In 1914, Ethel Harpst was appointed by the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church to a poor mill village in Cedartown, Georgia. She taught adults as well as children to learn to read and write, conducted worship services, and cared for the sick. Severe outbreaks of typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and influenza left many children orphaned and in Miss Harpst’s care. In 1924, she established the Harpst Home with the permission of the Mission Society. The home continued to grow and expand during the Great Depression and World War II.
In 1931, Sarah Murphy, a Spelman College graduate, established a school at the edge of Cedartown for African-American children. Many of her students were left orphaned due to illness epidemics in the 1930s, or had family members who could not care for them. Sarah and her husband Shug transformed their home into an orphanage, with the motto “We’ll make room.” The Sarah Murphy Home burned in 1950, drawing the attention and assistance of local Methodist Women. In 1961, a decade following the deaths of Sarah and her husband, the national Women’s Division of the Methodist Church took over the Sarah Murphy home.
In 1984, the Women’s Division merged the two homes into Murphy-Harpst Children’s Centers. At that time, it became increasingly apparent that most of the children served by the organization had suffered emotional trauma from abuse and neglect and needed professional treatment. Today, such children from across the State of Georgia are referred to Murphy-Harpst by the Department of Family and Children’s Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice for residential treatment and specialized foster care. Murphy-Harpst continues the visions of Sarah Murphy and Ethel Harpst as a place where young people with no alternatives are welcomed, provided loving care and professional treatment to thrive and heal.