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Posted on Sun, Nov. 17, 2002

Blossom's In The Dust Movie Fine, but the woman was amazing

By Bob Ray Sanders

Fort Worth, Texas - Star Telegram Staff Writer


The other night I cozied up to what I knew was a warm old movie that I had not seen in decades.

This copy of the film had come from the Fort Worth Public Library, and as I put it in the VCR to begin watching, I wondered whether it still carried the wallop I remembered from seeing it many years ago.

It is a classic movie about one of Fort Worth's heroines, and although I'm sure this newspaper's chief critic, Christopher Kelly, would not agree, the film is one of the great ones whose story (as it turns out) is as powerful as ever.

But what do young movie critics know anyway? Heck, not only was this movie made before Chris was born, it was made before I was born.

In the opening credits of this 1941 MGM classic, Blossoms in the Dust, there is a full-screen dedication:

"This is the story of a great woman, and of the great work she is doing for humanity. Her name is Edna Gladney, and she lives in Fort Worth, Texas. We dedicate this picture to her."

Later, in checking Hallwell's Film Guide to learn a little more about the picture, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, I was a little taken aback by the guide's description. In fact, it could have been written by our critic.

The guide's terse, one-sentence synopsis says, "A woman who loses her husband and child founds a state orphanage."

It then characterizes the Academy Award-nominated movie as: "Archetypal tearjerker of the forties. A glossy 'woman picture' which distorts the facts into a star vehicle. Excellent colour helped to make it an enormous success."

Edna Gladney's story is not just a woman's story. It is a man's story, a community's story and, most of all, it is a children's story.

Yes, Hollywood took liberties with the facts; it always does. But the real story is more interesting, more powerful, more heroic and more touching than anything on the screen.

The true story of Gladney and the Rev. Isaac Zachary Taylor Morris, the circuit-riding Methodist minister and Confederate Army veteran who started what would become the Gladney Center, is one that is full of heart and one that continues to unfold.

Morris, who came to Fort Worth in the second half of the 1800s with his wife, Belle, and seven children, started finding homes for orphaned and abandoned children, often riding the trains with baby in basket to be delivered to its new parents.

He and his wife founded the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society in 1904, and before he died, in 1914, he had found homes for more than 1,000 children in Texas.

Gladney, born Edna Kahly in Milwaukee, came to Texas in 1903 and would later marry Sam Gladney. While her husband operated a milling company in Sherman, Gladney opened a nursery for children of working mothers.

"When Sam lost his business, the Gladneys moved to Fort Worth to start anew," says a biography provided by the Gladney Center. "In 1927 Edna became superintendent of the Children's Home, working without salary the first few years due to the precarious financial position of the Home."

She became a masterful fund-raiser and a true advocate for children, fighting local authorities and state politicians for the rights of adopted children and adoptive parents.

"In 1933, she began a three-year campaign to change Texas birth certificates so that they no longer described children as illegitimate," the biography says. "Due to her efforts, Texas became the first state in the Southwest to seal the original birth record and issue a second one listing the adoptive couple as the children's parents. In 1951, Edna also fought for a bill to provide adopted children the same rights as birth children."

The children's home was renamed for Gladney in 1952 in honor of her 25th anniversary as superintendent.

"Aunt Edna retired in 1960 and died the following year of complications from diabetes," the biography says.

But the Edna Gladney Home continued to house young unwed mothers and find good homes for their children.

The Gladney Center, celebrating its 115th birthday this year, has placed more than 26,000 children and worked with more than 36,000 birth mothers. (Many mothers who come to the center for help decide to keep their babies.)

Edna Gladney and Isaac Morris would be overwhelmed to see the center's sprawling new $17 million facility, which occupies four buildings on 11 acres in southwest Fort Worth.

They would also be shocked, but pleased, to know that half of the children placed by Gladney today come from other countries.

What a great story -- one to which no Hollywood film could do complete justice.


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