The probation officer in Wichita who signed the Final Order For Dependent And Neglected Child which removed my grandfather from his mother’s custody appears to have been a man named Treadwell Cooper Coffman. In addition to being a probation officer, he was appointed Superintendent of the Christian Service League covering Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas effective August 1, 1922. Coffman continued his role as a probation officer while working for CSL and successfully petitioned the court to remove my grandfather from his mother’s custody just four months later. CSL then assumed responsibility for finding a suitable home for my grandfather, who was two months old at the time.
Coffman’s background was in education and law. He was admitted to the Kansas State Bar in 1892 and a large chunk of his career was spent in Southwest Kansas, which was my backyard. He was Superintendent of Public Schools in Garden City at one point and then held the same position for Clay County, Kansas public schools. He was also elected Haskell County Attorney at one point but resigned that position to return to education. After moving to Wichita, he was appointed Juvenile Officer in December of 1920.
Coffman apparently took his job quite seriously quite quickly because the January 23, 1921 edition of the Wichita Beacon reported he was “keeping four delinquent boys at his own home for want of a better place to send them.” Coffman then began aggressively advocating for an approximately 50-acre farm on which boys could become rehabilitated. In February of 1921, Sedgwick County Commissioners formally approved his home to be used indefinitely to house delinquent boys and I found several newspaper records of he and his wife being compensated for their efforts. This was all while Coffman was actively employed as a probation officer.
Am I the only one seeing a conflict of interests? Remember he was also appointed Superintendent of the CSL in August of 1922. So by that point, he was a probation officer operating his own home for delinquents AND he oversaw an adoption agency. Maybe nothing untoward was occurring but the League of Women Voters took issue with the arrangement and organized a letter writing campaign to encourage his resignation from at least one post.
In the November 16, 1922 edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle, Frances Graves of the League of Women Voters accused Coffman of the following misconduct: “He placed a young girl, ward of the Christian Service League in the detention home for delinquent boys. He placed three boys, wards of the Christian Service League in the detention home for delinquent boys. These three boys had not been adjudged delinquent by the juvenile court and indeed had not at any time been accused of delinquency.” Coffman was quoted in the same story as stating he “was ready and willing to resign his position as superintendent of the Christian Service League. He declared he was holding the job against his own wishes.” Wait, what? The guy was only three months into the job. I did more searching and found he had actually tendered his resignation from that position back in October of 1922 and then told CSL he really meant it in January of 1923, at which time a new superintendent was appointed.
Coffman was still listed as a probation officer in June of 1923 but that is the last mention of him in Wichita newspapers after a couple years of him being quoted on a very regular basis. The Emporia Weekly Gazette reported on March 11, 1926 that he had continued his work as a probation officer and housed delinquent boys in his home until his death the prior month. Cooper died February 26, 1926 at age 57.
I found no other mention of a young girl being temporarily placed in the home for delinquent boys so it is unclear whether that allegation had merit. I am also unclear about how my great-grandmother came to meet Mr. Coffman. I have located no newspaper accounts of her being arrested. Due to his multiple levels of involvement with law enforcement and the adoption agency, I’m not even sure if he was her probation officer. That certainly makes me wonder why the paperwork listed that occupation if he was not acting in that capacity in this instance. Every answer I find raises a dozen more questions.