Murphy-Harpst has a rich tradition of caring for children that grew from two homes founded more than 90 years ago.
In 1914, Ethel Harpst was appointed by the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church to a poor mill village in Cedartown, Georgia. She taught adults as well as children to learn to read and write, conducted worship services, and cared for the sick. Due to severe outbreaks of typhoid, tuberculosis, and influenza, many parents died and, at the time of death, requested that Miss Harpst care for their children. In many instances, Miss Harpst prepared the bodies for burial and conducted funerals. With an increasing number of orphaned children, she was granted permission by the Mission Society to establish the Harpst Home in 1924. Then, with even more children left without parents during the Great Depression and World War II, the Harpst Home expanded with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of New York and the Mission Society.
In 1931, Sarah Murphy, a Spelman College graduate, established a school at the edge of Cedartown for African-American children. Then, in response to the plight of so many of her students whose parents died during epidemics in the 1930s or could no longer care for them, Sarah and her husband, Shug, transformed her school into an orphanage. Their motto was always, “We’ll make room.” With very few resources, every meal became an act of faith. In 1946 Sarah won a $1,000 “Good Neighbor” award on a national radio show, and the exposure brought in donations, enabling them to add a new building to the compound. In 1950, the Sarah Murphy Home burned. Some Methodist women learned of the situation and came to the rescue. In 1961, a decade following the deaths of Sarah and her husband, the national Women’s Division of the Methodist Church took over the Sarah Murphy home.
In 1984, the Women’s Division merged the two homes into Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers. At that time, it became increasingly apparent that most of the children served by the organization had suffered emotional trauma from abuse and neglect and needed professional treatment. Today, such children from across the State of Georgia are referred to Murphy-Harpst by the Department of Family and Children’s Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice for residential treatment and specialized foster care. Murphy-Harpst continues the visions of Sarah Murphy and Ethel Harpst as a place where young people with no alternatives are welcomed, provided loving care and professional treatment to heal the scars of abuse, and given hope.