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Nancy Mason's Baby Fold

Published September 15, 2007
Countries: None
Age Levels: 9 and up

 Nancy Mason was a churchwoman in Normal, Illinois in the late 1800's.  She believed that churches should help people who were needy.  She saw that many people needed help, both young and old.  She saw older women from the church, who needed somewhere to live and somewhere they could be valued.


She also saw young children who needed care.  Many children, especially orphans, had no one to care for them.  Many children ended up in jails or lived on poor farms or were locked up in asylums.  Nancy Mason thought that this was terrible.  In order to help the senior women in the church AND to help the young babies, Nancy Mason donated her home at 309 North Street in Normal to be used to house both active and retired Deaconesses.  In 1901, the value of her home was $2,500.  That home later came to be called The Baby Fold.


Deaconesses were church-women who were trained as nurses, educators, evangelists, social workers, and administrators to perform mission work.


Nancy wanted to let the older retired women live in her home.  The older women could live in the home for free.  Her home would be a home for retired Deaconesses.


But she also wanted the older women to train young women to become Deaconesses.  So Nancy Mason's home also became a training school for young girls wanting to enter Deaconess work.  The hope was to teach them how to take care of little children.  So the home would become an orphanage for children under two years of age.


Nancy Mason dreamed of a home for the elderly, for young women coming of age and for the little babies, who were so much in need.  In 1902, the Illinois Secretary of State issued the Articles of Incorporation for the Mason Deaconess Home for the Aged.   In 1904, the name changed to the N.A. Mason Deaconess Home and School.  Church influence led to another name change.  Taking care of little babies reminded people of Jesus' story of the good shepherd, and in 1980 the name of the home was changed to the Mason Deaconess Home and Baby Fold.


But the plan for housing retirees and children in the same home did not work the way it was intended.  It was too hard to run three programs in the house at the same time. The little children who lived at the home had lots of problems and took lots of care.  And they made lots of noise.  The wonderful and caring old women could have cared for a few children and dealt with all the crying and playful noises that comes from children.  But, one child became two then soon became five and by 1908 - in one year, thirty-seven children were placed at home.  Before long, Nancy's home only was used to care for babies and young children.  The retired deaconesses moved out to find other homes.  Hired help replaced them, and the name of the home became what we call The Baby Fold. 


There was never enough money to meet all of the children's needs.  In 1908, nearly 100 years ago, it only cost $2.50 a week to care for one child.  But, even then, there was not enough money to pay for the best programs for children.  This was especially true since the home had to pay workers when the retired volunteers found other places to live.


But, the good people of Normal and Bloomington and central Illinois helped out by donating canned fruit, jelly vegetables, soap, clothing, furniture and so much more.  And, yes, they gave money to buy coal, milk and bread.


Time has changed.  The Baby Fold no longer focuses on only babies.  It does lots of good things to help children and families.  There is no longer an infant nursery at the home, though the Baby Fold does help families with the adoption of infants and older children.


The Baby Fold helps educate children who have learning problems or behavioral problems, or who have family problems or who need other help, including foster care.  The Baby Fold has a residential center for children from age 3 through 12 who have severe emotional or behavioral problems.  It also supports Hammitt School, which helps children by providing special education programs.  Hammitt School is named after Dr. William A. Hammitt and Gwendolyn Hammitt, who were superintendents of the Baby Fold from 1934 until 1974.  Since 2002 The Baby fold and Hammitt School has even supported a high school for older students.


One this has not changed, however. The Baby Fold has lots of needs! The biggest need is money to pay for programs help children and families.  To raise money, The Baby Fold sponsors the Festival of Trees.  


Close to 10,000 people attend the festival each year to continue to raise funds for the Baby Fold.  Every donation goes to help children and families throughout Illinois.  Donations give others hope.  Nancy Mason over one hundred years ago gave her home and all of her efforts to give hope to others.  In addition to Nancy Mason, other benefactors have left their estates  and given trusts to help the Baby Fold survive to do its work.  In his 1951 history of the Baby Fold that is recorded at the McLean County Historical Museum. Reverend William A. Hammitt, former superintendent of the Baby fold said, "Hundreds of small contributors make annual gifts and groups from all over Illinois help to supply daily needs."


What are you willing to give?


'An Investment in Humanity'


"And he who gives a child a treat

Makes joy-bells ring in Heaven's street,

And he who gives a child a home

Builds palaces in Kingdom come."

- John Masefield -

Hammitt, Reverend William A., The Baby Fold, 1951 Housed in McLean County History Museum

History of the Baby Fold

The Baby Fold Basic Site

Adoption Services for Illinois Parents

History of the Town of Normal 

Story Developed as Part of DEW Foundation Grant with Twin City Tale Spinners


Dr. Mike Lockett is an educator, storyteller and children's author from Normal, IL. Dr. Lockett has given more than 4000 programs across the USA and as far away as eastern Asia. Contact Mike by writing to in order to book him for a storytelling program or young authors program or to inquire about purchasing his books and CDs. More stories and information about storytelling can be found at