A safe space for women

Bethany Home: Bryant & 37th
Bethany Home: Bryant & 37th. Postcard from the collection of the Hennepin History Museum

Southwest Minneapolis was once a safe refuge for thousands of unmarried teenage girls and women from across Minnesota. In 1879, a group of Minneapolis women got together to form a society named the Sister of Bethany. Their mission was to create a safe home for unmarried women who were pregnant or had young children. Initially located on 6th Street, the society quickly outgrew its first few spaces. In 1885, Bethany Home moved into this property at 3719 Bryant Ave. An addition was built in 1891, and as Bethany Home’s mission expanded a neighboring cottage converted into a residence to house older children. Women staying at the home were encouraged to use pseudonyms — the better to protect their privacy and prevent disclosure after they had moved out. Often the residents did not even tell their own family members where they were staying or why. After giving birth, mothers could choose whether to keep their babies — in which case Bethany’s staff would help them to find a place to live and work — or to give them up for adoption. By the 1910s, the third-floor dormitories in the aging building had been condemned, and in the early 1920s a new, larger building was constructed on 37th Street to safely accommodate more women and children. In 1930, Bethany Home became the Harriet Walker Maternity Hospital. In 1945, the organization shifted its mission to focus on seniors. That mission, in a newer building, remains alive at the Walker Methodist Health Center in operation today.

Cedar Imboden Phillips serves as the executive director for the Hennepin History Museum. Learn more about the museum and its offerings at www.hennepinhistory.org or (612) 870-1329.