Historical Manuscripts Commission

Summary report on personal and family papers 1854-c1969


Maria Susan Rye (1829-1903),
social reformer

in private possession

(reference: GB-800819-Rye)

M Cale, June 1994
Historical Manuscripts Commission

Table of Contents



Related collections

Summary report

Folder 1

Folder 2

Folder 3

Folder 4


Loose material

Appendix: transcripts of letters

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Enquiries concerning access should be addressed in the first place to the Historical Manuscripts Commission.


Maria Susan Rye (1829-1903), social reformer

A report in the Times 29 October 1869 described Maria Rye as ‘the most successful of the priestesses of emigration.’ She was as well-known among her contemporaries as Florence Nightingale and Dr Barnardo. Prior to 1868, Maria Rye was principally concerned with issues of women’s rights and employment, becoming involved in the emigration of middle class women to Canada in 1861. Her interest in emigrating pauper and orphan children, for which she was best known, arose from this beginning. Later in life, Miss Rye suggested that her change of direction was a result of the persuasions of Lord Shaftesbury.

Maria Rye opened the Peckham Home for Little Girls around 1867 using funds raised through an appeal in the Times. In 1869, she established a reception house for emigrated children in the old court-house of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, calling it ’Our Western Home’. The first party of children, 65 girls and 3 boys from the Kirkdale Industrial School, left for Canada in the company of Miss Rye in October 1869 on the SS Hibernian.

In June 1870, the Social Science Association memorialised the President of the Poor Law Board, Mr Goschen, to allow workhouse children to be emigrated by Miss Rye’s organisation. He agreed, acknowledging that Rye was working on sound Christian lines. More than 600 children were emigrated on behalf of the London poor law authorities in the first two years. In the autumn of 1874, the Poor Law Board sent one of its most experienced inspectors, Andrew Doyle, to Canada to visit the emigrated children and report on the arrangements made by both Miss Rye and her fellow worker in child emigration, Annie Macpherson. Doyle’s report, made in 1875, was highly critical of the work of both women, noting that children experienced poor travelling conditions, lack of training prior to emigration, and little supervision on placement. He also noted that children of all kinds, including ‘street arabs’, juvenile delinquents and respectable orphans, were thrown together in what was likely to prove an unsatisfactory manner. Miss Macpherson responded fairly positively to Doyle’s report, accepting some of the criticisms and making changes, but Rye was very hostile, partly because Doyle was a Roman Catholic, and entered into a correspondence with him to defend her position. Her activities continued much as they had before.

Following a period of ill health, Maria Rye passed on the management of her institutions and emigration organisations to the Church of England Waifs & Strays Society and retired, in 1895, to live with her sister in Hemel Hempstead. She died of cancer in 1903. Lizzie Still, who is mentioned in the following list, was Miss Rye’s secretary and a major beneficiary in her will.

The collection of Maria Rye material described here was compiled by her nephew Arthur Rye during the course of his research for a biography which was never completed. His working papers and correspondence show that, despite exhaustive searches, records relating to her life were already scarce by the 1950s. At the time of writing, the only other papers of Miss Rye known to the Commission are five letters in the British Library Manuscript Collections (Add MSS 43623 ff. 25, 80 and 45799 ff. 178, 197, 203)

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Related collections

The Fawcett Library holds some records of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society, Miss Rye’s first important emigration venture (see NRA 20625, part 1).

Antiquarian papers of Walter Rye (1843 -1929) are held by Norfolk Record Office (see NRA 23099).

A note written by Arthur Rye in the 1950s states that, following the closure of ‘Our Western Home’ in July 1915, ‘All records from home in Niagara-on-the-lake [were] sent to England c/o Dr RAJ Westcott, Waifs & Strays, Old Town Hall, Kensington, London.’ NRA 27642, which is the catalogue of the Children’s Society (formerly the Waifs & Strays Society) archive, does not mention these records. However, there is a note of committee minutes, 1898-1903, and a lease, 1898, for the Peckham Emigration Home.

Summary report

Folder 1 (Orange)

Letters (for transcripts, see Appendix) and papers

24 October 1854, Maria S Rye, Crouch End, Hornsey, to her father, Edward Rye.

23 May 1867, Geraidine G Jewsbury, 3 Markham Square, Chelsea, to Maria Rye.

20 December 1877, Maria Rye, 6 Drayton Terrace. West Brompton. to Georgie.

22 May 1878, Maria Rye to Georgie (Georgina Rye, sister-in-law of Maria S Rye, married Waiter Rye 1870).

21 August 1878, Rutherford Alcock, 14 Great Queen St. Westminster. to Maria Rye.

7 August 1879, Florence Nightingale to Maria Rye.

19 November 1901, Maria Rye to ‘Tatty’.

26 September 1902, Maria Rye to Frank (Frank Gibbs Rye, nephew).

nd, ‘M’ to ‘Sir’ (copy of an out-letter)

Hempstead and Boxinoor Burial Board receipt for payment of £1 11s 6d for a grave space (no 37, Boxmoor Parish cemetery) for Maria Rye, 15 June 1903.

Receipt relating to the grave space, 9 February 1904.

Telegram notifying death of Maria Rye ‘at 8 am this moming’ to ‘Rye’at St Leonard’s Priory, Norwich, nd [1903]

Copy of Maria Rye’s will dated 22 May 1903. Executors: Elizabeth Sarah Still and Elizabeth Rye Mary Ann Cubitt Rye (sister). Terms include allowing Miss Still and Miss Rye to continue in residence at ‘Baconsthorpe’(Maria Rye’s house) till their deaths, having full use of all the house furnishings; distribution of small items (e.g. books, curtains) among nephews and nieces.



MS Rye, The Emigration of Infant Children to Canada (1876)

MS Rye, What the People Say About the Children and What the Children Say About Canada (1871)

Rutherford Alcock, Miss Rye and the Disposal of Our Pauper Children (1879), inscribed ‘Lizzie Stills, private copy’.

Marquess of Lorne, Miss Rye’s Girls’ Homes (1884).

MS Rye, Emigration of Educated Women (Emily Faithfull & Co, 1862)

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Newspaper clippings

Large collection of newspaper clippings collected by Arthur L Rye, including letters to the editor by Miss Rye, obituaries and articles about her work, including Miss Rye’s Orphans at the Immigration Shed, Montreal (no date, unattributed), 1870, 1879, 1882, 1884, 1903, 1952, 1953, 1962.



Original photographs:

1. Maria Rye (?) in adolescence (taken by Byrne & Co, Richmond)

2. Maria Rye in middle age (2 copies, taken by York House Studios)

3. Maria Rye in old age (taken by Varley Bros of Chelsea)


Reproduction photographs

1. Portrait in oils of Maria Rye in middle age.

2. Engraving of girls ‘after 11 years in the Home’.

3. Engraving of ‘The Seven Sisters’ (Miss Harris, Miss Nightingale, Mrs Hilton, Lady Burdett Coutts, Miss Rye, Mrs Gladstone and Mrs Chander), with cutting of a poem by J Hain Friswell, dedicated to the ladies, pasted on the back.

4. Group of girls at ‘Our Western Home’ going to church.

5. Group of girls outside ‘Our Western Home’.

6. Miss Rye in her office in old age.

7. Numerous photographs of ships used for the emigration of children to Canada, including the SS Hibernian.


Postcards of Niagara-on-the-Lake, 20th cent

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Folder 2 (Green)

Working papers of Arthur Rye relating to a proposed biography of Maria Rye, consisting of extracts from reference works and Victorian newspapers, drafts of chapters, copy of Miss Rye’s will, copy letter from John Boyd (5 April 1875) defending Rye’s work following Andrew Doyle’s report, notes on the children emigrated on the SS Hibernian in October 1869, etc, c1950-69.

Copies of letters (see Appendix for transcripts)

9 October 1893, Maria Rye at Niagara-on-the-Lake to Mr Kelso, head of the Children’s Aid Society, Ontario Province (typescript).

12 December 1893, Maria Rye to Mr Kelso (typescript).

15 December 1893, Maria Rye to Mr Kelso (typescript).

18 December 1893, Maria Rye to Mr Kelso (typescript).

June 1912, Sir Sidney Lee (editor of Dictionary of National Biography) to Mr Rye asking for his help in the preparation of Maria Rye’s entry.



JE Lewin, Female Middle Class Emigration (1863)

Rev JB Owen, Tales of the Emigrants (1871). Inscribed ‘Miss Stills with the writer’s kindest regards.’ Describes himself as a personal friend of Miss Rye (p20).

Maria Rye, First Report of the Placing Out of Pauper and Other Orphans in Canada and the United States of America (1870). Includes list of children leaving on SS Moravian and SS Hibernian in 1869, with names, age, condition, placement, and names of living relatives. Aimed at Boards of Guardians.

Maria Rye, Our Gutter Children (1869). Letters reprinted from the Times relating to the emigration of women and children. Fund-raising appeal.

Maria Rye, Gutter Children (1870). Fund-raising appeal.

Maria Rye, Emigration of Female Orphans and Children Deserted by their Parents (1871). Inscribed ‘Lizzie Stills’.

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Folder 3 (Clear)

Arthur Rye’s file of correspondence with shipping companies, local authorities, and organisations of which Miss Rye was a member, relating to a search for source material for a proposed biography of Maria Rye, 1952-57 (c100 items). The search was largely unsuccessful. One letter from the secretary of the London & National Society for Women’s Service, 14 August 1952, indicates that their library held 8 letters, 1860-65, by Miss Rye referring to the Female Middle Class Emigration Society.

Folder 4 (Blue)

Papers relating to Waiter Rye (1843-1929), local politician and Mayor of Norwich, including letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs.



Correspondence between family members (c200 items), including letters from Edward Rye (1803-1876), Waiter Rye (1843-1929), Maria Rye (d 1882), and Francis Rye (1848-1884).


Loose material

MS poetry (3 booklets), nd or author (possibly Edward Rye).

Annual Reports of Miss Rye’s Emigration Home for Destitute Little Girls (printed), 1874, 1877-95.

Copies of 19th cent magazines, some marked ‘Lizzie Stills, private copy’.

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Appendix: transcripts of letters

Folder 1, Letter 1 [MS on black edged paper]

My dear father,

I am sure you will remember, if I do not remind you, that this is the first letter I have ever written to you. That it is so has certainly not been from any want of affection, but from my not liking to intrude on your time which I know is so fully occupied. However, I have been thinking lately that however much I may love you, you cannot know it unless I tell you, & though you might not have time to write, you might to read yet might have leisure to read.

I have nothing of any consequence to tell you, we are very quiet here; the weather is lovely & I am now sitting out of doors & wish very sincerely that you could join us in our walk, which we intend taking, the Mavors say that some of the views we get around here are as lovely as anything they have seen anywhere in the course of their rambles, & I can easily believe it.

I hope you enjoyed yourself at Brighton & was sorry that I had the carpet bag; but as I only came down for a few days, Mama did not like me to take a box. Give my best love to her & as no news is good news, I presume she arrived home safely. I shall write to her most likely to-morrow.

I enclose a little trifle of mine, though I scarcely like you to see it, but had I waited until I only published what quite satisfied myself I should certainly never have published at all but I have gone to work on the principle that, since scraps quite as insignificant in a literary point of view have sold, why should not mine? It only came out this day last week & I have already covered my expenses with 10s. The publishers charging me 35d for 1000 copies - would you have fancied a penny book would have cost so much in the bringing out? - I have not heard how many they have sold, but I can scarcely hope they have been so successful as I have - I am now going to write to Mrs Beckway - so with love to all at home believe me my dear Father

Your very grateful & affectionate daughter

Maria S Rye

Oct 24 - 1854
Crouch End

Folder 1, Letter 2 [MS, endorsed ‘Miss Jewsbury, answered’]


43 Markham Square
Kings Road
Chelsea SW

May 23 -1867

To Miss Rye

Dear Madam -

May I recal [sic] myself to yr remembrance? You were once so good as to call on me when I was living in Oakley Street & now I am going to ask you to give me yr counsel & advice about a young woman, a servant in whom I take an interest.

She has an idea that she wd like to go to Australia & I promised her that I wd try to obtain the needful information. I myself think it is as good a thing as she can do for herself. She is about 20, nice looking, healthy, and as regards her character for propriety & steadiness, I believe her to be entirely without reproach. She is a good worker, but likes hard work rather than that wh requires thought and management - She wd stand at a wash tub if required from Monday morning to Saturday night. She is very clean & a good & thorough cleaner in all she does, but she has no method in her work. She is entirely ignorant of reading & writing, but she is intelligent, kind hearted, & nice handed; she is fond of children, & good to animals. She can sew very well, and is ingenious; - a very tolerable cook & very kind when people are ill; & she has good sense but she has a queer wayward temper wh makes her good qualities uncertain. I set down her defects to want of education & her want of education again is owing to her want of docility and her own indisposition to be taught it. She has lived with us as general servant for nearly a year & half (16 months) & during that time we have grown to feel a regard for her, wh wd have kept her with us, if it had not been for her wilfulness wh at times has made us feel that we cd do with her no longer, but when she is good, she is very good. She has a very honest, hard working mother, but her father is a worthless, idle drunken man, a bad father & a worse husband. Eliza Kelley (the name of the girl I am writing about) is extremely sober - almost a teetotaller, neat in her person. I fear I cannot call her truthful because she makes excuses & her excuses are not facts & her mistress has found her out in many lies, indeed she has owned to telling lies often. Also tho not flagrantly dishonest she is not scrupulous about small pilferings; sugar, sweets, odds & ends, especially of pieces of silk calico or bits of lace & c - but I have always left my own drawers open to her, & I have lost nothing that I know of - but I know that she is not guiltless of pilfering. I think that she is not so well fitted for the minute disciplines of an English family but that in the more rough and ready life of a colony she wd be really a comfort; and if when you have read this character of her, you will kindly interest yr self for her & give me the necessary advice & information as to what course she must pursue to go out in one of your ships I will feel greatly obliged. I think it quite possible that her mother & younger sister might here after follow her if she went out.

Pray forgive this long letter & believe me

Very truly yrs

Geraldine G Jewsbury

To Miss Maria S Rye

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Folder 1, Letter 4 [MS on black edged paper- probably from Maria Rye, wife of Edward Rye. Georgie is Georgina, wife of Walter Rye, Frank is Francis Gibbs Rye (Mrs Rye’s grandson, b 1874), and Clara is a sister of Maria S Rye.]


May 22d /78

My dear Georgie,

Thank you very much for your beautiful present of Flowers, vegetables, &c &c -

The Painters have been very quick with their work, and I trust will leave on Friday and then we must begin our share of unpacking and cleaning every thing. I am heartily sick of it already. I have sent you the Bracket, like the one in the Drawing Room, perhaps you would like it for some ornament in your new house. The Gardener is making the place quite grand. Give my best love to dear old Aunty, and the boys. I would have sent something better, but the Painters took us unexpectedly and we had to dismantle everything out of sight at once. As soon as we are presentable, I hope to see your dear little Frank as promised.

I expect Maria will be at home tomorrow. Clara sends her best love to Walter & c. She has only just got rid of her wretched cold, and I feel quite done over. the Bentleys have come back. Little Loney is better but her mother is worse.

I must say goodbye and believe yours truly

Maria Rye

Folder 1, Letter 5 [MS]


14 Great Queen Street
Westminster SW

Aug 21 1878.

Dear Miss Rye

I regret very much having been prevented by various causes from paying you the visit I aimed. I have only been in town for a day or two at a time, since I last wrote to you, & have each time endeavoured in vain to reach you. I should doubly regret my disappointment however if it gave you the impression that 1 took no interest in your excellent and charitable work, or would not willingly aid you if in any power. I am afraid as I leave London tomorrow for some weeks, that you will have left before I can return, but will still hope to be more fortunate when you are again in London; for the meantime, your fast friend Mr Fletcher, will keep me informed of all that concerns the success of your labours & with my best wishes, believe me,

Very truly yours,

Rutherford Alcock

To Miss Rye.

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Folder 1, Letter 6 [MS]


Aug 7/79

5.30 a.m.
10 South Street
Park Lane W

My very dear Miss Rye

You & your work are ever before me, tho’ I have no time to write.

God bless you & it: do not wear yourself too much with this blessed work.

I look forward to your holiday.

Do you sometimes read an entertaining book?

God speed you & your poor girls. And He will

is the unceasing prayer

of yours ever

F Nightingale

Folder 1, Letter 7 [MS, to Frank Gibbs Rye’s wife]


Hemel Hempstead

Nov 19 - 1901

Dear Tatty

Frank has been telling me one or two little secrets & I told him I would write to you - for the old proverb is very often true, that lookers on see the most of the game. - so don’t despise the advice of an old maid, even in the matter of a ‘joyful [worker’?]. - One of my Canadian matrons married - & I should not care to tell you all she suffered with her first two children - so when No 3 was likely to appear I wrote to a Dr whom I knew & who had had great experience in such matters & asked his advice, wh was very simple - viz - that for a fortnight before the expected event she was to drink a breakfast cup full of hot flax tea - you and I know it as linseed tea - not very tasty - but never mind it did its work - & No 3 slipped into the world before either Dr or nurse moved - wh must be awkward; any how my advice to you is to try this tea at the right time & till then take regular exercise & do as much work about the house as you can without fatiguing yourself -

Are you going to leave your flat & take a small house or remain where you are till the son & heir arrives - Frank says you are afraid of the railway, so it is no use saying come & see us -

How did you like the cold spell? Its tried us all very much - but it is milder now.

Good night - love to you & to Frank

Yours aff

MR Rye

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Folder 1, Letter 8 [MS. Addressed to Frank Gibbs Rye, b 1874, Maria Rye’s nephew.]


Hemel Hempstead

Sep 26 - 1902

Dear Frank

I have found three more of my dear fathers letters & am sending them on to you, it will be best for them to be altogether.

Among the prints & c that I sent you the other day, was a pencil drawing of a Roman soldier & I made a terrible mistake in marking it - By Grandfather Rye - when 1 thought more about it I remembered it was my own horrid copy of fathers - please tear it in four & burn it.

The Dr comes every night at 7 o clock & injects morphia - so I have no more

of those terrible pains - but I am still in bed (3 weeks on Sunday) & shaky

- Love to you and yours


MS Rye

Folder 1, Letter 9 [MS draft of a letter, in the writing of Lizzie Still?, nd possibly 1876]



In your issue of the 10th inst., I notice that Mr Wintle the chairman of the Bristol Board of Guardians is reported to have alleged that the system of migration with which I am concerned was as much for profit as the traffic in cattle.

I am surprised that Mr Wintle, who is I believe a respectable solicitor in your city & should, as a lawyer, know better should have made slanderous insinuations for which there is not the faintest foundation - but as he has done so, I shall feel much obliged if you will allow me to make make give me space for the following statement.

The whole of my Canadian account to 1875 have been vouched by the secretary of the Department of Agriculture Canada whose accountants report thereon, showing payments exceeding the receipts has been printed & copies can be obtained at Mr J Wade’s 18 Tavistock Street WC. The subsequent Canadian accounts have been duly vouched and can be seen by any one at my London office Avenue House Peckham Rye.

The whole of my English accounts can also be seen there. Those from 1874 to the present time (vouched and certified by Mr EA Antrobus - a gentleman not unknown in banking circles) have been printed & I send you a copy herewith.

A perusal of the two sets of accounts will I think convince anyone effectually dispel the cruel slander that I have ever made or attempted to make a penny by the work at which I have worked so long.


Yours & c


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Folder 2 Copies of letters made by Arthur Rye [TS, marked ‘copy’, with pencil endorsement Mrs M Gibson, 30 Gibson Ave, Toronto.]


Our Western Home

9 Oct. 1893

Dear Mr Kelso -

Your letter of 2 - Oct is before me & should have been answered before - but 1. When your letter reached me - I received with it (almost) - some 63 fresh children from England, - then to Eve with children - & to care for them & write about them are two very distinct things -

However, first let me shake hands with you as another worker for poor children - the wisest & best of all workers, - for mankind, - & the most acceptable to God & most in accord with this own mind - Oh yes I always say & think I have had the pleasantest corner in all His Vineyard in which to work.

Please do you realize that I have been working for poor children a quarter of a century - & that I have been here in this house 24 years, - yes - at work before you were even out of petticoats - if all I hear is correct - Now I want you to try and realize, - that to fully understand the question of keeping poor children you must live with them - you can never know them really unless you do - & even if you five with them as long as I have - & with as many as I have (nearly 4000) - you will still have something to learn,-...

At the commencement of my work - I did indenture the children, - but practically it did not work, - there was far more danger to the child - in being obliged to stay where it had become hateful - & was not wanted - at the commencement of this work in 1869 - I fondly hoped all children would be good & all the people who took them would be perfect, - experience soon undeceived me - so I did away with the apprentice paper - & printed a circular sent out with each child - that on a fortnights notice being sent - I would receive back the child...

I have a large training house in London,
Avenue House
High Street, - Peckham SE,

I have had this house over 20 years - & we have about 2 acres of land with it - & the girls are taught washing - scrubbing - working in the garden - with a schoolhouse on the grounds - the regular lessons all the morning - & needlework all the afternoon We have no set time for the girls remaining there it may be 3 months - & it may be 9 you can know a persons character & capabilities by living with them in three months very well indeed - you see we live with our children - we do not talk and write about them only - (I have been away from this Home just six weeks - in the last two years) -…

About 1875 - I bought & added to a house opposite to the Home - into which we put all the girls who are sent back to us - just now we have 12 there - an unusually large number, I found such children had to be disciplined - & that the mixing of returned girls - with those just out from England was bad - we have two workers in charge there, they & the matron & teacher here are paid also my four young servants, - but I and my two sisters - one here - & one in England - have our own incomes from our late father - & give our services.

I think I have answered all your questions - except about inspection - an the workhouse children are inspected by Government Officers, - & they are quite welcome if they wish to do so - to inspect the other children - but I know it is not necessary where people take as much pains as I do with the first placing - I am in constant correspondence with the people & the girls - (I wrote 46 letters one night not long ago at one sitting) - I act on the line of - ‘trusting all - or not at all’ - & I have no reason to regret what I have done and am still doing -

Maria S Rye

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12th - Dec. [1893]

Mr Kelso,

Sir -

A copy of the Evening Telegram has been handed to me to-night in which you are pleased to say ‘Several cases have come under the writers notice in which girls who have gone astray have been cast offby Miss Rye. No efforts have been made to reclaim them when once they have stepped aside from virtue’s paths and to-day some of them are in the Maelstrom of vice we draw from the outside etc.’

I must trouble you at once for the names and addresses of all these several cases or I shall hand the matter over to my solicitor M Dalton McCarthy.

Your obedient servant,

Maria Rye



15 Dec - 1893

Mr Kelso,

Sir -

I am in receipt of your letter of yesterdays date and I am in no way satisfied with your explanation. The very least you can do will be to write to the Evening Telegram at once saying publicly what you now say privately to me.

The matter cannot rest where it is.

Yours truly

Maria S Rye

[TS, to Mr Kelso]


18 Dec - 1893

Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of your letter of the 16th with cutting from the Evening telegram anent [sic] my work. Being a Christian woman I accept your apology and being an elderly worker I venture to say that as I had supplied you with full information about my work - it was your duty to have seen that no garbled account appeared in the public papers - No possible good can come to your work by running down the work of others for with the measure you mete it shall be measured to you again.

Moreover it is highly probable but for the work I and others have done for children you would never have commenced the work you now have in hand.

That I have some few young women who have lost their character (with the help of Canadian men) I know only too well - and give me 1 percent on 4000 girls - in 25 years I should have 40 outcasts - where are they? Where are 20? Possibly you might find ten.

At the time your fliend wrote I had one girl sick in St Catharine’s Hospital - I do [i.e. ditto], in St John the Divine - and several in my returned girls’ cottage - one (not immoral but stubborn) on the sea en route for England -

In conclusion let me ask you to compare my facts with the 300 letters from ladies found at Doc Andrews - and believe me if my children are not ladies born they are at any rate living (the vast majority) honest and respectable lives.

The late Mr Howland many years ago asked me to take up the Canadian children and start a home for them in Winnipeg for which he offered to find all the money - I could do no more than I am doing and only tell you this that if you want your work to be a success you will have to carry your children away from their parents and bad surroundings as we have done.

Yours truly

Marie S Rye

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