Archival Collections
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Wiltwyck School for Boys records, 1942-1981 bulk 1964-1982 

Wiltwyck School for Boys
Phys. Desc: 
20.58 linear feet (20.58 linear feet 49 document boxes 1 oversize archival box)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

The Wiltwyck School for Boys began as a project of the Episcopal City Mission Society in 1936, and was located in Esopus, New York. Initially, it was designed as an experimental summer camp for Protestant African-American juvenile delinquents and potential juvenile delinquents. The Children's Court required an institution that would accept these children, since state agencies and other private juvenile institutions did not address the needs of this population. After that initial summer, the institution decided to remain open year-round. Under the leadership of the Right Reverend William T. Manning, the first president of Wiltwyck, a gymnasium and a remodeled school building, which included room for professional and clerical staff, were built. From the beginning, Wiltwyck emphasized the need for holistic treatment that included not only the boys, but also their families. In 1939, Esther Hilton, the director of a training unit for the New York School of Social Work, joined the staff, inaugurating Wiltwyck's extensive use of social workers and social work students in counseling the boys and their families. In 1942, the Episcopal City Mission Society announced that it could no longer support Wiltwyck owing to the expense of its programs and the upkeep of the property. Recognizing the importance of this institution, a group of interested persons (including Judge Justine Polier Wise and Eleanor Roosevelt) assumed control of Wiltwyck, incorporating under the approval of the State Department of Social Welfare in 1942 as an interracial and non-sectarian institution. As part of its charter, Wiltwyck committed itself to a program of "moral and spiritual enlightenment, character development, correction of behavior problems, education and training for good citizenship" (Wiltwyck Charter, 1942). In 1953, the school expanded its mission to include children and adolescents with severe emotional disturbances, serving yet another group that often fell through the cracks of the child welfare system. With the arrival of these children, Wiltwyck intensified its psychiatric counseling services, increasing the training requirements for its counselors and adding Dr. Edgar Auerswald as the Medical Director. The school also recognized the need for half-way houses in the boys' neighborhoods where they could re-adjust to life after their time at Wiltwyck, and purchased and remodeled two brownstones on East 18th Street which were called the Floyd Patterson Residence after one of Wiltwyck's most famous alumni, the boxer Floyd Patterson. Given the growth of the population and the expansion of its mission, the Wiltwyck School required a larger, more up-to-date campus, and after several legal battles against zoning restrictions created by the town of Yorktown, New York in an attempt to bar Wiltwyck from buying land, the school moved to Yorktown to a campus named for Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been an active supporter of Wiltwyck from its inception. The new campus reflected Wiltwyck's treatment philosophy: open-plan buildings and unfenced grounds designed to give the boys a sense of freedom and responsibility for their environment. In the 1970s, treatment models shifted away from residential institutions to a focus on smaller centers located in children's communities. In response to these changes in the larger therapeutic and psychiatric communities, Wiltwyck opened smaller centers in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, in the Bronx, and in lower Manhattan. Despite this expansion, the 1970s were a difficult time for Wiltwyck since New York City provided much of its funding. As the city underwent fiscal crisis, Wiltwyck experienced several budget crises of its own. Despite the Board of Directors' attempt to generate revenue through private donations, Wiltwyck went further and further into debt. At the same time, local community groups, outraged by Wiltwyck's policy that allowed students to wander the grounds freely, held a series of hearings designed to expose the inadequate nature of supervision and records oversight at the Eleanor Roosevelt Campus. In response to the severe funding crisis and community pressure, the school closed in 1981. Eleanor Roosevelt, Anna Roosevelt, and Justine Polier Wise were among the supporters of Wiltwyck through its inception to its closing. Prominent alumni include Floyd Patterson and Claude Brown, the author of Manchild in the Promised Land, a memoir of his youth in Harlem, which he dedicated to Wiltwyck. Johnny Carson and Harry Belafonte were among Wiltwyck's most dedicated supporters, organizing and performing in benefits for Wiltwyck.

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the administrative records of the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a residential treatment center for troubled boys and adolescents from the New York City area. The bulk of the collection is comprised of administrative records of the day-to-day functioning of the Wiltwyck School for Boys. These records include correspondence, meeting minutes, committee files, program descriptions and proposals, fundraising and public relations initiatives, publications by Wiltwyck staff, and oversize architectural drawings of the Wiltwyck campus. The collection contains a number of closed files dealing with individual patient care.