As I prayed those days and night my thoughts were turned toward my own self and I realized that I MUST find a way to care for [those children]. I had the conviction that the way was not far off, if I could but find it. There flashed before me the story of Hagar, how she laid the lad down that she might not see him die and how the Angel came and opened her eyes and she saw the well of water. I prayed that my eyes might be opened that I might see the well of the water of life for these little ones and God answered that prayer.”
– Ethel Harpst quoted in Roy N. Emmet’s 25th Anniversary, Ethel Harpst Home
Perhaps Ethel Harpst’s biggest gift was the time and effort she gave to so many children in need. Harpst began her long career of caring for children at the McCarty Settlement House at Cedartown’s mill village. During her time teaching there, she took in a number of children who had been orphaned by parents who succumbed to illnesses. The Ethel Harpst Home opened in March 1924 and housed many children until the walls could expand no more.
Harpst traveled to raise funds for a new home, and in 1927 the first modern building, James Hall, was completed. And just in time for children who were displaced and orphaned during the Great Depression. An answer to prayer was the interest and attention shown by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of New York. Through the Pfeiffer’s and several other friends, money was raised to allow more buildings to be built on the campus over the next 20 years, and hundreds of acres of land were contributed to the cause. All this is thanks to the dedication and tenacity of Harpst to continue fundraising. Today, the site houses the Murphy-Harpst residential program, where Georgia’s severely abused children can go for healing and therapy. In 2010-11, the program served nearly 300 children, which included 97 children in residential treatment.
Multiple organizations praised Harpst for her life-long achievements working with and caring for children. She was selected as Women’s Home Missionary Society’s Outstanding Missionary of the Society in New York, and her Ethel Harpst Home received the Most Outstanding Work of the entire missionary society. Harpst received the Good Neighbor Orchid Award in 1948 on the Breakfast In Hollywood national radio program. Harpst retired in 1951 at age 68 and died in 1967 in Montgomery, Ala., after a long illness. Her funeral was held at the Harpst Home’s chapel and she was buried in a cemetery in Cedartown.