There's a lot in Harvest of Thorns that's near to my heart, but that portion of Earl Manning's life that takes place at the Howland Maternity Sanitarium might be closest.
Today we don't know much about places like Howland; I certainly didn't. While talking to people a generation older, however, I learned of a time when a female student might suddenly leave school without telling anyone. "Gone to stay with relatives," or "taking care of a sick aunt" were typical reasons. Months later, the young lady would return, offering little in the way of explanation.
Then, I learned of a place called The Willows. It was in Kansas City, at 2929 Main Street. There's a Residence Inn there now, but I never pass the corner of 29th and Main that I don't think of The Willows. It was gone long before I arrived in Kansas City, but its ghost has touched my life completely.
My wife Robin was born there.
Her story still grips me. A young woman, a girl really, became pregnant in the early 1960's. She was given train fare to Kansas City and took up residence at The Willows. It was a different time, a time anyone under forty will struggle to understand. Girls who became pregnant couldn't continue attending school in many areas. Places like The Willows thrived.
The arrangement was simple. Young ladies came to The Willows to wait out their pregnancy. When their babies were born, they were put up for adoption. The new mothers were sent home, with little more than a passing glimpse of the life they'd carried.
Its almost incomprehensible to think that The Willows and similar facilities actually advertised, but here are a couple ads. The first from the Kansas City Star in 1906, the second an undated ad likely placed in an eastern city newspaper. Click on them to enlarge.
Since getting the itch to write, I've felt the need to pen an homage to The Willows. I hoped to base an entire book around it, and still might. Howland Maternity Sanitarium's appearance in Harvest of Thorns came after hours of research. I wanted to make sure I got it right. When you read about the long walkway leading to the street, the catcalls from passersby, and the manner in which rooms were assigned based upon wealth, know that I made the Howland Maternity Sanitarium as close to real as I could.
And the kindness and gentleness of the staff, especially Earl Manning? I created them as I hoped the staff was at The Willows. After all, who doesn't want to believe that the first breaths of the person he loves more than anything were taken in a nurturing environment?
For more about The Willows, including pictures and first-person accounts, look here.