s and into the 50’s, it was common practice to submit the babies to psychological testing to ensure their fitness before placing them in these families.
Society’s prevailing attitude in the postwar 50’s was that babies should be in “good families”; that is, those with two parents who were economically sound. It was socially unacceptable to be unmarried and have a baby; therefore, many of the girls and young women coming to the home surrendered their babies for adoption. As babies became more available, it was possible to do placements with in-state, middle-class families.
In 1954, the residential home on Union Street was closed and replaced with social casework and boarding care arrangements in foster homes. This reflected national trends moving away from institutionalization. During the ensuing years, the Good Samaritan Agency, as it came to be called in 1978, provided its services on State Street, Forest Avenue, Broadway, and Essex Street prior to moving into its new facility on Ridgewood Drive in 1999.
The late 60’s brought the sexual revolution and the individual rights movement. Maine and the nation passed laws ensuring various individual rights, including the right of biological fathers to participate in adoption decisions (1973), and the right of pregnant women to have an abortion during the first trimester (1973). In addition, the divorce rate began to climb and society began to accept the idea that two-parent family was not only family norm.
As it became more acceptable to have a baby outside of marriage and as social services subsidies became more available in the 70’s, young women once again began to keep and parent their babies, leading to a marked decline in babies available for adoption. The agency’s focus, as in the early years, became that of helping young parents develop appropriate parenting skills and deal with other issues related to supporting themselves and their babies.
The 80’s saw a movement toward greater openness in adoption and a healthy recognition that adopted children have two caring families, one who gave birth to them, and one who provides them with permanent, stable homes. Young women who choose to surrender their babies for adoption have a significant role in selecting the adoptive family. In some cases, the birth father also participates in the process.
With the significant decrease in babies available for adoption from among the single parents the agency serves, there was increased focus during the 80’s on placing minority race and other special needs children. From 1984 to 1989, the agency also had an active international adoption program. The program was discontinued as the costs and risks escalated. Most placements today are of minority race infants who have insufficient numbers of minority families with whom to make placements.
Services for single parents remain a high priority for the agency, including advocacy and counseling related to parenting, relationships, childcare, housing, transportation, domestic violence, personal development, vocational guidance, alcohol/drug abuse, and referral to other resources. In 1983 the agency established the Teen Parent Education Program, an alternative means to a high school diploma for pregnant and parenting girls that includes licensed childcare. The school program functions under the umbrella of Bangor Adult Education, through which most students are registered, although some come from area high schools.
Over the years, the severity of issues beyond pregnancy have intensified among those we serve. Over half of them have histories of physical, sexual and/or alcohol/drug abuse in their families. Often, today’s single mother is herself the child of a mom who gave birth as a teenager. As our world has grown more complex in the past 90 years, so have the difficulties faced by and associated with teen pregnancy and parenting.
Myths and ignorance surprisingly still exist about pregnancy just as they did at the turn of the century. While some girls get pregnant out of a false sense of hopefulness that a baby will provide a way out of a bad home situation and be someone who will love them unconditionally, there are almost as many reasons for teenagers pregnancy as there are individual cases. They fail to grasp the stresses associated with parenting, especially as compounded by poverty, educational deficiencies, and poor job skills. Therein lies the challenge for the Good Samaritan Agency as it continues to serve these young women into the future.