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History of the Annie Wittenmeyer Campus

We consider it a great privilege to make our home on the Annie Wittenmyer Campus, which has a long and varied history.

The campus began life as a Civil War training camp. It was used to prepare Iowa soldiers for training and departure down the river to southern battlefields.

During the war, Annie Wittenmyer was one of the leading voices for better health care and nutrition for soldiers, and likely saved many thousands of soldiers from needless death by preventable illness or improper supplies. After the war ended, eastern Iowa (like much of the country) was left with many orphaned children. The Annie Wittenmyer orphanage was created, and served as a home for these children for many decades.

After the orphanage closed, the campus found new life by housing various activities, eventually becoming home to Family Resources and Davenport Junior Theatre. We continue to update and improve this great historical location as we move into the future.

About Annie Wittenmeyer

Iowa's Civil War Heroine Reprinted from an original article used during "Annie Wittenmeyer Days" - May 24-25, 1986

On August 26, 1827 Annie Turner was born in Ohio of a proud southern family. We have come to know her as Annie Wittenmyer, perhaps the most famous woman in Iowa history. At the age of twenty she married William Wittenmyer a prosperous merchant. In 1850 the Wittenmyers moved to Keokuk and Annie began a day school and a Sunday school for the poor.

When the Civil War came many of the men went off to war which meant that women were often needed for relief work. Annie became the secretary of the Soldiers' Aid Society of Keokuk. There was no Red Cross in those days. She visited hospitals and battlefields to learn the needs of the soldiers. She wrote back that soldiers in hospitals needed cool garments and bedding to take the place of the heavy army clothing. Fruit and better food were also needed. Many of these supplies were raised in Iowa and sent down the Mississippi, some raised directly by Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer.

An Iowa law was passed in September of 1862 requiring the governor to appoint two sanitary agents to buy supplies for sick and wounded Iowa soldiers. One of these agents was Annie Wittenmyer. Now with the authority of the Iowa government, Annie began to improve the soldiers' diet.

Army rations consisted of pork, beans, coffee, and bread. This was served in army camps and in army hospitals. Annie knew that such a ration was not for sick men, so she developed the idea of a kitchen for each of the hospitals. Each hospital would have its own special kitchen with two experienced women in charge.

Doctors would prescribe special diets and these women would prepare them. They served such food as toast, chicken, gruel, tomatoes and jelly. Much of the food was donated through aid societies.

The government soon adopted Annie Wittenmyer's idea and placed her in charge of this service. The good these diet kitchens did can scarcely be measured. They continued on after the war.

Dying soldiers asked Annie Wittenmyer to care for their children. She always promised to do so. Largely through her efforts the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans Home Association was formed. The first home opened in July, 1864 in Farmington another at Cedar Falls and a third at Camp Kinsman in Davenport.

A few years after the war Annie Wittenmyer moved to Sanatoga, Pennsylvania. Congress gave her a pension in 1898 and she died at her Pennsylvania home on February 2, 1900.

About the Campus

The Iowa Soldiers' Orphans Home Reprinted from an original article used during "Annie Wittenmeyer Days" - May 24-25, 1986

The Iowa Soldiers' Orphans Home came about as a promise to wounded Iowa soldiers by Annie Wittenmyer. Mrs. Wittenmyer was a commissioner of the Iowa Soldiers' Aid Society and at the time of the Vicksburg surrender in July, 1863 she realized that many dying soldiers were comforted by her assurances to take care of their children.

At a meeting of the Soldiers' Aid Society in Iowa City on September 23, 1863 the care of orphaned children was discussed and a meeting at Muscatine on October 5, 1863 lead to a resolution to care for the orphans. Annie Wittenmyer was in the forefront to see that an orphanage was started. She lead a campaign to raise funds throughout Iowa on Thanksgiving Day. The citizens of Davenport raised $600. The Iowa soldiers contributed $45,000 from their pay.

The first orphanage was opened at Farminton and another in Cedar Falls. It came to the attention of the society that at Davenport there were a number of abandoned but new buildings at Camp Kinsman. Annie Wittenmyer headed the delegation to acquire Camp Kinsman. She not only secured temporary use of the barracks but also secured as a gift all camp supplies, bed linen, pillows, mattresses, blankets, etc. The orphans' home at Lawrence, Iowa was transferred there in October, 1865. On January 22, 1866 Congress formally approved transfer of the camp and all of its equipment to a private organization, the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans Assn. Later that year the State of Iowa took over the association and set up a board of trustees. The Soldiers' Orphanage was not tax supported.

The Davenport home became the main branch of the orphanage and in 1875 the Glenwood and Cedar Falls orphanages were closed and consolidated in Davenport. The Davenport home was based on the cottage plan because of the scattered buildings of Camp Kinsman. The cottage plan permitted the formation of small groups with children of various ages brough together. An almost formal family life was thus achieved. This plan was widely copied by institutions in other states.

The condition of the buildings at the home was deteriorating by the 1880's. In 1881 the buildings were remodeled by the addition of brick facing and the construction of a schoolhouse, coal house and other outbuildings. New cottages were built as was a brick hospital and a dining hall. A disastrous fire burned the main building on November 10, 1887 with the loss of the books and other papers. A new administration building was built to replace it. In 1895 there were 458 orphans and the cottages were overcrowded. A second floor was therefore added to the cottages. Other buildings were added over the years. A new school was built in 1940 and the last building constructed was the Mental Health Unit which opened in 1966.

Since World War II the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans Home began to change. The farm land owned by the home north of Duck Creek was sold. In 1949 the Iowa legislature changed the name to the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer Home in honor of its founder. However the type of children at the home began to change. More younger children were being placed in foster homes and delinquent children under 12 were placed here instead of the children's reformatories at Mitchellville and Eldora. In 1963 Iowa counties were allowed to use institutional funds to pay for foster home care instead of using the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer Home. In 1967 the Iowa legislature changed the Iowa Code to no longer pay the cost of veteran's children at the Home. This was a reversal of benefits. The end came in 1975 when the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer Home was closed.

During the 107 years the Davenport home was in existence over 12,000 children called it home. The state of Iowa had a capital investment of nearly $1.1 million. The city of Davenport has since acquired the property which is now used to house various civic and community agencies.