New York Foundling
The New York Foundling, founded in 1869 by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, is one of New York City’s oldest and largest child welfare agencies. The Foundling operates programs in the five boroughs of New York City, Rockland County, and Puerto Rico. Its services include foster care, adoptions, and other community-based services for families.
A wave of very poor immigrants and social disruption were among the many social conditions that led to an epidemic of infanticide and abandonment during the late 1860s. It was not unusual for the sisters at St. Peter’s Convent on Barclay Street to find a tiny waif left on the doorstep. Sister Mary Irene FitzGibbon, of St. Peter’s approached Mother Mary Jerome, the Superior of the Sisters of Charity, regarding the need of rescuing these children. When the matter was as placed before Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal) John McCloskey, he urged the Sisters to provide an asylum for the care of abandoned children.
The Foundling Asylum (1869–1879)
On October 8, 1869 the New York Foundling Asylum of the Sisters of Charity, in the City of New York was incorporated. Three days later, Sister Irene and her two companions, Sister Teresa Vincent and Sister Ann Aloysia, moved into a small rented house at 17 East 12th Street in New York's Greenwich Village. Although they expected to spend three months in preparing for the opening of the institutions, an infant was laid on the doorstep that very first night.
Sister Irene, placed a white wicker cradle just inside the front door with the goal of receiving and caring for unwanted children and those whose parents could not properly care for them. and 45 more babies followed in that first month. Because of the lack of space in the house on 12th Street, the Sisters asked their neighbors to care for some of the infants in their homes, and on November 15, 1869, the Boarding department of the Foundling was initiated.
The need for this type of service was confirmed by the 123 babies that were left by January 1, 1870. Within a year, a larger house at 3 Washington Square was secured. After two years, The Foundling had accepted 2,500 babies. The New-York Historical Society has a collection of the notes left with the abandoned babies, which is part of a larger collection of historic photographs of the Foundling maintained by the Society. Shortly after its establishment, the Foundling became a refuge not only for abandoned infants but also for unmarried mothers.
With help from a state matching grant, construction on the property bounded by East 68th and 69th Streets and by Lexington and Third Avenues was begun in 1872. Even before the completion of the main building in November 1873, Sister Irene established As soon as Sister Irene was settled in the new building on 68th Street, she established the Adoption Department to find suitable permanent homes for those children who were legally free for adoption. The date of the first recorded placement of a child in a free home, with a view to adoption, was May 1873.
The Sisters worked in conjunction with Priests throughout the Midwest and South in an effort to place these children in Catholic families. The Foundling Hospital sent infants and toddlers to prearranged Roman Catholic homes from 1875 to 1919.
Parishioners in the destination regions were asked to accept children, and parish priests provided applications to approved families. The Foundling Hospital placed their children with families who requested a child. Requests would be sent to the NYFH for a child (for example: a 2 year old, blue eyed, blond haired girl), and the Sisters would do their best to find a "match". They would then send the requesting family a "receipt" for the child telling when and where the child would arrive by train. This notice requested that the family be at the station ahead of time so as not to miss the train. When the train arrived, the new parents were to have their "notice of arrival" with them which they were to present to the Sisters. This notice had a number on it that would match up with a child on the train. Once the match was made, the parents were to have signed the "receipt" for the child, and they were free to go home with their new child.
The orphans were typically placed with Catholic families in rural areas; Louisiana received over two thousand youngsters, who were delivered to train depots throughout the state, including stops in Lafayette, New Orleans, and Opelousas. Margaret Brown Briley’s father was one of the orphans spirited from New York to the Louisiana prairies in June, 1919, at the age of five. She recalled her father's attendance at one the groups reunions, “Daddy felt like that was part of his family–that they were like relatives. ...And when they would meet up together, they’d talk about the good points and the bad points in their lives. But they were happy to have been taken in by these people from South Louisiana.”
The Foundling Hospital (1880–1957)
In response to an increasing need for skilled medical and nursing care for mothers and children, The New York Foundling began providing health services in addition to social services, changing its name to The New York Foundling Hospital to more accurately reflect its services.
Among its medical programs was St. Ann’s Hospital (opened 1880), which provided unmarried mothers with medical treatment; and St. John’s Hospital for Sick Children (1882), which was at the forefront of developing pediatric practices and approaches to caring for children in a hospital setting. The practice of intubation was invented by Founding Hospital staff member Dr. Joseph O'Dwyer. This method of keeping airways open saved thousands of children from the life-threatening disease diphtheria, an epidemic at the time.
Beginning in 1945, The Foundling also operated a developmental clinic to observe, examine and analyze the developmental norms for young children. The clinic became a learning center for students from New York City area medical schools, nursing schools and psychology departments. These programs were the beginning of, and were subsequently incorporated into, what became Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.
While The Foundling provided medical treatment in addition to adoption and support services for mothers-in-need, it wasn’t until the 1930s that a Social Service department was established to assist those who could not properly care for their children.
Programs, services and initiatives
Foster care and adoption
As one of the City’s largest and most highly regarded foster care service providers, The New York Foundling is responsible for more than 1,400 children who are living in individual and specialized foster boarding homes or in group residential settings. Each year, more than 120 of The Foundling’s foster parents adopt their foster children. Prospective parents are carefully screened to ensure the best interests of the child.
Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection
The Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection was founded in 1998 by Doctor Vincent J. Fontana, who served as medical director of The Foundling for over 40 years. The Fontana Center is dedicated to furthering the understanding and detection of child abuse and neglect, and to teaching prevention and treatment.
Mott Haven Academy Charter School
In 2008, The Foundling opened the Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Haven Academy opened with 90 students in kindergarten and first grade, and is expected to eventually serve 314 students in grades K-8. Haven Academy was designed to meet the needs of at-risk students currently in the foster care and child welfare system. The plan is to co-locate all of The Foundling’s Bronx-based community services into an academic complex with Haven Academy to integrate social services and the school's academic program. The school is currently operating at a temporary location (PS 43) in Mott Haven. During year two, the school will move to its permanent facility.
The New York Foundling today
The Foundling’s administrative headquarters are located at 590 Avenue of the Americas, in Chelsea. The building opened in 1988 and houses some Foundling programs such as providing a residence for young expectant mothers and those with infants as well as preventitive services for families who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Other Foundling programs operate directly out of the communities they serve throughout New York City and Rockland County, an approach highly encouraged by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.
- "The New York Foundling Hospital", National Orphan Train Complex
- "History", New York Foundling
- "NY Foundling Hospital Volume 67". NY Foundling Hospital - Notes left with children. New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "New York Foundling Hospital Records". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Warren, Andrea. "The Orphan Train", The Washington Post, 1998
- DiPasquale, Connie. "A History of the Orphan Trains", The Kansas Collection
- "The Louisiana Orphan Train Museum", County Roads Magazine, July 2013
- Dianne Creagh, "The Baby Trains: Catholic Foster Care and Western Migration, 1873-1929," Journal of Social History (2012) 46#1 pp 197-218 online
- Walsh, James Joseph. "Joseph O'Dwyer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 Jul. 2013
- Richmond, J. F. New York and Its Institutions. New York: E.B. Treat, 1872.
- Renée Wendinger. "Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York" an unabridged nonfiction resource book and pictorial history about the orphan trains. ISBN 978-0-615-29755-2
- Dianne Creagh, "The Baby Trains: Catholic Foster Care and Western Migration, 1873-1929," Journal of Social History (2012) 46#1 pp 197–218 online
- Martin Gottlieb. The Foundling: The Story of the New York Foundling Hospital (2001)
- Carolee R. Inskeep. The New York Foundling Hospital: An Index to Its Federal, State, and Local Census Records, 1879-1925 (Baltimore, 1995)
- Sisters of Charity. The New York Foundling Hospital: Its Foundress and Its Place in the Community (1944),
- The New York Foundling Website
- 2007 Article about The Foundling in The New York Times that includes historical photographs and notes left with abandoned infants
- New-York Historical Society's archive of historical images of the New York Foundling
- Article about Haven Academy
- The Records of the New York Foundling Hospital 1869-2009 at the New York Historical Society