History of the King’s Daughters Home
It was in 1891 that the idea was first proposed by Mrs. Louis F. Steams, the wife of a Bangor Theological Seminary professor, for a place where girls and women could go safely when in Bangor with very little money and no friends. A public meeting was held in March of that year which was attended by interested women, many of whom belonged to the Order of King’s Daughters, a newly formed Christian service organization. At that meeting, it was decided that a home be established under the management of women from all fourteen of the churches in the city, and thus be non-sectarian and non-partisan. It was named the King’s Daughters’ Home. The original founders were: Mrs. Louis F. Steams, Mrs. J. S. Sewall, Miss Mary Snow, Miss Sarah Coombs, Miss Fannie Lord and Mrs. Abbie Pearl.
On July 7, 1891, the home was opened in a rented house at 35 Columbia Street with a matron, Miss Leavitt, and one boarder. It was supported by voluntary contributions from the churches and various King’s Daughters Circles, along with the small amount of room and board charges collected. Attendance quickly increased as word spread of the Home’s existence.
The Home’s official governing body, the King’s Daughters’ Union, was incorporated in November and described its purpose to be that of promoting “the temporal, moral and intellectual welfare of girls and women.” To that end, the Home’s function became more than just a place to eat and sleep with the development of a Women’ s Exchange (for cooking and other craft), a sewing school and a series of entertainments including a Sunday afternoon Service of Song which was open to past and present boarders.
When it became necessary to relocate the home to larger quarters in 1893, a fund raising drive was undertaken and a new house purchased at 18 Middle Street in February 1894. By this time, the Home was providing daily meals to working women in the community for a fee and could accommodate up to 40 individuals in the dining area. This was its most dependable source of income at the time along with continuing donations from the churches, the Circles, and other friends.
The Home remained open day and night to the homeless and anyone needing shelter and protection, regardless of their condition or ability to pay. There were classes in the evenings for educational work in cooking, dressmaking and bookkeeping.
Notices about the Home were posted in train stations and the steamship wharf to let travelers know of its whereabouts if anyone was stranded due to a missed connection, a storm, lack of funds to continue a journey, or other reasons. During the first four years of operation, 500 girls and women received shelter, some for only a night and others for periods up to a year. Some guests returned repeatedly during their travels through the city, so pleased they were with the accommodations.
Over the next twelve years, the Home provided an indispensable service to the community by giving shelter to between 200 and 300 women each year at minimal or no cost, and continuing its role of encouraging positive moral values and self-sufficiency while maintaining a family atmosphere under its roof. Here is a portion of an article from the January 1905 Bangor Daily News which illustrates the Home’s usefulness:
Not long ago on a cold, rainy, blustering night, after 12 o’clock, a patrolman found a girl on Main Street, thinly clad, and shivering. Upon questioning her the officer learned that she was a stranger in the city in search of work, and that she had been wandering about the streets all night, not knowing where to lay her head. If there had been no King’s Daughters’ Home she would have been taken to the police station for shelter, among the criminal inmates, to her shame and degradation. As it was, the policeman at once went with her to the home and upon application from him she was admitted, warmed, fed and given a clean bed to sleep in. She stayed at the home until she found work, and so, perhaps, was saved from many things which might have befallen her. When the patrolman who found this girl told the incident sometime afterwards, he said, “Every time I pass that house, and see the lights in the windows, I feel like thanking God that there is such a place in Bangor.”
Later in 1905, the house on Middle Street was sold to the Opera House and the present home at 89 Ohio Street was donated by Dr. Thomas Upham Coe for use as long as the King’s Daughters’ Home continued to function. Dr. Coe was a generous benefactor to the Home and served on its Advisory Board until his death in 1920. Under the terms of his estate, the property eventually came under the ownership of the Home in 1997 after the death of his last surviving heir.
There was some concern about access to the Home by moving away from the downtown area to an uptown location, but no adverse effects were seen on the number of boarders and there were even some advantages to being situated in a neighborhood setting. The Home expanded its role in the community by opening its living room for use by any young women who wanted to come in for reading, resting or visiting during the afternoons and evenings. It also served as an intermediary in locating employment for women who boarded there.
Some interesting and timely changes were made to the house over the years including the following: 1906 – first telephone installed; 1907 – building a first floor addition to accommodate a spacious 15′ by 21′ dining room; 1921 – installation of electric lights to replace kerosene lamps; and 1921 – upgrading the heating system to steam heat, which was later converted from oil to coal in 1942 at the request of the government during World War II.
The number of transient boarders decreased over time, although one bed was always kept available just in case it was needed. Guests staying for six to twelve months were common as many took courses at the Business College, millinery and dressmaking establishments, or worked as dressmakers, milliners, stenographers and bookkeepers. The number of boarders each night was sometimes as high as twenty which necessitated the use of couches to accommodate everyone.
In order to relieve the King’s Daughters Circles of some of their financial responsibilities for the Home, an endowment fund was established and has received many well-appreciated donations and bequests over the years. Assistance from the state was also obtained for a few years. Donations of goods and services were made by several Bangor businesses and individuals to keep the Home in operation and add a measure of comfort and enjoyment. A few examples follow: magazines from the Tarratine Club; daily newspapers from the managers of the Bangor Daily News; a wide variety of store merchandise from Caldwell Sweet & Company; and food and confections from Staples and Griffin, as well as from many friends of the Home and past boarders. Around 1920, six of the Circles adopted specific rooms within the house for which they provided furnishings and upkeep. Four of these, Steams, Bethany, Mizpah, and Volunteer Circles, were still in existence in 1991 but only Mizpah and Volunteer Circles remain.
In 1942 there was concern about the government wanting to take over the Home to house WAAC’S during the war, but it didn’t happen, much to everyone’s relief. Some effects of the war were felt, as illustrated in the January 1943 Bangor Daily News which stated:
The year 1943 will be more difficult in many ways for all of us. We are just beginning to feel the impact of the war. We shiver but only mildly – we walk but only a little – we pay taxes, we do without a little meat here, a little butter there – a little coffee, a little sugar. We are willing to sacrifice more and do more, cheerfully and without complaint.
As times changed, the Home became a place for girls and women of moderate means whose families wanted to ensure that they had a proper place to live and they liked the Christian atmosphere of the King’s Daughters’ Home. The rooms were generally full each year except during summer months when the students went home on vacation.
In more recent years, young women from Bangor and outlying rural areas of Maine have chosen to stay at the Home while attending college, nurses’ training, beauty school, vocational school, and/or working. The charge for boarders has been kept at a minimal level so there is just enough to meet the Home’s expenses. There are rooms for nine guests along with a resident staff of a married couple who care for the Home and its residents.
Of the original fourteen churches that comprised the board of managers, two merged in 1912, one went out of existence in 1961 – First Christian Church – leaving a donation to the Home’s endowment fund, and the remaining twelve are the following: Advent Christian, All Souls Congregational, Columbia Street Baptist, Essex Street Baptist, First Baptist, First United Methodist, Grace United Methodist, Hammond Street Congregational, St. John’s Catholic, St. John’s Episcopal, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Society. Representatives from each of these churches continue to serve on the board to oversee the workings of the Home and give their time and energy to this worthy cause.
In 1991, KDH celebrated its 100 year anniversary with a commemorative Open House that was attended by more than a hundred community members, some of whom had lived in the Home decades before. Although KDH has carried on its work quietly without a great deal of fanfare, there have been many lives affected by its presence. It has served as a stepping stone for young women who begin the process of living independently while still in an environment that offers some measure of stability and care. Through the many life lessons learned at KDH, young women can achieve greater self-sufficiency and empowerment to meet the challenges of living in today’s complex society.
A special event was held on October 16, 2005 to pay tribute to Dr. Thomas Upham Coe, one of the Home’s most significant benefactors. Because of Dr. Coe’s generous gift of the 89 Ohio Street house, KDH celebrated 100 years of operation at that location. To honor Dr. Coe’s legacy, a special guest speaker, John P. (Jack) Donovan, managing trustee of the Nancy Patricia Coe Trust, gave a brief overview of the Coe family’s entrepreneurial spirit, their background in timberland management and the development of downtown Bangor, their California connection, and their ongoing legacy through charitable organizations they supported. About sixty community members attended the open house event and had an opportunity to visit the charming Victorian home.
In 2008, the Board of Managers expanded the mission of KDH by opening residency to high school international students through a cooperative arrangement with the Bangor Christian School. By welcoming students from other cultures and backgrounds, we were able to attract college international students as well for an eclectic mix of American and international residents. During 2012, residents included a high school aged girl awaiting entrance into Job Corps, a beauty school student, a graduate student, a NESCOM student, a UMaine student, and a mother with her 9-year old daughter.