The Gladney Center in Fort Worth is a nationally known private maternity home and adoption service established by Rev. I. Z. T. Morris in 1887 as the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. It originally sought to locate adoptive parents for orphaned or abandoned children, including many who had been sent west on "orphan trains." The society's innovation lay in its founder's commitment to finding appropriate parents for the children and his abandonment of the accepted practice of allowing potential adoptive parents-regardless of their qualifications to raise a dependent-to select a particular child. The institution was chartered by the state legislature on January 25, 1904, and operated primarily by Morris, his wife, Isabella, and, after 1910, Edna Gladney, a social worker.
Following the death of its founder in 1914, by which time the center had placed more than 1,000 orphaned children, Isabella Morris supervised the society until 1924. During the next year Mrs. Gladney, who had established a reputation as a dedicated social worker in Sherman, Texas, was appointed to the position of superintendent of the institution. She not only championed a dramatic expansion in the facility's functions but played a significant role in the transformation of social attitudes toward orphaned and adopted children and unwed mothers.
She also oversaw the institution's rise to national prominence, not only in the development of adoptive services but as an innovative maternity facility. By 1950, when the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society was renamed Edna Gladney Home, it had purchased a maternity hospital and was being transformed from an orphans' home and adoption agency into a facility bringing together all parties in the adoption process: the mother, the child, and the adoptive parents. In this capacity, the Gladney Home provided living and medical facilities for women wishing to place their babies for adoption and the services necessary to locate adoptive parents. After Edna Gladney retired from active direction of the facility in 1959, Ruby Lee Piester took over. By the end of the 1960s the Gladney Home's educational program centered around an on-campus middle school and high school operated by the Fort Worth Independent School District and a career-development program. A counseling team, including psychiatrists, social workers, and psychologists, had been organized to meet the residents' emotional needs and to aid them in planning for their future. In addition, the home's hospital facilities, dormitory, and apartment living center for older women were expanded.
By 1983 the campus occupied an entire city block. A community service program initiated during the 1970s provides services for women wishing to remain in their own communities, and an alternative adoption program has been established to locate adoptive parents for children born with special medical needs. The Gladney Home promoted the Texas Voluntary Registry, which enables adopted children and birth mothers to make contact with each other under specified conditions. In 1986 the institution adopted its present name to reflect its expanded services. In 1992 the Gladney Center campus included residential facilities for 140 women, a middle school and high school, general equivalency diploma tutoring and testing, a career development center, a chapel, a counseling center, an auditorium, an arts and crafts center, a swimming pool, and a miniature golf course. The programs were licensed by the Texas Department of Human Services. The nonprofit, nondenominational center was financed largely through fees from adoptive parents and through corporate and individual donations. Services for women giving their children up for adoption were provided free of charge. The Gladney Center is the oldest, largest, most comprehensive maternity and adoption agency in the United States. Since its founding it has placed more than 20,000 children with adoptive parents.