Edna Browning Gladney, child-welfare advocate, daughter of Maurice and Minnie Nell (Jones) Kahly, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 22, 1886. Edna's father died when she was a child, and in 1903 Minnie Kahly sent Edna to live with her aunt and uncle in Fort Worth, Texas, because of Edna's own problems with respiratory illness. In 1906 Edna married Sam Gladney in Gainesville. After a few months in Havana, Cuba, they moved to Wolfe City and bought a mill there. While her husband concentrated on building his Gladney Milling Company, which manufactured Gladiola brand flour, Edna Gladney started a crusade to clean up the Grayson County poor farm. Especially distressed at the treatment of children at the institution, she arranged to have the youngsters transferred to the Rev. I. Z. T. Morris's Children's Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth. By 1910 she had joined the society's board of directors and had dedicated herself to caring for homeless and underprivileged children. After a trip to New York and Chicago to study settlement work and child welfare, Mrs. Gladney established a free day nursery in Sherman for the children of poor working families. She financed the nursery from her own pocket and from donations to collection boxes that she placed in local businesses.
After Sam Gladney's prosperous business failed, the couple moved to Fort Worth in 1924, and while her husband rebuilt his fortunes Edna Gladney devoted her time to the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. By 1927 she had been named superintendent. Childless, herself, and widowed in 1935, Mrs. Gladney made the welfare of unwanted children the center of her life. She continued Morris's original work of placing abandoned children with adoptive families and expanded the society's activities to focus strongly on the care of unmarried mothers and an adoption service for their babies. She successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to have the word illegitimate kept off birth certificates and urged the passage of legislation to give adopted children the same inheritance rights as other children. As a result of her efforts the state of Texas instituted the policy of issuing second birth certificates in the names of adoptive parents.
Edna Gladney acquired a national reputation for her work after the release of the 1941 film Blossoms in the Dust, a fictionalized account of her life, starring Greer Garson. In 1950, after acquiring the West Texas Maternity Hospital, which it had operated since 1948, the society changed its name to Edna Gladney Home (see GLADNEY CENTER). Mrs. Gladney was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by Texas Christian University in 1957. She placed over 10,000 babies with adoptive parents during her career, and she continued to direct the home until ill health forced her into semiretirement in 1960. She remained active as an advisor and reviewed plans for a new nursery and additional dormitory only a few days before her death. She died on October 2, 1961, in Fort Worth and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.