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Abandoned, on a cool October afternoon, to the nurses of the Saint Louis World's Fair nursery, Baby No. 13 could have fallen victim to many fates. He could have been left to the already crowded orphanages, to later be institutionalized. He could have been subject to child labor, as this was a time when one third of all southern mill workers were children and child labor laws would not be commonplace for years to come. He could have been lost and forgotten in the system that so often fell short for helpless children.
However, Baby No.13 would not be left to the orphanages or used for cheap labor. No, it was his fate to win the heart of one exceptional and charitable woman and become not only her son but further motivation for her life's work. It took mere days for Ruth and Harry Hirschfield to decide to adopt Baby No. 13. They named him Robert Ashley Hirschfield.
At the age of two, Robert began traveling with his mother. Ruth was a delegate to the American Civil Association to the International Child Welfare Congress in Liege, Belgium. During this time Robert's father, Harry set off to pan gold in Alaska. After 1906 Robert and his mother returned to the states and Ruth resumed her work in child welfare. It was during this time that Robert would later recount frequent visits to the home of famous financier J. P. Morgan. He would recall sitting on Mr. Morgan's lap despite being terrified of the man and also his most notable feature, a large, red, bulbous nose.
In 1911, when Robert was seven years old he and Ruth moved to Paris, France where she once again organized a playground. It was the first ever playground in France. Just two years later they would be forced to move back to the states due to rising tensions and the impending war.
In September of 1913, Robert was enrolled in the Ashland School in East Orange, New Jersey. At the age of nine, he was only in the second grade as his studies in France did not transfer to the states. At the end of the school year, Robert found himself left to his own devices. It would seem that life had yet another struggle he would have to overcome. His mother, Ruth, lay bedridden and unable to care for him. She was suffering from a brain tumor.
Ruth Hirschfield had accomplished so much in her life. She was one of the first (if not the first) woman attorneys ever in the New York State, this decades before women were even granted their right to vote. She received two international gold medals for her playgrounds, which were the only structures adopted by the cities in which they were built, to remain permanently. Yet her accomplishment that unquestionably had the biggest impact was her choice to be a mother. Her choice to love and care for Baby No. 13.
Ruth passed away on January 1, 1915. Robert was only eleven years old. It was at this time that Robert went to live with his uncle, Felix Kessel. He remained there until his uncle's death just four years later in 1919. There is little mention of Robert's father during this time but it is known that he died of complications of Hodgkin's Disease on April 4, 1919.
At fifteen years old, Robert found himself alone once again. It was at this time that he became a ward of the Federated Jewish Charities of Buffalo, NY. It wasn't long however, before he was accepted to the De Veaux Military Academy at Niagara Fall, thanks in large part to the generosity of Mr. J. P. Morgan who sponsored Robert.
On June 23, 1923, Robert graduated from De Veaux. He packed his bag and headed north to Canada to work the summer at a logging camp. At the end of the summer he headed south and ended up in Chicago, Illinois. One memory Robert had of his father was his advice that if ever he found himself in a new town where he didn't know anyone, it was a safe bet that sanctuary could be found at the local church. So that's what he did and in short order began working and attending night classes. He also managed to find the time to court a Ms. Verona Alma Cora Menchow Raschke. In her, he must have seen the beginnings of a family of his own, Robert and Verona were married June 28, 1927.
Robert found his career at Commonwealth Edison Company. He was also a Captain in the Army Reserves. When the Reserves were activated into the U. S. Army, Robert was promoted to Colonel in the CBI (China, Burma, India Theatre) after 5 years of service in the CBI the war was over and he was promoted to Full Colonel. When World War II was over, Robert returned home to his wife and two daughters, Phyllis Ashley and Lynne Morgan and resumed his position at Commonwealth Edison Company. He lived out the rest of his life enjoying such things as gardening, cribbage, and woodworking.
I don't know if my Great-grandfather had many more answers then than we do now, he wasn't even aware that he'd been adopted as a baby until he reached retirement age some 65 years later. If you are blessed to still have your Grandparents or God willing your Great-grandparents ask them a million questions, about everything and nothing. They are not irrelevant because they are old and may not understand what's pertinent to your busy life in this modern world. Their story is YOUR history.
Credit must be given to my Grandmother, Lynne Morgan Hirschfield DeVries. So much of what my family knows of our past is thanks to her countless hours spent at libraries researching our family one film at a time. When she spoke to me about her research I would listen out of respect for my Grandma but I should have taken the time to really hear out of respect for her knowledge and history.
Thank you for taking the time to read these stories. I hope you will share them, maybe with a grandparent. 😊