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Terry Gelormino Silver was born in Bellaire, Ohio and spent her early childhood in St. Ann's Infant Asylum and in St. Vincent's Orphanage, both in Columbus. She went on to earn her high school diploma from the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans home in Xenia, Ohio before relocating to New York City. Having worked for the Air Force Institute of Technology for many years, Ms. Silver is now retired and living in Georgia.
Terry Silver's memoir of her childhood years is one of the best written memoirs that I've read in quite some time. Being placed in an Ohio orphanage in 1929 with her four young siblings after their mother was committed to a mental hospital and with her ailing father unable to support them, she spent virtually her entire youth in orphanages. She was initially placed in St. Ann's Infant Asylum in Columbus, Ohio, which was operated by an order of Catholic nuns who inexplicably changed her name from her given "Concetta" to "Terfina." I can only imagine how frightening this must have been for a four-year-old who only spoke Italian, her parents' native language. After two years at St. Ann's, she was transferred across the street to St. Vincent's Orphanage, which was also run by nuns. In 1940, at her father's request, the teenaged Terfina was transferred to the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home (OS&SO) in Xenia, Ohio, where she lived until graduating from high school.
Reading about life in St. Vincent's was eerily reminiscent of reading "Oliver Twist," with orphanage life being remarkably similar in some ways to life in the children's workhouses of 19th century England. Reading about the harsh treatment by some of the nuns, the wretched food, and the spartan living conditions made me extra grateful for growing up with two loving parents. And I understand why Ms. Silver refers to the nuns as "Nunzilla" in the title of her book.
Life at the OS&SO, a secular institution run by the State of Ohio, was much different and much better than at St. Vincent's. Children were much freer there, and living conditions and food were much improved compared to St. Vincent's. But even there, as the author hated some particularly cruel nuns at St.Read more ›
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Terry Gelormino has written an account of her life that should be required reading for all social workers involved with children. Outside of the fascinating story, the facts support the idea that orphanages, with all their faults, were more likely to guide children to a normal and productive adult life than today's foster home system.
That said, the author tells a story so intriguing in its truth that I found it difficult to put it down. As soon as I finished it, I read it again.
If anyone doubts the story just as the author wrote it, please reconsider. My husband, his older sister and younger brother grew up in a different orphanage in a different part of the country around the same time. Many of their experiences were much the same as Terry's, including emotional trauma, isolation from the mainstream community, and encounters with orphanage employees who should never have been hired to work around children.
However, they also attained a foundation of self-discipline, tolerance, and perserverance that has served them well in adulthood.
Excellent writing, well-edited and formatted. Highly recommend!
This little book is the fascinating, true story of life in several orphanages during the Depression and WWII eras. The author, Terry Silver, spent her young childhood in two Catholic institutions in Ohio, then moved to the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans Home, where she graduated from high school in 1945. After all these decades, Silver remains hostile to (most of) the nuns who ran the two Catholic orphanages, albeit her bitterness has become muted somewhat upon reflection. She remembers a few happy times, and a few worthy nuns, but most of them she still regards as religious fanatics and neurotic, sadistic tyrants. Hence the term "nunzilla." Deprived of love, hungry all the time, nevertheless she, and many of her fellow orphans, struggled on and survived in their irrepressible youth. Their Catholic-related experiences were often self-contradictory. The nuns were full of hatred and fear concerning the human body, and anything pleasurable, yet they sat through Hollywood movies with the children, romantic episodes, luxurious life-styles and all, and did no more than avert their eyes during, e.g., kissing scenes. The children were terrified of incurring God's wrath, yet they enjoyed, e.g., reading comic books while supposedly at their devotions. I think most children are like that, but Catholic kids in this poverty-haunted orphanage some 80 years ago were all the more so. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphanage was a far pleasanter experience, though Terry initially feared contact with Protestants and secular temptations, against which the nuns had warned her. There was also one dreadful housemother--the "witch" in the book's title. Yet again, Terry won through, an academic success, though scarred by the ham-handed attentions of the Home's psychologist.Read more ›
During the Depression Terry Silver and her 4 siblings were turned over to a Catholic orphanage when their parents could no longer raise them. The nuns who ran the Orphanage, for the most part, should not have been allowed to have contact with children. Ever. The children were abused physically, psychologically, and spiritually. The author seems to have been an unusually intelligent and spirited child, which caused the nuns to single her out for even worse treatment. All of the children were bombarded with religious training guaranteed to make them feel guilty and think even less of themselves. One of the incidents that most stood out for me was the cruel April Fool's "joke" played on the hungry children. This incident clearly shows the mean spirit and the insensitivity to the children's needs and, like so many other little cruelties inflicted on the innocent children in the orphanage, must have been terribly damaging to young psyches.
The book is told in a straightforward chronological manner that makes it easy to keep track of what is going on. I would have liked for the author to tell more about some of the other children she encountered growing up in both the Catholic orphanage and the Soldiers and Sailors and maybe expand on how they coped, but perhaps too many years had passed by the time she wrote her memoir.
I would hope that things have changed for the better by now. I know that some children who were wards of the state were treated very badly even in the sixties.
As others have said, this book really is a must read for anyone who works in the field of child care or teaching.
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