It was a miserable summer in 1832. The heat and humidity seems to rise off the river in waves. Hanging in the air the way water clings to washing. Work was hard, back breaking, but a man had to make a living. Now, with his wife dying of the fever, which spread like wildfire through Allegheny, there seemed never to be enough time or anything he could do for the children; his three darling girls. Taking in and caring for these three orphaned girls was the first act of compassion by the women of the newly-formed Protestant Home.
Some 30 years later, the Civil War orphaned many more children, prompting another group of women to form the Allegheny Home for the Friendless. Eventually merging to become Pressley Ridge, these early institutions began a two century long commitment to children that continues to grow stronger with each passing year.
In the beginning, it was women’s work, plain and simple. They cared for, clothed and fed these children creating a clean, healthy, morally and spiritually uplifting environment. Their great task was to turn orphans and the friendless into stable, productive adults. Through time, the two institutions these noble women built, the Protestant Home and the Allegheny Home for the Friendless proceed in a kind of double helix; created in a similar place, run by similar people, promoted by similar churches, they were never the less, two separate and distinct homes.
Changing its name in 1950 from the Allegheny Home for the Friendless to Pressley House, this institution became the place where youngsters with a problem that could not be solved at home found understanding. In 1959, Pressley House relocated to the Marshall Avenue campus. Pressley House and the Protestant Home merged in 1969 to form Pressley Ridge School and with the addition of new programs and sites, the Pressley Ridge Schools in 1985.
As diverse as each of their needs might appear our students are unified by a common desire. Within each one is a spirit eager to be understood, to overcome obstacles, and to experience love and commitment. In 2003, the Pressley Ridge Schools become Pressley Ridge. The name change, although subtle, conveys the increasing multiplicity of the organization. Pressley Ridge is an array of programs and services guided by the Re-Education Philosophy which focuses on the strengths of each child and family. The Re-Ed Treatment Model develops competencies in children with challenging behaviors through the creation of trusting relationships with committed, caring adults.
These kids are the world today. Some are from disrupted families. Some are victims of abuse and some are born with serious disabilities. Our challenge is to be ready.
Pressley Ridge got its start as the Protestant Home for Children and the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Home for the Friendless, two of Pittsburgh’s oldest child care agencies. The Protestant Home, established in 1832 by the First Presbyterian Church, was the first agency for abandoned, neglected, and orphaned children west of the Alleghenies. The second was the Home for the Friendless, incorporated in 1861 by the Second Presbyterian Church.
Over the next 100 years, both institutions continued to serve similar populations of children within the same community, the Northside of Pittsburgh. In 1866, the Home for the Friendless became known as Pressley House. Its early contributors included steel men Richard Hays, Alexander Nimick, William Holmes and his brother John, and bankers William Thaw, Charles J. Clarkes and E.F. Denney. A rising young industrialist, who listed himself only as A. Carnegie, gave $100. “Pittsburgh Jane” Holmes, a well-known philanthropist, supplied $60,000 of the $75,000 needed to build the large, rambling orphanage on Pressley Street.
Where are Pressley Ridge residents and orphans today? Click here to find out!
Given the similarity of these two institutions, it was not surprising that a merger discussed in the 1930s eventually lead to a complete merger in 1969. Between the two institutions, more than 16,000 children had been served since their incorporations in the 1800s. At the time of the merger, a study carried out under the direction of Nicholas Hobbs, Ph.D., then Provost of Vanderbilt University, lead the Board of Directors to adopt the Re-Education Philosophy as the model for services and treatment for troubled children. This treatment philosophy is still used today.
A few years after the merger and this study, the combined program was named Pressley Ridge School to capture the historic roots of the two institutions and the adoption of a Re-Education approach to the treatment. Over the next twenty years, the school’s diversity of services grew tremendously along with its geographical reach. The Ohiopyle program in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountains was developed; the program was then replicated in West Virginia as Laurel Park, which opened in 1983.
The development of PRYDE, our therapeutic foster-care model, served as a catalyst for expansion beyond Pennsylvania – throughout West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio. During the 1980s, PRYDE also brought national recognition. It was developed after a study conducted with the Allegheny County Children and Youth Services. By the end of the decade, the PRYDE program was recognized as a national model by the National Institute of Mental Health. Today, therapeutic foster care programs exist in every United States state and Canadian province.
In 1985, Pressley Ridge School was renamed The Pressley Ridge Schools to reflect our diverse programs and locations. The decision to maintain “schools” in our identify was based on the Re-Education treatment philosophy, where “school” is defined as a community of teachers and those who are taught to gain skills or knowledge. In this sense all of Pressley Ridge’s programs are “schools” for children and families, even those programs that have no classrooms.
By the late 1990s, Pressley Ridge was providing services to more than 1,500 children and their families each day in Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The agency had also developed an evaluation system that initiated a national movement for mandating outcomes for children’s services. In 1996, Pressley Ridge and the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh established the Pittsburgh International Children and Family Institute. PICFI handled the growing requests for consultation and training from the international community. During 1998-1999, Pressley Ridge worked with the University of Lusofona in Lisbon, Portugal, to replicate PICFI in Europe.
Today, Pressley Ridge provides services in Education, Treatment Foster Care, Residential, and Community-based programs to over 5,400 children and families annually, in six states as well as internationally in Portugal and Hungary.