Who is the Very First Foster Child Ever?  Part 1: A Family Fallen on Hard Times

Sometimes it’s easy to think foster care stories begin with the children.  But really, it starts with the story of their families who fall upon hard times.


In  May1864, the American Civil War was leaving a trail of death and destruction.  In Cold Harbor, Virginia, the Union army led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant battled the Confederates led by Gen. Robert E. Lee.  Over 16,000 casualties resulted from this bloody conflict, including the death  of Union solder Tom Wilson.  His wife Frances Wilson was left widowed and struggling to raise her baby girl Mary Ellen in New York City.  The widow found herself in financial difficulties, so she began working double shifts washing laundry at the St. Nicholas Hotel.  Although she received $2 per week as a widow of a soldier, childcare for her baby used up all of that income.

So when she lost her job, she had no way to feed herself or take care of her baby.  Faced with a heartrending decision, she chose for her baby to have food and clothes and a chance at life – she chose to place her baby in an orphanage.
Enter the McCormacks, who adopted baby Mary Ellen.  Sadly, Thomas McCormack died soon after the adoption, and his widow re-married.  Mary Ellen’s adoptive mother was plagued with great unhappiness and began physically abusing Mary Ellen.
What happens next that turns Mary Ellen into the first foster child ever?  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this posting.