Tim Woodward

Thank you, Marian Pritchett School, a home for Boise’s young moms

Booth Family Care Center and Marian Pritchett School opened in 1921 to shelter pregnant and unwed mothers.
Booth Family Care Center and Marian Pritchett School opened in 1921 to shelter pregnant and unwed mothers. Idaho Statesman file

For a lot of Boiseans, this one included, the news that North Boise’s Marian Pritchett School could be sold this summer was a little like learning that an old friend was terminal.

The Salvation Army, which has owned the school forever, plans to sell it to raise money for a larger campus in West Boise. The school has long been a home for pregnant and parenting teens, for whom the news had special meaning.

It had special meaning for me in more ways than one. I grew up a few blocks from the Marian Pritchett School, then known as Booth Memorial Hospital (for William Booth, the Salvation Army’s founder). It was common for those of us who lived in the neighborhood to see young, expectant mothers walking past our homes.

We’ve come a long way since those days, when teenage pregnancy was hushed up — particularly in the presence of children. If neighborhood kids asked their parents about the young women strolling by in various stages of pregnancy, we were told that they were “bad girls” and ordered not to talk to them. Today that seems outrageous, but those were very different times.

Kids, of course, are nothing if not curious. The girls didn’t look so bad to me, and I wanted to know more about them. In spite of my parents’ admonitions, I’d sometimes greet them and try to engage them in conversation. But only if Mom wasn’t watching, and then I’d feel guilty about it. That’s probably hard for younger readers now to understand, but it’s the way it was.

To a kid, the Booth building’s appearance was daunting. Built in 1921, it was an imposing brick structure set back and apart from the rest of the neighborhood on grounds that covered an entire city block. A friend of mine lived about a block away from it. Walking from my house to his, I tended to give the place a wide berth. At night, it could be almost spooky looking.

You don’t outgrow such impressions easily, or quickly. Fast forward 30-plus years. By then my wife and I had two daughters, one of whom became pregnant at 16. Our reaction to the news no parent of teenage daughters wants to hear was fairly typical. We told her we loved her and that nothing would change that. We told her we’d get professional advice, consider all the options and do whatever we could to help her make the best decision. Then we panicked.

“What are we going to do?” my wife and I asked each other in private after putting up a calm front for our hysterical 16-year-old. “What will she do about school? What if the neighbors find out?”

“Oh, no!” my wife gasped.

“What?”

“Ann and Maurice are coming next month. She’ll be showing by then.”

Ann and Maurice are my wife’s aunt and uncle from Washington. Their daughter and their grandkids were perfect. How would we hide our embarrassment?

It’s embarrassing now to admit it, but that’s exactly what we did. When they showed up sooner than expected at our front door, our then obviously pregnant daughter ran out the back door and hid at a friend’s house until they left.

Life has taught us better since then. We’ve come to understand that a teenage pregnancy not only isn’t the end of the world but can be a cause of great joy. Even if it takes awhile to get past our hangups enough to realize it.

Sixteen and desperate, our daughter almost terminated the pregnancy. Only at the last minute — she was in the doctor’s office — did she reconsider and decide against it. And with that, I can unequivocally say, a tragedy was averted.

She continued to live with us after the baby was born, and words can’t begin to describe what a joy that child was for all of us — smart, funny, good-hearted and all the other things a parent hopes for in a child. She’s a mother herself now — an excellent mother, I might add — and her 2-year-old son makes my day every time I see him.

When her mother was in a bad accident recently, it was the daughter from the pregnancy we once tried to hide who more than anyone came to the rescue — feeding her, bathing her, staying at her side through the night. Without her, our lives would be less than they are.

Without the Marian Pritchett School, then Booth Memorial, I don’t know what we would have done when her mother was pregnant with her. The teachers there kept her academically up to date during her junior year, sparing her slights from insensitive students at her regular high school and allowing her to graduate with her class on time the following year. They taught her birthing and parenting classes. They gave her a safe haven to continue her education and her life.

Her experience was far from being unique. In nearly a century of existence, the school has helped thousands of girls, thousands of families, in the same situation. More than a school, it’s been a lifesaver. Sometimes literally.

We don’t say thank you often enough. To the good folks who have made such a difference in so many lives at the Marian Pritchett School, an overdue and heartfelt thank you.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

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