Since its founding in 1924, Murphy-Harpst has had the mission of providing hope and healing for Georgia’s most vulnerable children. Sarah Murphy and Ethel Harpst, two women with similar passions to provide a safe, comfortable environment to hurting and disadvantaged children, led separate homes in Georgia throughout the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.
When Ethel Harpst arrived in Cedartown, Georgia in 1914, she was not there to establish a children’s home. She was appointed by the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church to do missionary work at the McCarty Settlement House in Cedartown and eventually wished to move to Appalachia to form a children’s home there.
However, Harpst’s early years in Cedartown birthed what would one day become the Harpst Home. While working in the settlement house, she taught children and adults to read and write, coordinated church services, and cared for the many children in need after one or both of their parents succumbed to typhoid fever, tuberculosis, or influenza.
Children were left on her doorstep at night, and the number of children needing care continued to grow. Ethel Harpst traveled to raise funds to build a larger children’s home, making presentations at conferences and calling on influential connections she made during her time spent in New York for training before moving to Cedartown. As a result of her fundraising efforts, the Harpst Home was established in 1924 and was able to expand throughout the Great Depression.
Before retiring in 1951, Ethel Harpst received the missionary society’s recognition for Most Outstanding Work. She was awarded the Good Neighbor Orchid Award by the Breakfast In Hollywood national radio program in 1948. She died in 1967 after a long illness and her funeral was held in the Harpst Home’s chapel. In 2012, Ethel Harpst was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement.
While attending Spelman College, Sarah Murphy had a vision to help people from poor, rural hometowns like her own. This led her to start an independent school in Grady, Georgia, where impoverished Black residents paid 50 cents per month for their children’s education. Sarah and her husband, Marion “Shug” Murphy, had a motto of “we’ll make room” and were never ones to turn down students whose parents couldn’t pay. But they saved enough money to purchase a five-room house on one acre of land in 1931 to teach grades K-12.
After an orphaned newborn and five siblings came to them when their mother died in childbirth, a baby was left in a basket, and more children showed up needing a home, the Murphys soon had 18 children to care for with $25 per month. Eventually, they were providing food, clothing, and shelter for approximately 50 children at once.
Their daughter, Divinia, tragically died in 1934 at the age of 9 of blood poisoning. Sarah Murphy, now known as “Mama Sarah,” applied to incorporate her children’s home shortly after. In 1935, the state charter was granted and the Sarah Divinia Murphy home was born.
In 1946, Sarah Murphy won a $1,000 Good Neighbor award on a national radio show, which provided the resources to add a new building and brought exposure and donations. A wood stove fire destroyed the home in 1950 but, due to widespread generosity and assistance from the community, a new home was built in 1953. Sarah Murphy died a few months later in 1954. Sarah Murphy was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement in 2004.
Over the Years
Ethel Harpst Goes to Cedartown
- Ethel Harpst is appointed by the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church to a settlement home in Cedartown, GA
Harpst Home Established
- Ethel Harpst’s Harpst Home was established as an orphanage
- The first major building, James Hall, is built on the Harpst Home campus
Sarah Murphy’s School
- In nearby Rockmart, GA, Sarah Murphy establishes a school for African-American children
Murphy Home Charter
- After years of taking in children in need, Sarah Murphy is granted a state charter to create a permanent home for children
Fire at the Murphy Home
- A wood stove starts a fire that destroys the Murphy Home, leaving the family (including 51 children) temporarily homeless. This draws attention and assistance from local Methodist women
Murphy Home Reconstruction
- After donations from around the state, the country, and the world pour in, a new Sarah D. Murphy Home is built in the fall of 1953
Murphy Home Acquired
- Following years of partnership, the Women’s Division of the Methodist Church acquired the Murphy Home in 1961
The Homes Merge
- The Women’s Division merges the Harpst Home and the Murphy Home into Murphy-Harpst Children’s Center
Animal-Assisted and Equine Therapy
- Murphy-Harpst adds an animal-assisted therapy and equine program to its treatment services
Residential Treatment Provider
- Murphy-Harpst was certified as a Residential Treatment Provider in 1987, offering Maximum Room, Board and Watchful Oversight Residential Services, Therapeutic Foster Care, and Core Outpatient Services
Foster Care Established
- Murphy-Harpst begins providing safe and stable homes to children through our Foster Care program
Transitional Living Program Founded
- Murphy-Harpst introduced the Transitional Living Program in January 2017
GED Program Founded
- In April 2018, Murphy-Harpst partnered with Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) to provide a GED program through their Adult Learning Program
Over the years, Murphy-Harpst’s services have evolved to provide a warm environment to the Georgia children who need it most. From specialized foster care to research-based therapies, we continue the visions of Sarah Murphy and Ethel Harpst as a place where young people with a tough past and no alternatives are given love, care, and professional treatment to thrive and heal.
“We’ll make room.”
From the very beginning, the donations of generous supporters have driven Murphy-Harpst’s ability to serve vulnerable children with shelter, food, and therapy. Donors have provided not only programs and experiences for the children, but the resources to build permanent structures. Many of the buildings you see on campus today were donated by generous supporters in the 1920s–1940s.
Gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of New York contributed to the early expansion of the Harpst Home by hundreds of acres and the construction of the home’s first modern building, James Hall, in 1927.
United Methodist Women
The United Methodist women’s division financially supported and profoundly influenced both the Harpst and Murphy homes separately before merging them into Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers in 1984.
A group of Atlanta-area United Methodist Women saw a sign for the Sarah D. Murphy home from the road. They were curious and decided to visit. After noticing the lack of resources and desiring to help, the women started working with the Murphy home in the late 1950s and eventually acquired it in 1961.