Looking for the truth
Devon Austin, age 60, Crittenton Home in Topeka, Kansas
The 1950s was a different time. It was a shameful and disgraceful thing if you were a young woman who was pregnant or parenting at a young age. A pregnant young woman might be ostracized or more often be sent away to visit a relative.
During her junior year in college, Odessa Crosby found herself pregnant. Instead of being sent away to a relative, she was sent to the Florence Crittenton Home in Topeka, Kansas.
After she gave birth to me, my mother went back to school and got married, but not to my biological father. But she never overcame the guilt, shame and humiliation of having me. She was never able to tell her story or what happened to her. Even when I asked, she was never able to share that with me and never told me who my biological father was. For my whole life, I yearned for the true story and most importantly find out who my biological father was.
My mother passed away in 2007 and she never told me.
Through the years, I’ve had to gather information on my own. When I got my birth certificate, I saw Florence Crittenton in the little box at the top of where it says where you’re born. I called the Kansas Department of Vital Statistics and they told me that the home had burned down and that the doctor who delivered me was dead thus there was no information. So at that point I kinda gave up.
Then In 2010 I decided to try again. I did a Florence Crittenton search and sent an e-mail with my little story. I really didn’t expect to get anything back, but I did. Jeannette, President of National Crittenton, replied and told me that in fact the home was still there and she helped me to get more information. The Topeka agency tried to find as much information about who my biological father was but came up with nothing. During our back and forth e-mails, she told me a lot about the history about the home and what was going on in the fifties, because I didn’t know anything. During our correspondence both figured out that I was born in the colored home and not at the white home which is where I had been searching for information.
You see at the time In Topeka Kansas, there were two Crittenton homes. One home was the White Florence Crittenton home for white pregnant women and the other was the “Colored” Florence Crittenton home, for Black pregnant women. Odessa lived in the Black Florence Crittenton home. She gave birth to a beautiful bouncing baby girl–and that beautiful bouncing baby girl was me. So at least I now knew that I was born in the “Colored” Topeka, Kansas Florence Crittenton home.
I haven’t been able to get any information about my biological father but I have been able to learn more about it was like for my mother. After visiting the White Shield Center in Portland, Oregon (part of the Crittenton family of agencies) I was able to experience firsthand what it might have been like for my mother. Seeing the architecture and old photos give me a better picture and understanding of what my mother went through.
I was angry all those years that my mother never told me anything about my biological father, but this new information and the things I’ve experienced has given me a new understanding. It has been healing for me.
My hope is that today young women who are pregnant will be able take advantage of opportunities and not live life in shame as my mother did.