New York Juvenile Asylum records (Children's Village), 1853-1954
|New York Juvenile Asylum.
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The New York Juvenile Asylum (NYJA) was founded in 1851 by a group of prominent businessmen and professionals concerned about
vagrancy among poor children in New York City. The Asylum was designed to house, educate, reform, and find placement for the
numerous homeless and runaway boys and girls found daily on the streets of New York. The founders conceived of the Asylum
as a place for non-delinquent children--an alternative to the punitive House of Refuge for young criminals. After operating
in Manhattan for over half a century, the NYJA moved to Dobbs Ferry, New York, where it became a boy's school. In 1920, the
institution was renamed Children's Village, and it continues to operate under this name today. From 1854 to 1905, NYJA occupied
a large building in Washington Heights on 176th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. The building was the hub of a larger
social services network that extended throughout New York City and into the towns of the West. Children reached the Asylum
in several ways. Many were found vagrant or committing petty theft and were delivered to the NYJA by the police. Others were
removed from homes that were deemed unfit, and quite a few were surrendered by parents or relatives too poor or too incapacitated
to care for children. No matter their origin, children first arrived at the House of Reception on West Thirteenth Street where
they were assigned a case number. After a few days assessment at the House of Reception, staff sent appropriate cases uptown
to the Juvenile Asylum, where children received six hours of schooling a day as well as moral, religious, and vocational training.
Many of these children traveled to the West (on "orphan trains") where they were indentured to farmers. The NYJA had a permanent
agent stationed in Illinois to assist in placing children with families. The Asylum kept track of the children until they
reached adulthood, sometimes corresponding with orphans and the families with which they were placed for years. These materials
provide abundant information about the experience of "orphan train" children apprenticed to Western states. Not all children
at the NYJA were truly orphans and many were released to parents or family members after periods of financial difficulty had
passed. No records exist for these children after they were reunited with families. At the dawn of the twentieth century,
as new ideas about social work spread though the United States, the building in Washington Heights began to feel cramped and
outdated. In 1901, the trustees of the NYJA held an architectural design competition for a suburban facility to be built on
a farm in Dobbs Ferry, twenty miles north of Manhattan. The winning design featured a cluster of residential cottages that
quickly earned the nickname "Children's Village." The new facility had space for less than a third of the youth who had lived
in the Manhattan asylum. Before the 1905 move, female, African-American, Jewish, and Catholic children were sent home or to
other institutions. In 1920, during a reorganization that promoted a therapeutic model of care, the institution's name was
officially changed to "Children's Village." Children's Village still operates as a treatment center and residential facility
for boys in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
Scope and Contents
This collection consists primarily of ledgers used for record keeping at the New York Juvenile Asylum and Children's Village.
The collection of ledgers, while large, is also fragmentary and represents a minority of the total volume of records NYJA
produced. The majority of the ledgers document the movement of children through the asylum system, from arrival at the House
of Reception to discharge to family or apprenticeship in the West. The ledgers also concern financial operations, committee
minutes, and daily operations at the Asylum in Manhattan as well as the Dobbs Ferry Children's Village campus. Correspondence
copybooks contain onionskin paper impressions of letters regarding institutional operations. Several of the ledgers contain
papers and correspondence interleaved with the bound pages. Many are in fragile condition. A small number of reports and papers
from a 1931 institutional survey are also included.