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Sarah Elizabeth Latta Mitchell was an early and dedicated member of the Children’s Aid Society in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the oldest charitable institution in the city. Mitchell earned community recognition as president of the society, serving in that capacity from 1886 until her death in 1920. In 1947, the institution she had served for over thirty years was renamed the Elizabeth Mitchell Memorial Home in her honor.
Elizabeth Latta, Lizzie to friends and family, was born on January 6, 1839, at Vineyard near Evansville (Washington County), to John and Jane Starr Latta. She was the youngest of their thirteen children. Latta’s family had moved to northwest Arkansas in 1833 from York District, South Carolina, to escape the “idleness, drinking, gambling and more or less immoral, riotous living” her father believed many South Carolinians engaged in. Her father built the family home at Vineyard, located between Evansville and Cane Hill (Washington County), which he planned as a nearly self-sufficient community. He was probably responsible for the children’s early education. Latta’s father mentioned in correspondence of March 1859 that she had attended “school last session,” suggesting more formal education by that time. This could have been nearby Cane Hill Female Seminary, which had opened in 1852, but there is no evidence that she attended there, nor is there indication that she obtained a diploma.
Latta married James Mitchell, a native of Cane Hill on January 31, 1860, and the couple had eight children over the next seventeen years. Mitchell and her husband were separated during much of the Civil War period while her husband fought in the Confederate army.
In January 1865, Mitchell, her daughter, and two other families of women and children left Cane Hill because Federal troops had burned the town in the fall of 1864. The trip was difficult, and Mitchell’s feet were badly frostbitten by the time they reached relatives in Grayson County, Texas. When the war ended later in 1865, Mitchell and her husband reunited in Texas and returned with their daughter to Cane Hill the next year.
The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in November of 1877, joining James, who had moved the year before. Aside from her own home and children, the welfare of other children was one of Mitchell’s major interests. She joined the First Presbyterian Church, which formed the Children’s Aid Society in 1884, and in that same year, the Board of Lady Managers incorporated to run the society. The Lady Managers made all improvements and paid expenses. Mitchell became president of the board in 1886, the same year the society reorganized as the Children’s Home of Little Rock and turned all of its funds over to the home.
The society’s initial purpose was to board orphans in homes around Little Rock. In 1887, the Children’s Home opened in a rented a cottage at 410 Arch Street and focused on children who were neglected rather than orphaned. In 1889, the Gentlemen’s Board of the Children’s Home purchased a house and lot on East 5th Street, and the children moved to that location. The Lady Managers remained responsible for operations.
During Mitchell’s thirty-four-year tenure as president, she presided over significant decisions about the home and contributed financially to it; for example, she helped with expenses to haul cottonseed hulls that were donated to the home and the cost of boarding children at the home. Major developments for the home during that time included the 1907 purchase of a new residence at 920 McGowan Street and the name change to the Little Rock Orphans’ Home in the same year. Mitchell was annually reelected president, and the board elected her president for life in 1912.
Mitchell’s December 1, 1920, death was preceded by a mild paralysis that had occurred four years earlier and a broken hip several weeks before she died. She died at home in Little Rock and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.
In 1947, leaders of the Little Rock Community Chest, forerunner of the United Way, suggested renaming the institution the Elizabeth Mitchell Memorial Home in honor of Mitchell’s years of service. After additional name, location, and mission changes, the Elizabeth Mitchell Children’s Center became a branch of the Centers for Youth and Families in 1987.
For additional information:Elizabeth Mitchell Children’s Center Collection. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Ross, Frances Mitchell. “Civil War Letters from James Mitchell to His Wife, Sarah Elizabeth Latta Mitchell.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 37 (Winter 1978): 306–317.
“Widow of Former Democrat Owner Dies at Home Here.” Arkansas Democrat. December 1, 1920, p. 1.
Frances Mitchell Ross
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 6/6/2012
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