Katharine Goes Home


Katharine was so absorbed in looking out the window that she did not know anyone was in the large bare room watching her. Her face was sharp and pinched. Her arms and legs were so thin that they looked like pipestems. Her hair was jet black, and she didn’t know how to comb it.

Deep in the shadow of the room Elizabeth Blackwell stood and wondered about adopting this girl. Of the four hundred children in the orphanage she seemed almost the least desirable. Yet in Elizabeth’s many visits the child had been like a magnet, capturing her interest and her heart.

Elizabeth was lonely. Years of determination and work and study had brought fulfillment of her great desire to be a doctor. She was the first woman in America to graduate from a medical school, and she was beloved by the people of her hospital and by those whom she helped at the clinic. Her hours were filled with the needs of children and their mothers as she blazed a pioneer trial of service.

Watching the girl at the window, Elizabeth thought of the student friend she had known in Paris and of the life she might have been sharing with him. She had chosen to be a doctor, however, so that she might be of service to mothers and their children who needed her help. The time was 1850, and the place was New York City.

The matron at the orphanage knew very little about the girl at the window. Her age might be seven or eight; she was Irish and had no family or friends. She answered to the name of Katharine. That was all.

“Why do you seem so interested in her?” the matron asked Dr. Blackwell. “She is so weak and spindly-looking. She will not be of much help to you. I thought you were looking for a strong, intelligent child you could train to be a helper.”

“I thought so too,” was Elizabeth’s sober reply. “But this child needs me more than any of the others.”

So Elizabeth filled out the papers, picked up the small bag containing all of Katharine’s belongings, and walked over to the child, who was still watching the beautiful sunset through the dingy window.

She took one of Katharine’s small hands in hers and asked, “Would you like to go home with me, dear?”

The eyes lifted to her were bright and clear. After a moment Katharine said, “Oh, yes, but could we please wait until the colors fade?”

Elizabeth dropped to her knees before the window, and together the woman and child watched until the bright sunset colors had faded to a pale yellow glow. The oneness shared in that moment was to last for half a century.

That night as Elizabeth carried her up to bed, Katharine knew a great contentment. As she snuggled down in the warm covers of her new bed in her new home, Katharine knew and returned a great love.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Harston