Records of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum
Scope and Content Note
The records of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum consist of administrative records, child records, and material on affiliated organizations.
The records are valuable for genealogists and alumni and for researchers studying the immigrant population in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Jewish Community's fundraising efforts, reforms in child welfare and foster care systems in New York State, and Americanization of immigrants.
The administrative records contain annual reports, Board of Directors' meeting minutes, constitution and by-laws, and incorporation and name change certificates. Genealogists and alumni will be interested in the children admission and discharge ledgers, which date from 1879 to 1960, with gaps. Please note that children records dated after 1925 are restricted for privacy reasons. Additional material regarding orphan life is available through student publications, alumni bulletins and dance journals, and BHOA and Girls Club publications.
Affiliated organizational records include material on the BHOA's successor, the Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities, the Women's Auxiliary, and Alumni associations. Of additional interest are dedications and speeches, child care study reports, histories, photographs, and scrapbooks filled with news clippings.
Please note that there are significant gaps in all areas of this collection. Researchers are urged to refer to related collections held at the American Jewish Historical Society in order to gain additional insight.
The collection is organized into the following series: Series I: Administrative Records; Series II: Affiliated Associations; Series III: Correspondence; Series IV: Dedications/Speeches; Series V: Histories and Studies; Series VI: Photographs, and Series VII: Scrapbooks.
- undated, 1878-1972, 1994, 1995, 2008
- Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum (Organization)
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reference questions, please email: email@example.com
General Background of Jewish orphanages in New York City
The history of the Jewish orphanage in New York City begins with the merger of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and German Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1860. The two organizations merged partly in response to public outcry against the forced conversion of an Italian Jewish boy named Edward Mortara. Thus, the new Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum was created. Later known as the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, HOA became the largest Jewish orphanage in the United States. The surge of immigration from Eastern Europe produced social hardships such as over crowding, poverty, disease, and family desertion in the Lower East Side. Soon, the orphanage was filled to capacity. By 1878, HOA was forced to decline admissions from Brooklyn, which was then a separate city, leading to an emergency meeting for Jewish Brooklynites, who quickly established a Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of Brooklyn. HOA further limited its intake by refusing to take children referred to them by the courts. The Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, established in 1879 undertook court referrals.1
These three main Jewish orphanages in New York, Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum (BHOA), Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA), and Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society (HSGS) supported Americanization of their immigrant charges, limiting parental visits, stressing public and vocational education, and raising them on the tenets of Reform Judaism versus the orthodoxy of their parents.2
In BHOA, children attended Public School No. 35, and were additionally tutored at a home school by the Superintendent and hired teachers in Hebrew, German, biblical history. Girls received training in sewing and other domestic arts. Older children were given vocational training and/or college/professional education, often with financial help from BHOA. In addition to sports and gymnastic training, a well-trained musical band performed in public events. In 1903, President Moses May wrote: "…Our band seems to be much in demand by our Christian brethren, and we are always pleased to cement the pleasant relations between kindred institutions, no matter of what denomination." However; a letter written to the editor of the Hebrew Standard in 1911 strongly disagrees; "…If the Superintendent calls himself a Jew, how can he consistently be willing to contribute to the attractions of a fair for the benefit of a faith to which Judaism is intrinsically opposed?"3
Many discharged children, although benefiting from the education given to them by BHOA, had difficulties reconnecting with their immigrant parents and family members, who spoke Yiddish and maintained traditional ways. The regimental institutional upbringing created problems in adjusting to the outside world. As Friedman writes in her book These Are Our Children; "…Jules Bank in his study of 108 graduates of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum…78 percent of these youngsters reported initial difficulties in make friends and adjusting socially outside of the institute. Moreover, 58 percent of the boys interviewed believed that institutionalization had left them 'shy and backward.'" The long segregated life from the other sex and regimental discipline also recreated adjustment problems.4
As child psychology, pediatrics, and social work developed into specialized fields by the 1920s, each orphan asylum had developed their own approach to child care. Social welfare legislation, such as the Widow's Pension law in 1915 and the New Deal programs, gradually eliminated the need for impoverished families to admit their children to asylums. Immigration restriction laws, the first passed in 1921, and a quota act passed in 1924 that restricted immigrants of non-Nordic stock sharply decreased Jewish immigration. In their place, emerged a new population of children, many of whom were emotionally disturbed, as a result of immigrant families' stress and poverty, the particular challenges brought by the Depression, and from being refugees and survivors from World Wars.
Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum
On May 16, 1878 German Jewish philanthropists gathered in Temple Beth Elohim on Keap Street in Brooklyn to discuss what action to take for Jewish orphans in Brooklyn, who until recently, were cared for by the neighboring city's Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York (HOA), the largest Jewish child-care institution in the country. In 1878, Brooklyn was America's third largest city with a relatively small Jewish population, amounting to 13,000, while New York City was the city with the largest, numbering about 60,000.5
Led by philanthropist Sigismund Kaufman, the German Jewish Brooklyn community raised $2000 to open an orphanage. The State chartered the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the City of Brooklyn in August 1878, and on January 1, 1879, with Ernst Nathan as the first elected president, the BHOA officially opened in a rented house at 384 McDonough Street. The first year admitted eight boys and two girls who shared two sleeping rooms, a Superintendent's room, a servant room, a sick room, a schoolroom, a reception room, and one kitchen and dining room. By 1881, there were twenty five children sharing a space meant for sixteen. Purchasing the site, the BHOA built a wing of what was planned to be a three story building. The completed wing was dedicated on October 28, 1883. The present wing was thought to be "ample to accommodate the need of Brooklyn's Hebrew Orphans for the next 10 years." Unfortunately, the Building Committee did not foresee the surge of immigrants settling in Brooklyn from the congested Lower East Side.6
When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in May 1883, new immigrants from the Lower East Side and ordinary Manhattan residents alike, long weary of the crowded and expensive living conditions in tenements, found a haven in Brooklyn with affordable housing, more space, and a budding economy. Brooklyn, the once tranquil outpost of Long Island, was awakened by the sudden surge of Manhattan arrivals, paired with the newly arrived Jewish immigrants who escaped the pogroms rampant in Eastern Europe. The more immigrants settled in Brooklyn, the more destitute Jewish children knocked on the BHOA's door for assistance.
By 1887, with 57 residents, the existing wing was almost filled to capacity. President Nathan writes; "Our city will, as soon as rapid transit is established....increase more rapidly in population..." In 1889, when Ira Leo Bamberger succeeded Ernst Nathan as BHOA president, he initiated merger talks with the HOA, in the hope that with its copious financial support from a far larger Jewish community in Manhattan and well established facilities, the HOA could again provide the best possible institutional care for the dependent children of Brooklyn. However HOA's president Jesse Seligman formally rejected the merger request for fear that the consolidation would also result in straining the HOA's capacity to care for dependent children from its own city.7 The rejection, on one hand, signaled to Brooklyn Jewish community that it had to rely on its own benevolent measures to fix the dire child-care situation in Brooklyn; one the other, the rejection also created so huge a rift between Brooklyn and Manhattan Jewish charities that it took them almost seven decades to mend their differences, when the BHOA finally merged with the JCCA in 1960.8
The heartfelt support of the Brooklyn Jewish community for the BHOA's numerous fundraising events, including annual dancing balls and fairs, allowed the asylum to turn its expansion plan into a reality. On May 3, 1892, the cornerstone laying ceremony for the BHOA's new site was officiated by Brooklyn Mayor, Hon. David A. Boody, at the corner of Ralph Avenue, Dean and Pacific Streets. In December that same year, with a maximum accommodation of three hundred, the new BHOA headquarters, an imposing Romanesque edifice overlooking Manhattan erected on top of a hill, was officially opened, initially housing one hundred and thirty-nine children.9
From the very beginning, BHOA children, captivated by the modernized building and the surrounding scenery, dubbed the new headquarters "the house on the hill."10 In 1899, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the City of Brooklyn officially changed its name to Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum to since11 Brooklyn, following a majority vote of her residents, was annexed into New York City and became one of its five boroughs a year earlier.
By 1904, the continuing surge of Jewish immigrants caused approximately seven hundred and fifty Jewish children to be cared for by non-Jewish institutions. The increase in Brooklyn's population, due in part by the addition of Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 and the expansion of the subway into Brooklyn in 1908, led the BHOA to board children with outside families. In 1909 the BHOA completed a new wing in which to house two hundred more children, raising its housing capacity to six hundred. The same year, the BHOA became one of the founding members of the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities. The Federation served as a central governing body to coordinate funding raising efforts, to eliminate duplication in social services, and to allocate funding among members, while its members still maintained their autonomy.12
The year 1909 also marked the First White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, sponsored by President Theodore Roosevelt. The conference endorsed home care and foster care system over an institutional system. In 1912, the BHOA began a temporary boarding bureau, which housed children up to age six; after which the children would be admitted into the institution. The same year, the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York (HSGS) opened its cottage system in Pleasantville, New York. The instant success of the cottage system promoted HSGS to become the role model of child-care services, despite its rather expensive maintenance costs. The BHOA, however; did not have the financial strength to adopt the cottage system.13
In 1915, New York State passed the Widow's Pension Law, which provided stipends to widows with dependent children. Due to gaps in the collection, it is unclear what affect this had on the BHOA's admissions. The same year, the HOA's Women's Auxiliary formed an aftercare committee. The Women's Auxiliary was also involved in vocational training for boys and girls.14
The BHOA lagged behind the HOA and HSGS, its Manhattan counterparts, in many child welfare trends, particularly in outside boarding, foster care, and aftercare. It was not until 1925, with the participation of the Junior League, that the Women's Auxiliary opened an aftercare facility for girls, called the Girls Club. In contrast, the HOA opened two separate aftercare facilities for boys and girls in 1916, and the HSGS opened Fellowship House in 1913. The Girls Club, located at 216 St. Johns Place, gave "low salaried working girls a comfortable home with pleasant surroundings....[and provided] shelter for homeless girls who left the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum at 16 years of age." By the 1940s, the Girls Club included casework, scholarships, and medical and psychiatric services.15
In 1927, much later than the HOA and HSGS, the BHOA expanded its boarding bureau and foster care services, appointing its first social worker, Evelyn Ferderber as head of a Child Placement Bureau. Beginning in 1927 with twenty-five children boarding in fourteen homes, by November 1928, there were 309 children in foster homes and 380 children housed in the institution (compared to 662 residing in the institution in 1927). By December 1931, the Brooklyn Federation was proposing that all of the BHOA children be transferred to foster care. D.W. Farber, Secretary writes: "...the viewpoint of the Brooklyn Federation, urged the Board of Trustees to receive and accept the foregoing proposals....accruing to the Brooklyn community in lessening its financial burden, as well as being, in their opinion, the beginning of a movement looking toward a future merger of Manhattan and Brooklyn Federations, heretofore considered unfavorably by Manhattan." The Trustees, however; foresaw increased costs versus savings in the proposed plan.16
As the Depression reduced the Federation's allocations to the BHOA, it concurrently increased the number of children in the institution's care. The President writes in 1932; "...we have cared for more children during the last twelve months period than at any time in our history..." As the number of children in foster care grew, the property at Ralph Avenue was partially sold to make way for a New York City public playground, and in 1938, the Board resolved to transfer all the children out of the institution and sell the buildings.17
In January 1937, the BHOA, again lagging behind with welfare trends, established psychiatric services and hired trained social workers and a supervisor to assist the children living in the institution. Between 1938 and 1939, the BHOA returned large numbers of children to their parents and relatives, or placed them in qualified foster families living in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. On July 1, 1939, the building on Ralph Avenue closed; the last batch of remaining children having been transferred to other child care agencies. In May 1940, The BHOA sold its property on Ralph Avenue, relocated to a smaller building on 150 Court Street and changed its name to the BHOA Children's Service Bureau. A Children's Service Bureau anniversary program writes; "...the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum did not close-only a building closed-and hundreds of homes opened." Now a case work agency, the Children's Service Bureau handled foster care, counseling services, and foster care training for potential foster parents. The Ralph Avenue buildings were demolished by the New York City Housing Authority in October 1940.18
On July 9, 1954, The Girls Club Association and the BHOA Children's Service Bureau merged to form the Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn (JYSB). The new agency combined foster home placement services, a foster family day care service, and a girls' residential treatment center. Case work encompassed medical services, religious and Jewish education, psychiatric services, recreation opportunities, and vocational planning.19
In 1956, the Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn participated in a tri-agency project, with the Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) and the Jewish Family Service. The project provided family counseling for families determined by either three agencies to remain intact. In 1940, the other main Jewish orphanages in New York, Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, and the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society merged with JCCA. The Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn followed in 1960, joining its services with one of the largest Jewish child care agencies in New York. The JCCA continues to provide adoption, foster care, mental health services, residential programs, and educational services to over 12,000 children from all backgrounds and their families, in the New York metropolitan area, encompassing Westchester County and Long Island.20
- Friedman, Reena Sigman. These are Our Children; Jewish Orphanages in the United States, 1880-1925. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1994, pgs. 1, 4-5, 17-18; Grinstein, Hyman B. The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945, pgs. 146-148, 157-161; Bernard, Jacqueline. The Children You Gave Us; a History of 150 Years of Service to Children. New York: Jewish Child Care Association, 1973, pgs. 14-16, 18-19.
- Friedman, Reena Sigman. These Are Our Children: Jewish Orphanages in the United States, 1880-1925, Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1994, pgs. 99, 141, 163-164, 166.
- Letter from "Righteous Indignation" to the editor of the Hebrew Standard, September 5, 1911, Records of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, I-230, Box 8, Folder 5, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY; Letter from Ira Leo Bamberger to State of New York Clerk C.A. Chickering, March 24, 1890. Records of BHOA, Box 8, Folder 5; Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Meeting….1890, pgs. 26-28; Twenty-Fifth Annual Report...1903, pg. 13, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 2.
- Friedman. pgs. 183-184.
- Home Forever: 1878-1939. New York: The Alumni Society (of BHOA), 1939. pg. 6, Records of BHOA, I-230 Box 9, Folder 2; Proceedings of the Second Annual Communication of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the City of Brooklyn, 1880, pg. 9, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1; Marcus, Jacob Rader. To Count a People: American Jewish Population Data, 1858-1984. Lanham, University Press of America, 1990, pg. 150.
- Ball Souvenir of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the Borough of Brooklyn, January 18, 1899, pgs. 13-15, Records of BHOA, Box 7, Folder 4; Proceedings of the Second Annual Communication of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the City of Brooklyn, 1880, pg. 13, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1; Proceedings....Fourth Annual General Meeting, 1882, pgs. 9, 26, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1; Proceedings....Fifth Annual, 1883, pgs. 8, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1; Proceedings....Sixth Annual Communication, 1884, pg. 33, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1.
- Proceedings of the Ninth Annual..., 1887, pgs. 8-9, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1; Proceedings...Twelfth Annual..., 1890, pg. 13, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 1.
- Bernard, pg. 142; "Annual Report, 1922," pg. 4, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 3.
- Ball Souvenir of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Society of the Borough of Brooklyn, January 18, 1899, pgs. 19-21, Records of BHOA, Box 7, Folder 4.
- Bernard, pg. 21.
- Twenty-First Annual Report....1899, pg. 9, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 2.
- Bernard, pg. 48; Thirtieth Annual Report...1908, pgs. 9-10, 12, Records of BHOA, Box 1, Folder 2.
- Bernard, pgs. 51, 55; Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities....Fifth Annual Report, 1915, pg. 19, Records of BHOA, Box 7, Folder 8.
- Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities...Fifth Annual Report, 1915, pg. 30, Records of BHOA, Box 7, Folder 8.
- Women's Auxiliary: Minutes, 1922-1936, January 28, 1925, pg. 167, Records of HSGS, Box 8, Folder 1; "The Girls Club Association of Brooklyn, Inc.," undated, pg. 1; and Promotional material, 1944-1945, Records of BHOA, Box 3, Folder 2.
- "Board of Trustees Minutes....January 16, 1927," pg. 2; December 9, 1928, pg. 2; December 8, 1931, pg. 3, Records of BHOA, Box 2, Folder 6.
- President's address, December 11, 1932, pg. 1, Records of BHOA, Box 2, Folder 6; Board of Trustees Minutes, 1936-1940, October 9, 1938, pg. 1-2, Records of BHOA, Box 2, Folder 7.
- Bernard, pg. 101; Board of Trustees Minutes, 1936-1940, May 9, 1939, pg. 4; attached resolution to June 13, 1939 minutes; May 17, 1940, pg. 2; October 8, 1940, pg. 1, Records of BHOA, Box 2, Folder 7. BHOA Children's Service Bureau Sixty-fifth Anniversary Meeting and Reception, May 3, 1944, pg. 2, Records of BHOA, Box 3, Folder 1; Letter from Dora R. Rubins to Frances Koestler, January 15, 1960, pg. 1, Records of BHOA, Box 9, Folder 2; see also: Dr. Lawson G. Lowrey, Psychiatrist, report, in Box 9, Folder 3.
- Rough Draft, Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn, August 10, 1955, pgs. 1-4, Records of BHOA, Box 9, Folder 2; Members notice, July 9, 1954, Records of BHOA, Box 2, Folder 5.
- "Summary of the Minutes of the Functional Committee on Family and Children's Services," November 27, 1956, Records of the Jewish Child Care Association of New York, I-235, Box 1, Folder 11; www.jccany.org., "About Us."
9.55 Linear Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 1 ½ manuscript boxes, 4 oversized boxes)
Language of Materials
This collection contains histories of the Asylum (1878-1939), Certificate of Incorporation (1878, 1900, 1926), Constitution and By-Laws (1894), Board of Directors Minutes (1921-1953), Annual Reports (1878-1958), Admission and Discharge Records (1899-1960), Women's Auxiliary Minutes (1922-1955), a statistical report (1957), papers re the Asylum's merger with the Jewish Child Care Association (1960), and various Alumni Society Publications and Scrapbooks (1912-1940).
The collection is divided into seven series, as described below:
- Series I: Administrative Records, undated, 1878-1960
- Subseries A: Annual reports, constitutions and by-laws, 1878-1892, 1894, 1896, 1899-1900, 1903, 1908, 1922, 1926, 1945, 1950, 1953-1954
- Subseries B: Board of Trustees' and Presidents' annual reports and meeting minutes, 1921-1953
- Subseries C: Programs and departments, undated, 1928, 1935, 1939, 1946, 1949, 1953, 1955
- Subseries D: Children's records, 1879-1960
- Subsubseries i: Admission and discharge records, 1879-1960
- Subsubseries ii: Student publications, 1925, 1929-1930
- Subseries E: Financial records, 1936
- Subseries F: Publications, 1899, 1930, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1948, 1953
- Series II: Affiliated Associations, 1914, 1916, 1918-1919, 1922-1936, 1938, 1944, 1951-1952, 1954-1959, 1962, 1964-1969, 1972, 1994, 1995, 2008
- Subseries A: Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn records, 1954-1958, 1960
- Subseries B: Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities records, 1914, 1918-1919, 1929
- Subseries C: Women's Auxiliary records, 1916, 1922-1936, 1938, 1944, 1952, 1957-1959, 1972
- Subseries D: Alumni associations, 1951, 1959-1962, 1964-1969, 1994, 1995, 2008
- Series III: Correspondence, 1890, 1911, 1915
- Series IV: Speeches/Dedications, undated, 1883, 1909, 1926-1931, 1933, 1938, 1940-1943, 1947-1948, 1950, 1959
- Series V: Histories and studies, 1878-1952
- Series VI: Photographs, undated
- Series VII: Scrapbooks, 1912-1917, 1927-1940
Located in AJHS New York, NY
A searchable name index is available.
The records of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum were donated by its successor the Jewish Child Care Association in 1985.
- Annual reports
- Bylaws (administrative records)
- Charities -- United States
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Histories (literary works)
- Journals (periodicals)
- Ledgers (account books)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- Orphans and orphan-asylums
- Press releases
- Programs (documents)
- Publications (documents)
- Speeches (documents)
- Stock certificates
- Guide to the Records of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, undated, 1878-1972, 1994, 1995, 2008
- Processed by Dan Ma and Marvin Rusinek
- © 2008
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processing for this collection has been made possible through a generous grant from the New York State Archives, State Education Department.
- 20130813: Added link to database.
- 20141217: Added items to Box 8, Folder 4, and changed appropriate dates
- February 2021: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.
Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository
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