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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Orphaneum: 1925

Orphaneum: 1925

November 24, 1925. Washington, D.C. "City orphans at Ambassador Theatre." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Orphans Again

According to my book source here, the number of orphans in American orphanages only went up by 5,000, from 138,000 in 1915 to 143,000 in 1923. Many of those flu orphans would have been raised by aunts and uncles, or by this date would have already reached 16.


The epidemic probably didn't make that much of a difference. In 1925 there was no foster parent system and no form of help available to parents who couldn't care for their children. In 1923 there were 143,000 children in US orphanages. Some were parentless, but others had inadequate parents and some were from families where one parent had died and the other couldn't care for the children alone. This was especially true for immigrant parents who might not have had a single living relative in North America; they simply didn't have a safety net.

It is true, though, that many of these kids were completely parentless. That's not necessarily due to the flu, though; don't believe the quack medicine canard that everyone back then lived long, healthy lives despite having little access to what we would consider modern scientific medicine. Young adults died all the time of diseases we could treat successfully with $2 worth of antibiotics (which exist solely due to modern scientific medicine). Calvin Coolidge's 17-year-old son died the year before this picture was taken of an infection he caught when his foot developed a blister.

[The flu epidemic seems to have orphaned, at the very least, thousands of children in New York and Washington. - Dave]

Familiar Characters

A group of youngish kids (boys especially) all dressed pretty much alike tend to look alike or like someone you have known. I see at least 4 I went to school with and I wasn't even born yet.

Familiar Character

The boy on the far left in the fourth row back looks awfully similar to a boy in a previous post, also taken at a theater, I think. Does anyone else think that he looks familiar, or know which photograph that I'm referring to?

What really resonates in me

What really resonates in me about this picture is that there are many, many pictures of children on Shorpy during this exact time and about the same age as these children who are barely clothed, shoeless, and working their fingers to the bone for pennies. In reading the captions of the photos where the children were interviewed, they all seemed to have parents and were working to help support their household. Look at Shorpy himself - in scrutinizing his pictures, I would put him around 10-12 rather than the 14 he claimed. Working hard hours on a hard job when other children were playing. Given those factors against this picture, I have to say it would have been preferable to be an orphan than be a child who slaved in those factories. It's quite poignant.

[According to the various historical, census and family records we've examined, Shorpy really was 14 when Lewis Hine took his picture. - Dave]


Some of these orphans may have had a living parent who just couldn't support them after the flu came calling. My great-grandfather died in that 1918 epidemic. My grandfather, then 9 years old, moved in with his aunt who raised him while his mother found a job to try and support the family.

Orphans aplenty

Was there a particular reason for the abundance of orphans around this time in history? Or has foster care and adoption helped in that regard?

[As mentioned below, the influenza epidemic of 1918 made orphans out of thousands of kids. - Dave]

Fine-looking boys.

I seriously want to go back in time and adopt the boy in the plaid coat. That smile lights up the whole picture.

Ambassador Theatre

Once again, the source is Robert K. Headley's Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C.. The Ambassador was built on the site of the ruins of the Knickerbocker at 18th Street and Columbia Road and opened in September, 1923 with a seating capacity of 1,800. It was one of the first neighborhood cinemas to be equipped for sound films. It played first-run movies and was in service as a theater until 1960. Before its demolition in 1969, the building saw a brief revival as a meeting hall (Norman Mailer and other anti-war activists met there in 1967) and as a psychedelic concert venue.

The seats were taken out and the interior stripped of most of its decoration. Groups like Vanilla Fudge and Lothar and the Hand People performed on the stage while flashing lights and slides bounced off the walls around them.

Why do you do it Shorpy?

Why do you make me waste so much of my day studying these pictures? Of course everyone realized pretty quickly that they're all wearing hats (that was the social norm) but did anyone notice they're also all wearing ties? A bunch of boys going our for a movie and they're all wearing ties. Man would I love to go back in time just for a short time. Also, the seventh kid from the left in front has naval insignia on his coat. I wonder if he had a nickname like "the admiral" or something?


I said the same thing about the picture of the orphaned girls enjoying a day at the beach that was posted a while back. It broke my heart that they had no family but when you look at the picture and see how happy they all were, you realize they did in fact have a family.

Where are they now?

I hope their lives improved as they grew into adulthood. I wonder what became of these boys.


Isn't there a little girl on the right just down in front of the guy with the hat?

So many boys

I started to count the number of boys and kept losing my place! Hard as it must be to be orphaned, I wonder if living with lots of other boys helped, there'd always be someone to share your interests or troubles.

Where are the orphaned girls? Did they have separate orphanages for them?

The Freshman

Arguably one of the greatest of Harold Lloyd's features - silent or sound. Lloyd was playing his "kid" character; in this case a naive college boy who is desperate to be popular, emulating a character in a movie. One of the best things about the film is that Lloyd shares the screen with his frequent co-star, Jobyna Ralston, who played the romantic lead in no less than six of Lloyd's films. They had tremendous screen chemistry together, arguably even more than he had with Mildred Davis who became Mrs. Harold Lloyd. Those orphans saw a great film.

The Waterboy

Wasn't this movie the basis for the recent movie "The Waterboy"? I thought there was some mention a few years back.

Spanish Flu

The influenza epidemic had swept the country roughly six years prior. I wonder if the majority of these orphans were the result.

The Orphans

This has to be the best dressed group of orphans I've seen.

Before or After?

I wonder if this was before or after the movie? They mostly look happy.
But seeing them all here as a group, there's a very sad story for each one. Poor kids. I hope things turned out well for them. At least they weren't on their own.

Fourth from the right

There have been a lot of interesting, thought provoking pictures on Shorpy but I have to say that this one grabbed hold of me. The fourth kid from the right up front, next to the boy in the plaid coat. There is something very haunting about his look.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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