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Rare Book & Manuscript Library

New York Juvenile Asylum records (Children's Village), 1853-1954 

Creator: 
New York Juvenile Asylum.
Phys. Desc: 
117 linear ft. (31 document boxes, 1 half document box, 104 custom-made boxes)
Call Number: 
MS#1488
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

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.