Pope, Lena Holston (ca. 1881–1976)

By: Bette Conn

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 30, 2019

Lena Holston Pope, founder of the Lena Pope Home for homeless children in Fort Worth, one of eleven children of William M. and Susan Lavonia (Dean) Holston, was born at Natchitoches, Louisiana, on December 14, probably in 1881. She was educated at State Normal School at Natchitoches (now Northwestern Louisiana State University) and taught for several years in Louisiana schools. She married Ewell Hicks Pope, a lumber salesman, in the early 1900s. In the 1920s the couple moved to Fort Worth, where Pope was highly successful in business and Mrs. Pope devoted herself to church and club work. Lena Pope founded the home that bears her name to care for dependent, neglected, and homeless children on January 1, 1930. With the help of the Martha Sunday School Class, which she taught at the Broadway Baptist Church, she prepared for six abandoned children to be housed in a rented dwelling. On the first day twenty-five children arrived, and Mrs. Pope and her church friends were quickly faced with the need for more space, more money, and a license from the city. Since none of the women was trained in social work, the Fort Worth Children's Bureau refused to grant them a license to operate an orphans' home until Mrs. Pope went to Austin and appealed to the head of the state welfare department. The Great Depression made fund-raising especially difficult. Ewell Pope lent financial assistance, and Mrs. Pope and her friends cultivated the support of Fort Worth's leading citizens, some of whom they persuaded to serve on the home's advisory board.

The Lena Pope Home, under Mrs. Pope's direction, was moved several times, always expanding; it ultimately acquired housing capacity for 250 children. The home eventually purchased eight city blocks at its present location on West Freeway with the help of Amon G. Carter , a member of the advisory board and owner and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Mrs. Pope remained deeply involved with the children, despite the growth in numbers, and was proud of being known as "Mom" Pope. She ceased to manage the home in 1962 but remained on the board of directors. By 1970 the home had housed more than 10,000 children.

In 1946 Mrs. Pope was named Outstanding Citizen in Fort Worth and became the first woman to receive the Fort Worth Exchange Club's Golden Deeds award. In 1958 she was honored as "Queen for a Day" on the national television program of that name. Her autobiography, Hand on My Shoulder, was published in 1966. In 1967 she was named Texas Baptist Mother of the Year. Mrs. Pope died on November 24, 1976, at the age of 95, in Taos, New Mexico, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Fort Worth. She and her husband, who had died in 1962, had three children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. By the mid-1970s, with the need for orphan care steadily diminishing, the Lena Pope Home began implementing residential treatment programs for troubled juveniles, and by 1980 it had ceased to be an orphanage. It is now a United Way agency, a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed Texas adolescents and an emergency shelter for abused and neglected youth.

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  • Women
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Social Workers
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

Bette Conn, “Pope, Lena Holston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pope-lena-holston.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
April 30, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: