- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

CORRY, Pa. (AP) - They arrived by train, often sobbing.

Many of the young women who came to Corry in the 1920s and 1930s were away from home for the first time.

And they were humiliated. The address printed on cards they’d been given to hand to local cabbies was for the Veil Maternity Hospital for unmarried women.

Karen Amos, of New Hampshire, is writing a book on Veil hospitals once located in Kansas City, Missouri; and in Corry, Langhorne and West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“My goal is to help people looking for their families,” Amos said. “In (coming years), there isn’t going to be anyone left who was adopted from Corry; it will be only their descendants looking. That history will be dead.”

Complicating the search, the young women who came to Corry to give birth rarely or never spoke of the experience and often used assumed names.

“There was a stigma,” said Susie Armstrong, 83, of Mercer County.

Armstrong years ago learned that her mother, Grace Anna Vath, had given birth to a baby about 1926, before she married. When Armstrong found out, she went to see her mother, then living in Monaca.

“She had confined herself to her bedroom for a week, from depression or something, all those years later; it had to have been in the 1950s,” Armstrong said. “I can see her to this day. She said, ‘Yes, I had a baby boy,’ and something about Corry.”

Veil Hospital promised each client, maybe including Grace Vath, “protection of her reputation and social standing, which permits her to return home and enter upon a life of rectitude and usefulness without fear of being cast out or even shunned by her former associates,” according to a 1929 issue of “The Veil,” a hospital newsletter sent to physicians, lawyers and others who might refer patients or adoptive parents. Veil hospitals offered the babies born there for adoption.

Now an apartment building at 512 E. Main St., Corry’s Veil hospital has been all but forgotten through the years.

“People are saying, ‘What? What are you talking about? I never heard of Veil,’” said Loretta Beckerink of the Corry Area Historical Society.

Locals didn’t talk about the hospital, especially with their children, Beckerink said.

“(A relative of my daughter’s) said that as a child, when his parents drove past the hospital, they didn’t say a word, just drove past,” Beckerink said. “I asked my mom, who is 92, and she said you just weren’t allowed down there.”

It was a railroader who remembered the young women coming into Corry crying, said Beckerink’s daughter, Alisa Puckly, also of Corry Area Historical Society.

“It would have been devastating for them,” Puckly said.

“The Veil” described the typical patient as a “young woman whose mis-step is accidental; she who comes from a respectable, well thought of family; who has the desire for another chance and the determination to make good through her unfortunate experience, and who wishes to give her child a chance and save her family from disgrace.”

The women, “usually the unfortunate daughters of well-to-do families,” paid $390 to $540 depending on services selected, plus $15 weekly for room and board, according to a brochure for the Veil hospital in Langhorne, near Philadelphia. Others paid their way by working at the hospital before they gave birth.

“They generally came in some months early, before they were showing, so they were here for a while,” Puckly said.

Women additionally convalesced at the hospital for two weeks after giving birth to “correspondingly high-grade babies,” according to Veil’s “Superior Babies” brochure. Babies also were advertised in newspapers: “For adoption - four bright, healthy baby boys, some of exceptional parentage. Veil Hospital, Corry, Penna.”

Babies who didn’t survive are buried in Corry’s Pine Grove Cemetery. Healthy babies lived in the Veil nursery until adoption, cared for by Veil nurses.

The nursery, “confinement chamber” and convalescent rooms were on the first floor of the Corry hospital, along with reception rooms, kitchen and dining room.

Women waiting to give birth lived on the second floor in rooms described by Veil as “cozy, comfortable, nicely decorated and supplied with good furniture and ample space.”

Hospital administrators also lived on the second floor. Nurses lived on the third floor. The main kitchen and laundry room were in the basement.

President and superintendent of the Veil hospitals was Charles M. Janes, of Missouri. Janes was the grandson of Erie real estate mogul Heman Janes, best remembered for designing casings to prevent oil wells, including his own, from flooding during the region’s 19th-century oil boom.

Heman Janes left his money to his grandchildren, including Charles. “He said his children had received enough money,” Puckly said.

Charles Janes opened the first Veil hospital in Kansas City in 1903 or 1911, according to differing accounts, and the Corry hospital, in what previously was a cancer sanatorium, in November 1921. Janes also had an interest in Corry’s St. James Hotel, on Center Street, which housed overflow Veil patients and couples coming to Corry to adopt.

Corry’s Veil hospital was relocated to Langhorne in 1927 and later to West Chester. Dr. Amos Rees continued to operate the Corry facility as a maternity hospital for about 10 years.

The number of patients who gave birth at Veil hospitals is unknown.

In 1923, according to “The Veil” newsletter for the Corry and Kansas City hospitals, the “seclusion group of 264 girls” came from 28 states. Researcher Karen Amos estimates about 1,500 births over eight years at the Corry and Langhorne hospitals.

Amos, who was adopted and able to trace her birth parents, first heard of Veil hospitals while helping a friend search.

“Every time I asked questions about Veil at different support groups or of different searchers, nobody seemed to have any answers. It sparked my curiosity,” Amos said.

Amos has a database of about 750 people searching for family that gave birth or were born at Veil hospitals. She also administers Facebook groups for Veil adoptees and is working with Susie Armstrong and Armstrong’s sister, Shirley Clark, 88, as they search for their brother, so far without result. Armstrong’s daughter, Terry Armstrong, also has been searching for leads from her Mesa, Arizona, home.

“We have found absolutely nothing,” Susie Armstrong said. “And we wrote to Orphans Courts in every county in Pennsylvania.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2luWn5s

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Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com


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