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Kansas City Missouri Women's Heritage Trail
Item 12 of 26

Now home to an apartment complex, this was the location of the Willows Maternity Sanitarium from 1908 until 1969. This home for unwed mothers was one of many maternity homes in Kansas City, which was nicknamed the “adoption hub” of the United States owing to Missouri's unique adoption laws that provided simplicity and privacy for mothers and the adopting parents. Tens of thousands of mothers came to Kansas City in the first half of the 20th century owing to the existence of numerous institutions like Willows Maternity Sanitarium, as well as partnerships between social services organizations and Kansas City hospitals. The Willows and its owners, Edwin P. and Cora May Haworth, earned a reputation for kindness, first-class medical care, and exceptional accommodations for the young women under their care. These factors distinguished the Willows from many other maternity homes, but still, nearly all of the estimated thirty thousand women who entered this facility left alone as nearly all of the babies born here were placed for adoption.

Willows Maternity Sanitarium, 2929 Main Street

Building, Plant, Tree, Adaptation

Willows Maternity Hospital, Exterior

Plant, Tree, Black-and-white, Sky

Families connected to the Willows donated funds to create this historical marker, shown here in storage.

Font, Publication, Motor vehicle, Commemorative plaque

This is the text of the marker the group hopes to dedicate; they await approval by the current property owner

Font, Circle, Terrestrial plant, Landscape

The Willows was opened by Edwin and Cora May Haworth in 1905 and moved to this location three years later after they acquired Asa Maddox's mansion and converted it into a maternity hospital. The Haworth family and their staff endeavored to provide unwed pregnant daughters of middle-class and affluent families who could afford their rates a chance to give birth away from public scrutiny. The institution reflected the racially segregated nature of Kansas City at that time, with African American women entering Florence Home for Colored Girls. The era's view of race, religion, social class, and ethnicity could also play a significant role in the decisions of family members to send their daughters to maternity homes. According to KelLee Parr, author of Mansion on a Hill: The Story of the Willows Maternity Sanitarium and the Adoption Hub of America some of the women who entered the Willows did so largely because they did not support their daughter's desire to marry the father of their child.

"Several have shared with me that because of religious differences between the young man and young woman," Parr explained in an email to Dr. David Trowbridge, "the parents wouldn't allow them to get married. One was a woman who shared that the boy's father was a Methodist pastor and she was Catholic. There was no way he would allow them to be married. Another woman told me that she and her boyfriend were deeply in love (this is the one who wrote all the letters to the boyfriend while at The Willows) but the boy was of Lebanese heritage and she was blond and blue-eyed. The boy's mother wouldn't allow him to marry her." Ironically, Parr added, their baby was adopted by a family of Lebanese ancestry.

Many residents at the Willows commended the staff for their kindness during difficult times in their lives. An estimated thirty thousand women gave birth at the home over the years it was in operation. By the late 1960s, however, the perceived need for maternity homes was on the decline as a reflection of changes in society.

Sometime after the closing of the Willows Maternity Sanitarium, almost all of its records were destroyed. According to the research of KelLee Parr, records from the home were initially were offered to the Jackson County Court, which refused to accept them. According to Parr, the records were taken to the Federal Reserve where they were destroyed. The loss of records led Parr and many other descendants of babies born at the Willows on extensive and often unsuccessful attempts to discover their family histories.

Former nurse Florence Beale Bolte donated a small number of items to Missouri Valley Special Collections (MVSC) at the Kansas City Public Library. The MVSC website provides this disclaimer to researchers "Please note that MVSC does not have any records from any of the Kansas City maternity homes, nor are we aware of where any surviving records may be located." The Jackson County Historical Society also houses some materials from the organization. The building that housed the Willows Maternity Sanitarium is no longer in existence; an apartment complex now sits on the lot where the home once stood. Families who are connected to this history raised thousands of dollars to create a historical marker that is in storage as of July 2022. The group hopes to secure the permission of the current property owner to dedicate the marker at this location.

“Willows Maternity Sanitarium | KC History,” Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Kline Smith, Sherrie. Where are the records for the Willows Maternity Home?, Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Parr, KelLee. Mansion on a Hill: The Story of the Willows Maternity Sanitarium and the Adoption Hub of America. United States: Manhattan, Kansas, Published by Author, 2018.

Parr, KelLee. More Voices of the Willows and the Adoption Hub of America. United States: United States: Manhattan, Kansas 2020.

The Pendergast Years. “Willows Maternity Hospital.”

Spoerre, Anna and Wells, Michael. KCQ on one of Kansas City's best kept secrets: a 'Waldorf of homes for unwed mothers', The Kansas City Star. February 19th, 2021.

Email of KelLeeParr to David Trowbridge regarding the history of the Willows, July 20, 2022.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Image Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri. SC58.

Stamey Photo Co. Image Courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society. Willows Collection - PHL 19026.

Photo by KelLee Parr