Saving the Oil Field Waifs


By Sherrie S. McLeRoy

Copyright 2012



            The explosive growth of oil fields across Texas in the early 20th century brought wealth to some and misery to many, especially the children whose parents worked in them. The Burkburnett Field, for example, had its first big boom in 1918; but it passed quickly, and jobs moved elsewhere. Those families left behind struggled with poverty. In 1920, the Texas Children’s Home & Aid Society, today The Gladney Center for Adoption, heard of the dire conditions that prevailed in these camps and opened an office in nearby Wichita Falls. From there, regional director Katherine Henricle toured the camps in search of abandoned and abused youngsters.

            Henricle found children living in packing boxes, beneath the canvas tops of old prairie wagons, and in squalid shacks with rags on the floor for beds. Some ate out of garbage cans, if they ate at all. Henricle took the abandoned ones back to Wichita Falls with her, as well as those children whose parents could no longer care for them and relinquished custody. They were then moved to the receiving home in Fort Worth, where each was given medical care and psychiatric testing before being placed with new families. In 1920 and 1921, the Wichita Falls office placed more than 300 children, many from the oil field camps, and helped several hundred more to stay with one or both parents. 


Gladney mom and Texas historian Sherrie S. McLeRoy has published several sketches about Edna Gladney’s life and work and is now writing a full-length biography of her. Sherrie invites you to send photos, stories, and memories of Mrs. Gladney to her at




Gladney Center for Adoption
6300 John Ryan Drive | Fort Worth, Texas 76132-4122

Headquarters: 817-922-6000   Pregnant?: 1-800-GLADNEY
International Adoptions: 1-800-INT-ADOP
Domestic Adoptions: 1-800-687-3097
Click here for more locations and contact info.