History of Lincoln

In 1883, Rebecca McWade, our founder, opened her home for what would become the first racially integrated orphanage in Northern California and began Lincoln’s legacy of responding to the needs of children and families. 

Today, we impact more than 27,500 children and families annually, and our track record is proven: kids attend school, learn to read and stay with their families where they do best. With Lincoln, they beat the odds, realizing their potential, and building successful academic, work and life skills. 

Note: If you are looking for information about California orphanages from 1900-1930, you can find a partial listing here. In some cases, clicking on the name of a institution on the page will take you to a listing of children connected to the orphanage.

The Beginning

In 1883, Rebecca McWade, our founder, opened her home for what would become the first racially integrated orphanage in Northern California and began Lincoln’s legacy of responding to the needs of children, youth and families. Today, we reach more than 4,600 kids and families annually and our track record is proven: kids attend school, learn to read and stay with their families. With Lincoln, they beat the odds, realizing their potential, and build successful academic, work and life skills. 

An Oakland Pioneer

Rebecca McWade calls together a group of neighborhood girls to create a sewing circle “to work for poor children.” They are called “The Little Workers of East and West Oakland.”

Mrs. McWade makes history by incorporating the Little Workers Home, as it was known, and accepting infants and children. It is the first integrated orphanage in Northern California.

The Little Workers becomes the West Oakland Home. The Crocker family donates funds to help purchase a large house on Campbell Street in West Oakland for use as a foundling home and orphanage.

The first dues are collected making the West Oakland Home a membership agency.

The West Oakland Home is serving eighty to ninety children, and the Crocker family steps in again to help build a larger home.

Property is purchased in Crow Canyon for a summer camp where 50 children live the first summer. The camp runs until 1929.

The orphans, known as Little Workers, number 103. The endowment grows to $8,525.

The West Oakland Home is greatly impacted by the influenza epidemic, with the remains of the deceased going to rest at Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery.

Lincoln becomes a charter member of the United Way's Community Chest Fund.

The West Oakland Home catches fire and is condemned.

With the help of Mary Crocker and the Bushell families, more than 7 acres of property is purchased on Lincoln Avenue for $25,292.50.

A group of women form the Junior Alliance and open its first Thrift Shop, launching an 87-year legacy of providing support and raising funds for the needs of Lincoln. 

The Move to Lincoln Avenue

Children move into the two newly completed cottages at 4368 Lincoln Avenue. Twelve women volunteer to help with gardening on the new grounds “in the country,” and the first of many Junior Alliance Flower Groups in support of Lincoln are born.

The Junior Alliance holds its first annual fashion show in support of Lincoln’s building fund.

The Junior Alliance administration building is completed.

Mrs. George P. Edoff leaves what will be a $300,000 bequest to Lincoln, establishing the James P. Edoff Memorial Fund.

The name is changed to the Lincoln Home for Children. The term "emotionally disturbed" is first used and reflects the philosophical change in the population served. Trained social workers are hired, Lincoln is re-organized as a foster care agency, and case management becomes an integral part of the services provided to children.

Lincoln Child Center is Born

Lincoln Home for Children changes its name to Lincoln Child Center, and opens another residential facility, the Bushell Cottage.

Clayton Nordstrom and Lincoln executive director James Mann plan a three-day conference to address the Child Welfare League of America’s new report that "12 percent of Oakland schoolchildren need special treatment for special problems." Lincoln responds by opening its first classroom.

Lincoln's members open the Bee Hive Thrift, which quickly becomes an Oakland landmark.

Lincoln's first group home is created.

Lincoln receives 35% of its funding from the Montgomery Ward's United Bay Area Crusade Donations.

Lincoln Child Center offers tutoring workshops to bring troubled youth in Oakland public schools up to grade-level proficiency.

Continuing Dedication to Oakland Children and Families

Lincoln opens its second group home.

The Junior Alliance publishes The Best Parties Ever cookbook, gaining international attention.

The 50-Year Member Tea is held to honor eight Lincoln members for their years of volunteer service and unprecedented dedication to Lincoln and its children.

Lincoln opens its third group home.

The James Mann Award is established in honor of Lincoln's former charismatic and visionary leader. Recipients are recognized for their dedication to Lincoln and its children.

Lincoln's Flower Groups sponsor the grand opening of Golden Gate Fields, raising funds for Lincoln Child Center.

The Lincoln Foundation is formed, two years before the establishment of the Second Century Fund.

Intensive Residential Treatment (IRT) opens, the Nonpublic School is opened and the Junior Alliance Building begins to be used for children's programming.

The middle school is established.

The Taste of Summer becomes Lincoln's signature fundraising event.

The Holmgren House is built for IRT, Opportunity School Program begins, and the Bee Hive Thrift store closes its doors.

Group homes are closed. Now in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, Lincoln begins providing school-based mental health services, later named the Helping Open Pathways to Education (HOPE) program. 

Lincoln. Strengthening Families. Changing Lives.

Executive Director, Mary Ann McKale, reports to the Board that Lincoln now has programs based in 12 schools in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, as well as three leased sites in Pittsburg and Oakland.


Champlin House residential facility is completed.

Kinship Support Services are created as a response to the growing number of caregivers who voluntarily raise a relative's children. Therapeutic Behavioral Services program launches to provide short-term intensive supports to children in Lincoln’s foster care program to reduce hospitalization or placement changes. 

The Lincoln Child Center Foundation is dissolved and absorbed by the Lincoln Child Center.

Christine Stoner-Mertz becomes President & CEO and begins a significant transformation of the organization.

Project Permanence is created as a program to respond to the increased need for community as well as family support.

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation and School Engagement are new programs created to respond to community need.

Lincoln Child Center leases a large building in West Oakland and moves back to its roots.

The Residential Treatment program is closed as services have transitioned to become family- and community-based.

Lincoln launches Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Youth (CEO Youth) to prepare foster and probation youth for strong futures. Oakland Freedom Schools, a summertime literacy development and cultural enrichment initiative, becomes a Lincoln program. Lincoln’s Family Resource Center is created at the New Highland/RISE elementary campus.

Lincoln’s Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy program is launched to provide intensive in-home series to youth struggling with co-occurring mental health and substance use issues. Lincoln staff become certified in Mental Health First Aid and make the training available to the public.

Lincoln moves its headquarters back to West Oakland and transitions its nonpublic school into school-based delivery of special education services through our the new EXCEL program. The West Oakland Initiative is created as a program to improve school attendance and decrease the summer achievement gap. Intensive Home-Based Services begins to create stability for foster youth. 

Lincoln holds new signature event, ROOT, which raises a record amount in support of programs.  

Rebranding launched with new logo, website, and new organization name changed from Lincoln Child Center to Lincoln!

Lincoln celebrates 135 years by launching a capital project for a new community-based Family Resource Center in West Oakland.

Allison Staulcup Becwar is selected to lead Lincoln and implement a newly adopted strategic plan.