Because of her significant gift to the Orphanage and her active role as a member of the Ladies Board (forerunner of the Board of Lady Managers), Mrs. Leath was permitted to choose the Asylum’s new matron in 1856.  The choice proved a wise one. Miss Jane Ward had come to Memphis as governess for the children of the pastor of First Presbyterian Church and after visiting in the home of James T. Leath, the son of Sarah Murphy Leath, for an extended time, was offered and accepted the position of the first matron of the Orphanage.  Miss Ward, who manifested a real mother’s love for the children in her care, remained as matron of the Orphanage for seventeen years.   During Miss Ward’s employment, whenever a girl entered the Orphanage, a hope chest was started for her future dowry and into each chest went a quilt and other articles as available.

Money for the original small brick building was provided largely by public subscription from the citizenry. A two-story brick building (now the Shainberg Room) was completed on June 4, 1856, and became home to fourteen children; seven boys and seven girls.  There was also a clapboard shotgun-styled building on the nine-acre plot that was used as the school for the children.


photo of schoolhouse at Porter-Leath