Edna Browning Kahly Gladney (January 22, 1886 – October 2, 1961), was an early campaigner for children's rights and better living conditions for disadvantaged children.
Gladney was born on January 22, 1886 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Minnie Nell Jones. Her mother was not married and was only seventeen when Edna was born. Her natural father was never revealed, and Jones later married Maurice Kahly. Jones and Kahly had a daughter together, named Dorothy. After Maurice's death, Gladney's mother sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in Fort Worth, Texas in 1904.
Though expecting to only stay in Fort Worth for a few months, Gladney stayed longer and eventually met Sam Gladney in 1906. After a summer of courtship and silly postcards, Gladney left her fiancé from Wisconsin to marry Gladney. Sam Gladney was ten years older than she was, and worked at Medlin Flour Milling Company. In 1913, the Gladneys moved to Sherman, Texas so that Sam could open his own milling company, Gladney Milling. Edna joined the Sherman Civic League and started inspecting local meat markets and public restrooms for cleanliness.
Grayson County Poor Farm
On one of these inspections, Gladney came across the Grayson County Poor Farm, which was little more than a dumping ground for the unwanted poor, insane, handicapped, and children. She enlisted the other Civil League ladies to help her, and wrote a contemptuous article in the local paper. The Civic League had a meeting with the Grayson County Commissioners Court, the local governing body and owners of the Poor Farm, where they declared it everyone’s responsibility to care for the children at the farm. Impatient to wait for action, the ladies, led by Gladney, went to the farm and personally cleaned and white-washed it. Gladney then arranged the transfer of the children to the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society run by Reverend I. Z. T. Morris.
Texas Children's Home and Aid Society
By 1910, Gladney had joined the board of directors for the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. She studied settlement work and child welfare, and established a free day nursery in Sherman to help poor working families by watching their children so they could work freely. Thirty-five women enrolled their children on opening day of what was called the Sherman Nursery and Kindergarten for Working Women. The free day nursery was financed by Gladney and donations to collection boxes that she placed in local businesses. Gladney began to devote more and more of her time to the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society and by 1927 she had been named superintendent.
After her husband died on Valentine’s Day in 1935, Gladney continued to make the welfare of unwanted children the center of her life. She continued the work of Reverend Morris by placing abandoned children with adoptive families. She also expanded the society’s activities to focus on the care of unmarried mothers and an adoption service for their babies.
In 1950, the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society bought the West Texas Maternity Hospital, which was renamed the Edna Gladney Home – now The Gladney Center for Adoption. The purchase of the Home expanded services to birth mothers and provided prenatal care. This new agency also operated a Baby Home where infants could receive care until their adoption.
Gladney lobbied the Texas legislature to have the word "illegitimate" kept off birth certificates of adopted and abandoned children. She succeeded in 1936, making Texas the first state in the southwest to legally remove the stigma of illegitimacy.
In 1951, Gladney helped to get a bill passed that gave adopted children the same inheritance rights as biological children and recognized that they should be legally adopted rather than placed in "long-term guardianship." Ill health forced Gladney into semi-retirement in 1960, but she remained active as an advisor until her death on October 2, 1961, from diabetic complications. Gladney is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.
In 1941, Gladney and her work acquired a national reputation after the release of the movie, Blossoms in the Dust, for which Greer Garson, who portrayed Gladney, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Gladney placed over 10,000 babies with adoptive parents during her career and totally revolutionized adoption practices. She helped to grant adoptive children the same rights as “natural” children and gave orphaned children and many birth mothers a place to stay and a hospital where they could receive treatment.
Gladney helped develop modern day adoption practices and removed the stigma of “illegitimacy” from birth records and from society. Gladney treated all of “her” children as if they were her own and continued correspondence with adopted children long after they had left her care.
The Facebook page, "Where is Edna Going?", helps adopted children and adopting families connect with other adoptees and adopters by taking pictures with a cutout of Gladney with their new families.
- GLADNEY, EDNA BROWNING KAHLY
- "Fort Worth Flashback: Edna Gladney fought for adoption rights in Texas". Official Website of the City of Fort Worth, Texas. Retrieved August 11, 2012.