History & Heritage

Natchez Children's Services is the oldest nonprofit organization in Mississippi and among the oldest continuously operated, child-focused organizations in the United States.

NCS was founded in 1816, a time of agrarian, economic and political crisis in the Mississippi Territory. The War of 1812 and its associated Indian battles had ended the year before, leaving many widows and orphans.

Early in 1816 a group of Natchez women, recognizing a great need among the less privileged children of the district, began soliciting funds for the establishment of a “charity school.” They had soon raised twelve hundred dollars and, on March 12th, called a meeting at the home of Mrs. Samuel Davis for the purpose of organizing an association to sponsor the school. Reverend Benjamin Davis was employed to teach the children of the charity school.

Members of the association, called "The Female Charitable Society," were all subscribers to the fund. Over the years, descendants of some of these founders have often served on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Early in the Society’s life, the need for a home for the children of the charity school was identified. The yellow fever epidemics of 1817, 1818 and 1819 swelled the number of orphans. Those without family to take them in had been boarded with various families in town and sent to the charity school.

The orphanage was finally established in 1821. Samuel and Ann Postlethwaite had donated property at the northeast corner of Pine (now Martin Luther King) and Homochitto Streets. The Society had purchased the home of Judge John B. Taylor, moved it to the property and made extensive renovations. Nevertheless, in 1822 the Society purchased five acres of the Arlington property and contracted for the construction of a four thousand square foot, wood frame home.

In 1825, The Female Charitable Society became the Natchez Orphan Asylum. In 1856, the organization purchased the North Union Street home of the then late Samuel and Ann Postlethwaite. That building continued to house the orphanage until construction of the current structure on the same property in 1951.

The Natchez Orphan Asylum became popularly known as the Protestant Asylum, and later as the Protestant Home, to distinguish the institution from the Roman Catholic orphanages, D’Evereux Hall Orphan Asylum for boys opened in 1860 and the older St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum for girls.

Despite its name, the Natchez Protestant Home was not sectarian. Its Board was drawn from area churches, the Jewish synagogue, the Christian Science congregation and interested citizens. The name was changed to Natchez Children’s Home in the mid-1980s to better reflect its non-sectarian nature.

The necessity for services for neglected, displaced, and at risk youngsters is as great today as it was in 1816, despite the absence of Indian wars and yellow fever. As community needs have evolved over the last two centuries, The Female Charitable Society has evolved to meet those needs. The Protestant Home continued to provide shelter and care for children at risk, even as true orphans became rare but children from dysfunctional or poor families became all too common.

Social service programs, such as family counseling and behavioral therapy, were introduced in the latter part of the twentieth century. The name was changed to Natchez Children’s Home Services in 2005 to emphasize the organization’s mission to provide more than housing. The organization began to reach into the homes and families of the children it served. It began dealing with issues unimaginable to earlier generations.

Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in the 1990s, residential care lost favor nationwide. Many asserted the right of children “to placement in the least restrictive, most family-like setting,” i.e., placement with a relative or foster family if remaining in the home was undesirable. Advocates adopted the position that housing children in an institutional setting is the same as warehousing them in prison. Both class action litigation nation-wide (in Mississippi, Olivia Y. v. Barbour) and federal legislation (Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980) effectively bar the placement of children in a residential facility without some form of medical or treatment certification.

When public support for residential institutions was withdrawn, Natchez Children’s Home Services refused to abandon its children. It explicitly adopted an “outpatient” model, which enables it to improve the lives of many more children than conceivable for a residence. The Children’s Advocacy Center, Children’s Behavioral Health Center, therapeutic day treatment and other programs are the result.

Now, as The Female Charitable Society celebrates its 200th anniversary, it has a new name:  Natchez Children’s Services. This name fits the current "outpatient" model since the NCS facility no longer provides residential care.

Plenty of children still go daily to the NCS building on North Union Street. The classrooms are busy. The lunchroom is noisy. The offices and therapy centers provide solutions suited for the twenty-first century.

Despite all the changes over the past two centuries, the words of the 1823 Annual Report remain apt: “The Managers have little to regret but their inability to do more in the cause of humanity, while they have abundant reason to be thankful to Providence that they have been enabled to do so much.”

Natchez Children’s Services continues to save lives, one child at a time. 

Important Dates in NCHS History

The Female Charitable Society formed and Rev. Benjamin Davis employed to teach at the charity school
First annual meeting of the Society when need for housing children identified
Society formally incorporated with the name Natchez Female Charitable Society
Orphanage begins as children and a matron moved into a home at the northeast corner of Pine (now Martin Luther King) and Homochitto Streets
Purchased five acres adjacent to Arlington estate and built larger home
Changed name to Natchez Orphan Asylum 
1851Charity school discontinued
Bought Postlethwaite home on North Union Street and moved children in
1860sBecame popularly known as the Protestant Orphan Asylum to distinguish it from newly established Roman Catholic orphan asylums, one for boys and one for girls 
Extensively remodeled home
Raised funds and built new larger home on Postlethwaite property
Changed name to Natchez Protestant Home
Congress adopts Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 that focuses on family preservation efforts and discourages out-of-home placements of children
National shift to community care rather than residential care begins and accelerates rapidly, often supported by litigation
Board voted to hire an Executive Director, have couples for houseparents, and work toward the cottage system of housing
Changed name to Natchez Children’s Home to emphasize non-sectarian status
Americans with Disabilities Act codifies “least restrictive treatment” model
Supreme Court decision makes clear that states will be forced to move to community services rather than residential
Class action filed in Mississippi on behalf of all children in State care, one goal being to end residential care in most circumstances
Changed name to Natchez Children’s Home Services to emphasize that services other than residential housing are offered
Class action involving children in State care settled with severe restrictions on residential care
Began Preschool Day Treatment in partnership with Catholic Charities
Residential services discontinued
ABC’s Preschool replaces Preschool Day Treatment
Children’s Advocacy Center opens, offering forensic interviews for abused children
Partnership formed with Mississippi Children’s Home Services
MYPAC begins home-based psychiatric services from NCS facility
Children’s Advocacy Center begins therapy and victim advocacy for abused children, free of charge
Therapeutic Preschool Day Treatment opens in partnership with Mississippi Children’s Home Services, replacing ABCs Preschool
Children’s Behavioral Health in NCS facility
Name changed to Natchez Children’s Services to better match the “outpatient” model of services