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This Little Girl Needs a Home

One Saturday in August 1917 James Henry Atwood sat in the barber shop in Sumrall, Mississippi looking at the Hattiesburg newspaper when a photograph of a baby girl caught his eye. The caption said "This Little Girl Needs a Home." He stood up and went straight to the train station, pausing just long enough to send word to his wife, Margaret Ellen "Ella" Brogan Atwood, that he would be back later with a baby. In Hattiesburg he found that other people wanted the baby, but he was very determined. He and Ella had just lost their only son to fever, and they knew there would be no other children. He wanted that little girl. He spoke to Mrs. Archie Fairley of the King's Daughters organization and Mrs. Betty Green, wife of the director of the Mississippi Children's Home Society, who took his application and sent him back to Sumrall to get his wife.  He and Ella returned to Hattiesburg  that same night, but were not allowed to take the child until Monday morning,  possibly so that Jim Atwood could transact business at the local bank.  On Monday afternoon the Atwoods completed their transactions with Mts. Green and returned to Sumrall with their new daughter. They named her Mary Louise Atwood.

       Mary Louise Atwood was raised in town at Sumrall, where Jim Atwood worked at Newman Lumber Company. She knew she was a foster child and that she was sometimes called, "the child that Jim Atwood bought." Social workers from the Society visited once or twice a year, sometimes staying overnight with the Atwoods.  When the J. J. Newman Lumber Company closed its Sumrall mill in about 1931, James Atwood retired and moved his family to a farm he bought near Sumrall. Nearby neighbors were John and Lizzie Rayborn and their two children, Jewel and Quin. Mary Louise Atwood married Quin Rayborn on August 14, 1932 underneath a big tree at Presley Watts Cemetery near Sumrall, Mississippi. She and Papaw went on to raise six children of their own, including my mother Jimmie Lou Rayborn.  They lived at Sumrall for a while and later moved their family to Hattiesburg, where they operated a restaurant on River Avenue.

         Ella Brogan Atwood died in 1950 and eventually James Henry "Papa Jim" Atwood made his home with Mary Louise and Quin. When her youngest child started school in 1962 Mary Louise decided, with the blessing of Papa Jim, that it was time to see what she could learn about her life before she went to live with the Atwoods.

       She and Papaw retained an attorney and she applied for a social security number. Of course she had to prove her identity and birth date, so she wrote to the state vital statistics bureau for a copy of her original birth certificate. She received a letter from the executive director of the Mississippi Children's Home Society explaining that her birth certificate would be in her "original name" but that that the Society "may" have had additional information for her. The Society also sent a letter to the bureau stating her birth date according to their records, and based upon that the bureau issued an amended birth certificate for Mary Louise Atwood.
          Mary Louise spent more than twenty years trying to obtain the information the Society "may" have had. Over and over again she traveled to the Society offices in Jackson and she contacted them by telephone many, many times. She also sought records of the local King's Daughters organization but learned that they had been destroyed. Over the years Mary Louise spoke to every single person she could find who might know anything at all.   In the early 1990s, Mississippi Children's Home Society finally gave in and gave her copies of her records.  Imagine her disappointment when she received those long-awaited records only to discover that Mississippi Children's Home Society never knew where she came from and who her family was. 
          According to a
card in the Mississippi Children's Home Society records a little girl was born June 7, 1916 in Forrest County, Mississippi and was named Hazel Louise Edwards. She spent some time with a Mrs. Hill and was eventually turned over to Mrs. Archie Fairley of the Hattiesburg King's Daughters organization. Hazel's  mother signed the Adoption Relinquishment "J. F. Edwards" on August 21, 1917, and the records indicate that she was married to Hazel's father. There is no other information in the file about either of Hazel Louise Edward's parents and nothing to suggest why she was put up for adoption.  There is nothing in the file that positively identifies Hazel as the child taken by the Atwoods.  In fact,  the first three visit reports very clearly indicate that the Children's Home Society did not know anything about Mary Louise except that the Atwoods got her from Mrs. Fairley in Hattiesburg. In written NOTES the social worker indicated that her surname may have been Clement or Durant or Blue. Mary Louise had been with the Atwoods for seven years in October, 1924, when the question of her identity was addressed by the social worker for the last time.  It remained unanswered, and after that visit it was never raised again.  Interestingly, up until that time the Atwoods had been encouraged to adopt Mary Louise, but after 1924 that subject, too, was dropped.

               Who was she?  Edwards?  Clement?  Blue?  Durant? Was she born in Forrest County or Copiah County? Was she born in Mississippi at all? Perhaps her mother died and her father went off to World War I; the time frame fits.   Was she an Orphan Train Child? A Miss Hill was  one of the agents who helped bring children from the east coast to the midwest, and some of those children did come to Mississippi.  Was she stolen?  Georgia Tann was employed as a field agent for the Mississippi Children's Home Society in 1919, and perhaps even earlier than 1919.  Georgia later established an orphanage in Memphis, Tennessee and became notorious for stealing and selling literally hundreds of babies.
              These are pictures of Mary Louise Atwood as a baby, a toddler, a teenager, a young mother, and a grandmother.   Please look carefully. Does she remind you of anyone you know? Someone somewhere must remember some old family story about a baby who was given away or who disappeared.   If you can help please contact me at the addresses or phone number on the bottom of this page.

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Pamela J. Gibbs | 11 Sandy Run Road | Hattiesburg, MS  39402 | (601) 264-8894 |

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