The Suburban Cemetery for “Wayward Girls” and Their Babies

What a small resting place in a subdivision says about our past and why it’s a cautionary tale for the future

Marla Rose


Credit: Marla Rose

On Sunday, I was feeling that familiar invigoration I can always rely on in early autumn, as the leaves are just on the verge of changing and the earliest of households start displaying their Halloween decorations. I convinced my son and husband that we should drive out to Geneva, IL, a quaint, verdant river town in the western suburbs of Chicago, about 45-minutes west of us. We trek out here a few times a year to take in the riverwalk, enjoy the boutiques, and breathe in the air of a fresh season. On Sunday, I got that urge again and my guys were on board so we charged our phones, packed our drinks and set out for Geneva. Just before we left, thank goodness, I remembered that there was a place there that I wanted to see in person, one that had not been on our itinerary before.

It was the tiny cemetery of 51 graves on what was once part of the 94-acre property of the Illinois State Training School (ISTS), also known as the State Industrial School for Delinquent Girls or the Illinois State Training School for Delinquent Girls (among other appellations), which was in operation from 1894 until 1977. Just outside the gates of the now-demolished institution you fill find this small cemetery, improbably nestled between and behind two large homes in an affluent subdivision called Fox Run.

I had heard of the cemetery before here and there and seen some photos of the spare, old gravestones. I also knew that the cemetery was in an unlikely setting but that didn’t stop me from wondering if our GPS had failed us as we drove around cul-de-sacs and saw children riding their bikes and walking dogs in this decidedly residential setting. When my maps program said we had arrived and we were, in fact, between two large, manicured lawns, I stepped out to look around but I was doubtful. Where would it be? After walking around a bit more, I saw the iron fence and called out for my husband and son, still in the car, to join me.

Somehow or another, this was it.