Charles Baldwin was going through a box of old family photographs when he discovered an image of his great-great-grandfather, Charles Nelson Crittenton, at a Florence Crittenton Mission agency in Japan. After some searching, Baldwin’s wife, Shizuka, discovered he was the descendant of the founder of a 135-year-old organization – that today is known as National Crittenton.
Charles Nelson Crittenton’s success as a businessman in the late 1800s made him a wealthy man, but he was devastated by the death of his four-year-old daughter, Florence. “Business and the world and all that pertained to it had lost its charm,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Florence’s death inspired Crittenton’s religious devotion and led him to conduct evangelical work in New York City. As part of this work Crittenton visited a brothel where he spoke with two girls. After the conversation concluded and the girls left, Crittenton had a realization: “Where are they going; there is no door open to them from the Battery to Harlem unless similar to the ones they have been going in and out of for the past several years,” Crittenton writes.
At this time in New York City, there were but two small homes where girls and young women could go to seek refuge. However, admission to these homes was so strict it was almost impossible to be accepted. Moreover, Crittenton writes that, “In the beginning most rescue homes were little more than prisons.”
After discussing with his church community, Crittenton decided to establish a home where all girls, young women, and women who were commercially exploited for sex, escaping violent relationships, single mothers, homeless, or who were immigrant women left by their partners, could change their lives. Crittenton goes on to say that, “…it was our unanimous opinion that everything pertaining to prison methods should be strictly avoided.”
The mission was named the Florence Crittenton Night Mission, since Florence’s death had been the catalyst for Crittenton’s conversion. Crittenton writes, “on the 19th of April, 1883, we opened the door for the first meeting, going out into the streets and asking all the girls that we met to come in.”
Crittenton’s subsequent international and domestic travel led to the creation of new homes across the country and the world. In 1893, Crittenton purchased and boarded the “Good News” Train to travel across the country, catalyzing local support for girls, young women, and women in need, and offering financial support to those willing to conduct work aligned with his mission.
It was through this travel that Crittenton met Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, co-founder of the National Florence Crittenton Mission. Together they worked to create the National Florence Crittenton Mission in 1896 as a national umbrella for the many Crittenton homes established across the United States and abroad. By a special act of Congress in 1898, President McKinley granted the organization the first U.S. national charter ever given to a charitable organization, in perpetuity. Crittenton served as President, with Dr. Waller Barrett as General Superintendent, until his death in 1909.
National Crittenton has undergone many changes since its founding, but we continue to honor Crittenton’s legacy through our work to catalyze social and systems change for girls and young women impacted by chronic adversity, violence, and injustice.
Charles Baldwin, great-great grandson and namesake of Charles Nelson Crittenton, joined the Board of Trustees of National Crittenton in 2017. We asked him what it’s like to have reconnected with the organization his great-great grandfather founded, and how he honors his legacy as both a family member and a member of our board.
If Charles Crittenton were alive today, what do you think he would make of the world and of National Crittenton as it stands now?
I believe that he was a realist and fully aware that the priorities of the world change over time – in fact he was actively trying to change them. He knew it was a long road but I do think he’d be disappointed that after so many years of progress things seem to be stalled. I don’t think he expected that the organization he founded would maintain its original model, but I’m sure he believed that if his foundation survived him whoever took over his work would ensure that the core principles of his original mission were carried forward as long as there was a need. He was lucky to find this with Dr. Kate Waller Barrett and everyone who came after her, including all the people involved with the organization today. I think he’d be proud and honored that this important work is still progressing in the 21st century.
You are Charles Crittenton’s great-great grandson. Can you trace your family tree for me? Did you ever hear about Crittenton growing up?
The Crittenton family name has always been familiar, it was my father’s middle name, and his father’s (both were Charles Crittenton Baldwin). My grandfather was the son of Charles Nelson’s daughter Adeline, my great-grandmother. She was married to Ralph Baldwin, the son of Charles Francis Baldwin, so I have the honor of carrying the name of ancestors on both sides of the family. Growing up I did hear of the “Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers” but never heard any details about his life or legacy, and didn’t even realize that the organization was still in existence. How wonderful to discover it was not only still in existence, but thriving.
How did you become involved with National Crittenton?
In a box of old family photos we found a picture of Charles Crittenton in Japan, and my wife (who is Japanese) did some research and discovered that National Crittenton is still active and on Facebook of all places! She posted a comment that I am a direct descendant and a few days later [National Crittenton President] Jeannette replied that she wanted to be in touch. We spoke on the phone and I learned a tremendous amount about the organization and everything that had happened since my great-great-grandfather founded it 135 years ago. Plus Jeannette was really cool, and clearly shared a passion for the work being done, it was inspiring. In one of our calls she floated the possibility of joining the board, which was immediately of great interest. A few weeks later I had a call with Ron (Chairman) and Jim (Treasurer) and we hit it off, so I was officially invited to join. That was a great day, one I’ll always remember.
What has it been like to serve as a member of our board thus far? What interested you about this role?
It’s been really interesting and challenging. I’d never served on a nonprofit board so everything was new, and a bit overwhelming. With a few meetings under my belt, however, it’s become less intimidating, thanks to the tremendous generosity and kindness of my fellow board members and the staff, all of whom have been welcoming and willing to help me find my feet. I think this is a unique board driven by passion for the mission and dedication to the cause. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I was honored and nervous at the same time; the opportunity to serve on the board of a foundation with direct family ties felt natural and filled a space in my life that I didn’t realize existed.
What has it been like to meet Kate Rademacher and know that five generations ago your families were working together to create and run this organization?
Surreal. That’s the only word I can think of to adequately describe how I felt when I met Kate. The idea that our great-great-grandparents not only knew each other (itself pretty incredible) but worked so hard together for a common cause is inspiring. Plus the fact that she is Kate and I am Charles is uncanny and restores my faith in destiny or fate or whatever you want to call it. Kate is a powerhouse in her own right and has inspired me to want to become a better global citizen, focusing out instead of in. I sincerely hope that we carry this message to our descendants – my dream is that Kate’s great-great-grandchildren and mine will know each other the way she and I do!
What do you hope to accomplish as a member of our board?
As a member of the board my hope is that I can help shape the priorities and direction of the organization to ensure that it remains viable. Looking around and understanding that there’s a lot of work left to do means that what we’re doing is needed and must continue. Plus as the son, husband, and father of amazing women I want to do my small part to make sure that all women and girls get the opportunities they deserve to help shape a better world where your past doesn’t dictate your future.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I do not claim to have the same passion, focus, or means as Charles N. Crittenton, but I do understand that the work he started has tremendous momentum thanks to the passion he inspired in other people. Witnessing first-hand the inspiring level of dedication of the board and staff of the organization has been life-altering in the best possible way. When I hear someone say that they’ve dedicated their lives to the work my ancestor started I feel incredibly honored, touched, and motivated. I am committed to supporting the work my ancestor started 135 year ago.