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BERACHAH HOME

Gerald D. Saxon
Berachah Line Drawing.
Line drawing titled Berachah to the Rescue (artist unknown). Courtesy University of Texas at Arlington Libraries and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

BERACHAH HOME. The Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls (also often referred to as the Berachah Home) operated in Arlington, Texas, from 1903 to 1935. Reverend James Toney “J. T.” Upchurch of the Church of the Nazarene and his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Mae (Adams) Upchurch, both religious reformers and social crusaders, started the home, as they worded it, to “rescue” and “redeem” single, white, pregnant young women by giving them vocational and domestic training as well as child rearing skills so that they could raise their children in a wholesome environment after giving birth. The Upchurches and the home did not allow adoptions but instead required that mothers keep and learn how to raise and support their children. The home and the religious and reform impulse that created it was a byproduct of the Progressive Movement of the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Upchurches chose the name Berachah (Hebrew for “blessing”) because it refers to the Valley of Blessings in Second Chronicles in the Old Testament of the Bible.  

The Upchurches opened the home on May 14, 1903, on land that was, at that time, about a mile south of Arlington, Texas. The opening celebration attracted between 300 and 400 people, who toured the home and heard sermons and speeches from Upchurch and other ministers about “rescuing” “fallen” women. The opening also gave the Upchurches the opportunity to raise money to help fund the home and its work. 

J. T. and Margaret Upchurch.
Reverend James T. Upchurch and his wife Margaret Mae Upchurch, founders of the Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls. Courtesy University of Texas at Arlington Libraries and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The home reflected the personal philosophy of James and Maggie Upchurch, who began their ministry to so-called “fallen women” and prostitutes in Waco, Texas, in the 1890s. After opening the first Berachah Home in Waco, the Upchurches moved to Dallas in 1899 and started a small mission in Oak Cliff. While in Dallas, Upchurch had what he referred to as a vision to open a home for unwed pregnant women and girls in a bucolic setting in the North Texas region. The home, according to Upchurch, was to restore “fallen women” to what he and other reformers at the time considered “honorable lives.” The Upchurches also often spoke out against the gendered double-standard in the U. S. for those engaged in pre-marital sex that sent one “to Congress and the other to Perdition,” meaning that women permanently bore the burden of societal judgment while there were almost no repercussions for men. Upchurch selected Arlington, at that time a town of approximately 1,000 people between Dallas and Fort Worth, as the site of the home. 

Upchurch purchased land from J. D. Cooper in 1901. The Berachah Home was built on this land, and the formal dedication was held in 1903. The Upchurches believed that the site was ideal, because it was away from the city, away from saloons, and away from the women’s earlier lives. Ultimately the complex expanded to include a total of sixty-seven acres. The Berachah Home was under the direction of the Home Mission and Rescue Commission of Texas, chartered in 1903 for the purposes of operating the Arlington home and supporting the anti-prostitution work of Upchurch and his wife in Dallas. In 1906 the Upchurches transferred the home and its acreage to the commission, but they remained firmly in charge, operating and managing the home, selecting trustees for the commission, raising funds to keep the home open, and planning for and expanding the home and its work. The commission changed its name to the Berachah Rescue Society in the 1920s. 

The Berachah Home met a need in the North Texas region and became one of a few charitable institutions of its kind in the state, where no pay cases were accepted. The Upchurches and the commission raised the money to operate and expand the home, making it free for the “inmates.” In return for room, board, nurturing, and religious instruction, the women had to agree to stay at the home for a year; learn a job skill, such as printing, domestic service, nursing, stenography, and sewing; and also learn how to care for their babies. After staying in the home for a year and completing the home’s program, the women were considered “redeemed” and sent back into society. Those who left sooner than the required stay of one year, however (up to 50 percent in 1918–19), were considered to be “dishonorably discharged.”

Berachah Home.
Residents of the Berachah Home, 1931. Courtesy University of Texas at Arlington Libraries and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Most of the women who came to the home were in their teens or early twenties, pregnant and single. The majority of them came from Texas and the surrounding states. The need was so great, however, that the Dallas Morning News in 1921 reported that, on average, ten girls a month were turned away because of a lack of room and resources. The Upchurches and the home’s trustees aggressively sought donations to meet this need and successfully raised money to expand the site, services, and physical facilities from one building in 1903 to nineteen buildings, including a clinic, nursery, print shop, handkerchief factory, barn, auditorium, school, cemetery, and chapel by 1930. The 1920 U. S. census listed thirty-four women “inmates” living at the Berachah Home, whereas the 1930 census listed 100 women and children residents at the home.

Upchurch was an effective fundraiser before the Great Depression. He knew how to keep the home and its work in the news and in front of donors and potential donors. He preached at churches around the country, published a magazine called The Purity Journal and later The Purity Crusader with subscribers from around the world, took the girls to revivals to tell their personal stories and give inspiring testimonials, celebrated the anniversary of the home’s opening every May 14 by opening the home to the public, and even had an all-girl Berachah Band give concerts across the country. 

Once the Great Depression hit in 1929, however, the home experienced serious funding problems. It had expanded aggressively during the 1920s but was having trouble meeting its debts. Also, some of its more generous donors had died, and the loss of their financial support left the home struggling. Finally, as the Texas and U.S. economies spiraled downward in the early 1930s, donations dried up. A combination of these factors caused the home to close in January 1935. 

As a result of the closing, J. T. and Maggie Upchurch moved back to Dallas, where they started ministering to inmates in local jails. In 1936 their daughter, Allie Mae, and her husband, Frank Wiese, a Church of the Nazarene minister, reopened the buildings and grounds as the Berachah Child Institute, this time operating as an orphanage and adoption agency. The institute lasted only until 1942.  In March 1942 the Arlington Independent School District filed a lawsuit, Arlington Independent School District, of Tarrant County, Texas vs J.T. Upchurch, et al., for more than $1,200 in back taxes. Attorney for the school district, Albert L. Miller, argued that Upchurch was guilty of committing fraud through a real estate scheme. A county judge dismissed the charges, and the district lost its appeal in 1944. 

The land changed hands a few more times before Arlington State College (now the University of Texas at Arlington) and the city of Arlington acquired the land in 1963. The college built a dormitory on part of the land in the 1960s, and the city opened Doug Russell Park on its parcel in the 1970s. The only physical remnant of the home extant in the 2020s is the Berachah Cemetery. Located on university property, the burial ground contains approximately eighty graves of women and babies who died during the home’s existence; a measles outbreak around 1914 to 1915 accounted for many of the deaths. In 1981 a Texas Historical Marker was erected at the site.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Arlington Citizen-Journal, February 10, 1972. Berachah Home Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Special Collections. Dorothy Upchurch Betts, “Berachah: The Life and Work of J.T. and Maggie Upchurch,” (1993), Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. Gwinnetta Malone Crowell, To Keep Those Red Lights Burning: Dallas’ Response to Prostitution, 1874 to 1913 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 2009). Cody S. Davis, Historical Archaeology at the Berachah Home: A Holistic Approach and Analysis of an Industrial Homestead in Arlington, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 2009). Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Megan Martin Joblin, The Shadows of Truth: The Search for Morality in the Berachah Industrial Home for the Redemption of Erring Girls, 1915–1926 (M.A. thesis, Texas Woman’s University, 2018). Lynn Manion and Jan Dolph, “A Short History of the Berachah Home and Berachah Cemetery Arlington, Texas,” Graduate Historic Preservation Paper, University of Texas at Arlington, 1979. Leah LaGrone Ochoa, The Power of Observation: Dallas Progressives and Prostitutes at the Turn of the Century (M.A. thesis, Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2016). Gerald D. Saxon, “The Berachah Home: A Home for the Homeless and a Friend to the Friendless,” Legacies 5 (Fall 1993). J. T. Upchurch, Lights and Shadows of Rescue Work (Arlington, Texas: Berachah Printing Company, 1903). 

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Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Gerald D. Saxon, "BERACHAH HOME," accessed August 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kfber.

Uploaded on June 10, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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