Former Baylor Student Debuts New Book on Waco State Home

Feb. 24, 2011

Sherry Matthews, noted advocate and former Baylor University student, will reveal 57 first-person alumni accounts of life inside the Waco State Home in her book, We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home.

Matthews will lecture at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25, in Bennett Auditorium in the Draper Academic Building, followed by a book signing and reception at The Texas Collection in Carroll Library on the Baylor campus. The event is free and open to the public.

For 56 years, thousands of Texas children were sent by their parents to live in the Waco State Home, mostly because of deep poverty. The Home was meant to provide a safe haven for children: three meals a day and an education their parents couldn't provide.

Surrounded by barbed wire fencing, the institution's darker aspects often went unnoticed by the Waco public.

"The book reveals brutally honest, first-person accounts of what went on," Matthews said. "Rarely does anyone have an opportunity to hear accounts of life inside a children's institution. Most, like those who served in the military during wartime, do not speak of their experiences."

The book is "compelling, well-researched and well-documented," said Dr. John S. Wilson, director of The Texas Collection. Matthews used the Harold Larson Archive, a part of The Texas Collection, for her research.

"My relationship with the Waco State Home began when I was three years old as I watched my brothers being driven away to live at the Home," Matthews said.

At her brother's invitation, Matthews began attending Waco State Home reunions with him in 2004. After hearing fascinating stories from alumni, she decided to publish a collection of their stories as a gift to the Waco State Home ex-students' association.

Many of the stories portray the positive aspects of the Home: bountiful food, caring teachers, victorious sports teams and long-lasting friendships. As she continued her investigation, though, alumni came forward with stories of brutal beatings, emotional torture and sexual abuse.

"My one surviving brother says he remembers his time in the Home as the most miserable years of his life," Matthews said. During her research, many told her they had relatives who refused to talk about the Home, and they were grateful for the chance to better understand the experience.

Since the completion of the book, controversy has emerged. "Some alumni believe that revelations of abuse at the Home are an embarrassment to them and further stigmatize them," Matthews said. "Others are thankful that the truth is now known and hope that the book can help prevent child abuse."

The lecture will include Waco State Home alumni who will read excerpts of their stories.

"Hearing people talk about their experiences is important," Wilson said. "Giving voice to so many children is important. It makes us better people and guardians of our youth."

Matthews has pledged to donate any profits of the book to the Waco State Home's alumni association.

"Personally, I am glad that I was able to give a voice to many who thought they had no voice in the past," Matthews said. "I also hope this book serves as a wake-up call to advocate for children and their families."

For more information, please visit www.wewerenotorphans.com. The website provides on-camera interviews with alumni and a short documentary film by award-winning Corra Films.

Draper Academic Building is at 1420 S. Seventh St.

Carroll Library is at 1429 S. Fifth St.

by Susie Typher, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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