In the first half of the 20th century, Ivakota Farm was a Progressive Era site and forward-thinking home for disadvantaged, troubled, and unwed young women. Between 1915 and its closing in the late 1950s, the home served as the residence for more than 1,100 women and treated around 9,000 women a year in its outpatient clinic. In addition to the residence, Ivakota Farm functioned as an award-winning industrial farm and education center, using local, state, and federal funding to provide training in canning, gardening, sewing, and other skills. Nowadays, a beautiful neighborhood sits at the old Ivakota Farm site, though the Fairfax County History Commission erected a historical marker in 2007 to provide both residents and visitors with a comprehensive overview of the cultural and social history of Ivakota Farm.
Backstory and Context
Overview of the Ivakota Farm Historic Site
The Ivakota Farm actually dates back to the hardships and culture women faced in the post -Civil War era. For many women in this time, care and nurturing defined their lives, whether restoring their lives when sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers didn’t come home or providing essential nurturing when the men came home scarred from the war. In the 1880s, the land of the future Ivakota was actually a large dairy farm operated by three different land owners. One of the owners, Frank and Ellen Shaw, bought 239 acres in 1909 and renamed the land “Ivakota,” which refers to the three states that Ellen Shaw had lived (Iowa, Virginia, and North Dakota).
By 1915, Mrs. Ella Doris Shaw sold the farm to the National Florence Crittenton Mission. This mission was founded by wealthy philanthropist Dr. Charles Crittenten, who lost his daughter in 1883 and decided to provide a nationwide network of houses for unwed mothers as well as orphaned or abandoned children. At the time of the sale, the Mission was led by prominent Alexandrian Dr. Kate Waller Barrett. Soon after acquiring the land, Dr. Barrett and her associates repurposed the land and built Ivakota Farm into a nationally-recognized, fully funded Progressive Era site. The site won awards for its education and produced an income as a working farm. The goal was to provide women with hope in dark times, whether the women were pregnant, diseased, battered, and so forth. It included temporary housing, a school, and medical care for these women.
The site eventually gained residence halls for the disadvantaged women as well as a health clinic and vegetable canning operation. In total, there were more than a dozen buildings and cottages. As a result of this work, countless women received the help they needed.
Ivakota Farm continued operations until the late 1950s, and the land was sold in the early 1960s.1
Transcription on the Historical Marker
On this land stood Ivakota Farm, founded as a Progressive Era reform school and home for unwed mothers and their children. In 1915 Ella Shaw donated her 264-acre farm to the National Florence Crittenton Mission (NFCM). Named for the states where she had lived—Iowa, Virginia and North Dakota—Ivakota provided a rural setting for inspirational, physical, domestic and religious education primarily for delinquent girls. Social reformer and NFCM president Dr. Kate Waller Barrett oversaw the program until her death in 1925. Ivakota included a school, nursery, health clinic, dormitories, a commercial farm and a cemetery. After leasing to charitable organizations NFCM sold the land in 1962.2