Skip to main content

Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-42

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum include extensive administrative records, child records, and material on its affiliated organizations. The records contain documents from the HOA's parent organization, the Hebrew Benevolent Society (HBS). They continue until the present day, including the most recent alumni publications.

This collection provides unique insight into the life of Eastern European immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s to early 1900s, as well as the progression of social and medical services, as reflected in the departmental programs and standards of HOA. HOA orphan alumni and genealogists will find personal histories within the children's admission and discharge ledgers, medical records, and conduct books. Please note, however, that, due to privacy concerns, some records may be restricted from access.

The administrative records consist of financial statements; property records; Board, Committee, and Executive minutes; donation books; publications; and state and government correspondence and reports. HOA's affiliated associations include the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropies, Ladies Sewing Society, Emmanuel Lehman Fund (a scholarship fund), and alumni associations. In addition, the records contain childcare studies, dedication speeches, histories, newspaper and magazine clippings, and photographs.

Researchers should note that gaps in early student publications and alumni publications may be filled by material in other collections held by the American Jewish Historical Society.

Portraits and Photographs includes images of the board of directors of HOA, and pictures depicting HOA children going about their daily activities, going on their excursions to upstate summer camps. and alumni events including Seders and reunions; a number of these photos remain unidentified, and additional photographs may be located in other collections held by the AJHS.

Dates

  • undated, 1855-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1900 - 1940

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English and German.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

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 mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Historical Note

On the night of September 20, 1941, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York (HOA) held its annual dinner party, organized by its graduates. Usually, the dinner drew a few hundred of the Asylum alumni. On this night, however, more than a thousand former residents were in attendance. The most poignant moment occurred as everybody in the party sang the HOA alma mater and "Auld Lang Syne," knowing that HOA officially closed its doors earlier that day. The closing of HOA not only marked the end of a great child-care institution, but the entire institutional child care system in America.

Originally named the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA) was created out of a merger of two New York Jewish benevolent societies--the Hebrew Benevolent Society (HBS) and the German Hebrew Benevolent Society (GHBS)--in 1860. After resisting a merger due to friction between German Reform leaders and Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditional leaders, the two groups finally joined after the threat of missionaries and conversion was made public by the Mortara Affair, in which an Italian Jewish boy, Edward Mortara, was kidnapped and converted by a servant. The possibilities of Jewish orphans being cared for by non-Jewish asylums with missionary goals was a major factor that led the two societies to pool resources and open the first Jewish orphan asylum in New York City.

The HOA's first location was bought in April 1860. A brick house located at 1 Lamartine Place, Chelsea, (now West 29th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), it was converted from a family home and considered temporary housing for the first enrollment of thirty children. Few records remain to tell the lives of these children, but it is not hard to imagine that with limited resources and no trained child-care personnel for supervision, children found life harsh. As Henry Bauer, recorded as "the first full orphan" described the daily schedule, "get up, say your prayers, get your breakfast, go to school, come back, study your lessons, study Hebrew, get your supper, and go to bed. Very little play---very little play!"

Fortunately, in 1860 a series of laws passed by the New York State legislature allowed the city government to offer a permanent site for the orphanage, located at East 77th Street and Third Avenue. The state and city would contribute two-thirds of the building costs, as well as the land. The newly erected orphanage with fifty-two children was officially opened in November 1863.

Two years later, Dr. Max Grunbaum replaced the first superintendent Samuel Hart. A former Hebrew school principal, Grunbaum is called a "bungling administrator" by Hyman Bogen. Grunbaum sent the children to school on the High Holidays, causing deep criticism in the Jewish press. Grunbaum also dealt with the 1865 smallpox epidemic at the HOA, which resulted in the first death of a resident. He resigned in 1867. The HOA was fortunate to have Dr. Abraham Jacobi known as the "father of pediatrics," as chief of its medical staff. Dr. Jacobi would continue working for the HOA for fifty-nine years, guiding his patients through a severe dysentery epidemic in 1898, a polio epidemic in 1916, and adding a full time dental clinic and an eye clinic in 1918. Throughout his tenure, relatively few children died of illnesses, which was unusual for the time.

Louis Schnabel, Grunbaum's successor, was faced with full capacity enrollment of 150 in 1868. He reorganized the administration and made new rules for the children: each child now had a number and visits from relatives were strictly regulated. He also began an industrial school which taught older boys shoemaking and printing and converted a lecture room into a synagogue where he personally conducted regular religious services based on the tenets of Reform Judaism. The warden, ironically named Mr. Goodman, who did the majority of supervising, was known to use a rawhide whip and other severe punishments.

In the 1870s, three New York State laws were enacted that had a profound impact on the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Jewish orphanages in general. The first two laws, passed in the 1874 session, allowed the HOA to sell its current property in the hopes of enlarging its facilities. In addition, a law was passed that put the HOA on the same level as the New York Juvenile Asylum, making HOA eligible for New York State funding. In 1874, 70% of the HOA budget was paid for by New York State. These generous subsidies continued into the 1920s. Additional funding for HOA came from individual and business donations, public benefits, and products created from its vocational schools.

The third New York State law, titled the Children's Law of 1875, was a victory against missionary movements. The law was two-fold; children were required to be removed from almshouses where they shared living quarters with the rest of the welfare population into their own orphanage asylums, and each child was to be placed in an asylum that matched their parents' faith. As a result, the number of private child institutions grew rapidly.

Population increases in the 1870s, due to economic depression, epidemics, and immigration, led Jewish leaders, such as Myer S. Isaacs, editor of the Jewish Messenger, and others to argue for a more efficient system of philanthropy. As Isaacs wrote, "the vital defect of our charities today is that intelligent study of the poor has been overlooked..." In 1874, the United Hebrew Charities was established by five organizations: HOA, Hebrew Benevolent Fuel Association, Ladies' Benevolent Society of the Congregation Gates of Prayer, Hebrew Relief Society, and the Yorkville Ladies' Benevolent Society. HOA would donate $647,100 to UHC over the course of 34 years, aiding the widows and poor families of the City.

Unable to care for all of its residents, HOA began a boarding out program, in which families were paid to house residents. The exact year when this began cannot be confirmed, due to a gap in annual reports in the collection. However; the first mention of "boarding out for want of room" appears in the 1875 annual report. This program continued until 1893 and was reintroduced by Superintendent Solomon Lowenstein in 1906.

Immigration surges brought new social problems to the Jewish community: unemployment, malnutrition, chronic diseases, destitute children and widows, etc. The relinquishing of one's children to the asylum not only prevented starvation, but also offered the possibilities of a vocational or college education, medical care, and easier adjustment to American life. The well established German-Jewish community, who had immigrated to New York City in the early and mid 1800s, used their benevolence to advocate Reform Judaism, which they had brought over from Germany. They restricted contact with the orphan's family, alienating many orphans from the Yiddish language, culture, and Orthodoxy of their parents, their goal being to Americanize the newcomers. As a President of the Ladies Sewing Society reports in 1913-1914; "…we shall meet to sew for the orphan children, many of them of foreign parentage, and now privileged to grow up as American citizens in the Jewish Home.

In order to educate their early charges, and later, to Americanize newcomers, the HOA offered a Home school and vocation training. In 1869, with Louis Schnabel as head, HOA opened a shoemaking factory and in 1871 added a printmaking shop. In 1883, the HOA Industrial School evolved into the Hebrew Technical Institute, which was formed by HOA, United Hebrew Charities, and the Hebrew Free School Association. HOA also sent its residents to the Baron and Clara de Hirsch Trade Schools and the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. Residents were sent to public schools until 1872, when overcrowding led HOA to establish its own school within its walls. By 1900, all of the residents through sixth grade attended this school (called P.S. 192); older children attended neighborhood public schools, vocational schools, and/or City College.

By 1878, enrollment had reached 300, leading HOA to transfer all female residents to two rented houses on East 86th Street, and even more significantly, restricting applicants from Brooklyn. Faced with an emergency, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of Brooklyn was opened the same year. HOA would open its new building at Amsterdam Avenue and 137th Street with an initial inhabitancy of 370 children in 1884.

Hermann J. Baar, perhaps the most well known of the superintendents, was a talented preacher and preached sermons to children on Saturdays, which often were reprinted in newspapers such as The New York Herald and the American Hebrew. He also set up a Cadet Corps and military marching band, which brought wide acclaim from the public. The Corps and marching band won first prize in competition with other college and grammar school children during the George Washington Centennial in April 1889, with then President Benjamin Harrison looking on.

Dr. Baar was particularly remembered for his excessive disciplinary and religious training: his tight regimentation demanding conformity from the children, including silence at all times, and curtailing of parental visiting rights (limited only to four times a year). Little wonder that Hyman Bogen in The Luckiest Orphans terms Dr. Boar's managing style of HOA as "behind the Baars." In order to better monitor children's behavior, Baar introduced a monitoring system where older children and graduates (governors) supervised younger ones. Before long this system was widely abused by these inexperienced monitors; older children bullying younger ones became a common practice in the orphanage.

By the turn of the twentieth century, partly because of the influence of new theories of psychology and social work, the focus of child-care policy had gradually shifted to the psychological well being of individual children. The succeeding superintendents began to liberate the orphanage from the rigid institutional policies set up previously. Baar's successor, David Adler, relieved some of the regimentation; he added pockets to uniforms (according to Hyman Bogen "…the boys didn't know what to make of it; few of them owned enough possessions to fill even one pocket"), took away the silence rule, allowed mail to be written and sent by the children, and increased the amount of outings. Most importantly, Adler abolished corporal punishment, mainly by hiring governors who were not graduates; however, since he kept the monitorial system, the beatings continued. Rudolph Coffee, a Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical student and the next superintendent, worked to "deinstitutionalize" the orphanage. He "abolished" the uniform, silenced the rising bell, allowed hair to grow, and established the first publication created by the children titled "The Chronicle of the H.O.A."

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt held the First White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children which changed the course of future child-care policy by endorsing the home care/foster care system as superior to the institutional care system. The Conference marked a shift in the child-care paradigm, implying that if any child-care institution wanted financial support from the government, it would soon have to abandon its institutional practice.

The White House Conference coincided with the tenure of Solomon Lowenstein, a Reform Rabbi and the first HOA superintendent to have social work experience. Lowenstein was determined to "individualize the child," however; faced with over 1,000 residents, this proved to be a daunting task. During his tenure, HOA reintroduced boarding out on a big scale, paying families to board children. Lowenstein also convinced the Board of Trustees to rent a farm in Valhalla, Westchester, where sixty-three fortunate boys spent a year, learning how to farm in a relaxed atmosphere. Although the Valhalla experience was only to last five years before the farm was sold, the idea led to the HOA renting two camps for boys and girls in Bear Mountain Park in 1919. By the mid-1920s, almost every resident was able to attend a camp for a few weeks in the summer months.

During Lowenstein's tenure, HOA also established its first after-care facilities, pioneering the development for Jewish orphanages. Corner House, located at 21 Charles Street, was opened in 1916 to ease the transition of discharge for graduate boys, and was sponsored by the Junior League; Friendly Home for Girls was also opened in 1916, and was sponsored by the Ladies Sewing Society.

A significant successor to the 1909 White House Conference was the 1915 New York State Widow's Pension Law, which provided stipends to widows with dependent children. In 1917, HOA began experiencing its first decreases in population in "many years."

References

  1. Bogen, Hyman. The Luckiest Orphans: A History of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992, pg. 36-49, 82-84, 93-95, 101-103, 109-111, 115-121, 125, 147-150, 180, 197-201, 239.
  2. Friedman, Reena Sigman. These are Our Children: Jewish Orphanages in the United States, 1880-1925. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1994, pgs. 4-5, 15, 31, 46, 56-58, 67-69, 70, 100-101, 107, 127-128, 134-135, 152-154, 170-171, 188-189.
  3. Bernard, Jacqueline. The Children You Gave Us: a History of 150 Years of Service to Children. New York: Jewish Child Care Association, 1973, pgs. 8-12, 14, 15, 29, 40, 87, 101-102, 117-119.
  4. Fifty Years of Social Service; The History of United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York now the Jewish Social Service Association, Inc. New York, Press of Clarence S. Nathan, 1926, pgs. 12-17.
  5. 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.

Extent

78.95 Linear Feet (62 manuscript boxes; 5 half manuscript boxes; 2 [5.5 x 12 "] audiocassette boxes; 21 [16 x 20"] oversized boxes; 6 [20 x 24"] oversized boxes; 1 MAP folder)

Abstract

Hebrew Orphan Asylum was founded in 1822 as the Hebrew Benevolent Society. It underwent various changes of name until 1906, and merged with The Jewish Child Care Association of New York in 1940. The collection includes extensive administrative records including financial statements, property records, Board, Committee, and Executive minutes, donation books, publications, and state and government correspondence and reports. The collection also includes children's admission and discharge ledgers, medical records, and conduct books. Also within the collection are childcare studies, dedication speeches, writings by alumni, oral histories, newspaper and magazine clippings, and photographs.

Arrangement

The collection is divided into eight series, as described below:
  1. Series I: HOA Administrative Records, undated, 1855-1978, 1985, 2004-2007
  2. Subseries A: HOA Annual Reports, President's Reports, the Constitutions and By-laws of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and HOA, undated, 1858-1895, 1901-1932, 1940
  3. Subseries B: Meeting Minutes of Board of Trustees, Executive Committee, Board of Directors, undated, 1860, 1867-1877, 1895-1940
  4. Subseries C: Various HOA Committees' Meeting Minutes and Departmental Reports, undated, 1871-1884, 1895-1907, 1913, 1919-1941
  5. Subseries D: Children's Records, undated, 1860-1942, 1964, 1970-1974, 1977-1978, 1985, 2004-2007
  6. Subsubseries i: Children's Applications, Admission and Discharge, and Public School Records, undated, 1860-1942
  7. Subsubseries ii: Medical Records, 1916-1925, 1933, 1935-1941
  8. Subsubseries iii: Children's Conduct Records, 1872-1875, 1877-1884, 1891-1899
  9. Subsubseries iv: Student Publications, undated, 1913, 1925-1933, 1941, 1963-2012
  10. Subseries E: HOA Financial Records, 1855-1933
  11. Subseries F: HOA Property Records, undated, 1876, 1880-1896, 1898, 1902-1904, 1906, 1910-1926, 1941-1944, 1958, 1965
  12. Subseries G: Donation/Bequest Records, 1870-1972
  13. Subseries H: HOA Publications and Programs, undated, 1883, 1904-1938, 1940-1941
  14. Subseries I: State/City Government Records (in relation to HOA), undated, 1878, 1916, 1919-1934
  15. Series II: HOA Affiliated Associations, undated, 1871-1899, 1900-2013
  16. Subseries A: Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropies and Related Organizations, undated, 1871, 1911-1916, 1920, 1922, 1924-1925, 1937, 1939-1940, 1943
  17. Subseries B: Ladies' Sewing Society, undated, 1876-1882, 1893-1928, 1932-1940
  18. Subseries C: Emmanuel Lehman Fund, 1887-1922
  19. Subseries D: Seligman Solomon Society, 1886-1956
  20. Subseries E: Academy Alumni Association, undated, 1939-1952, 1954
  21. Subseries F: H.O.A. Association, 1957-1999, 2000-2012
  22. Subseries G: Pop Sprung Camp Fund, 1982-1996
  23. Series III: Correspondence, undated, 1884-1900, 1904-1929
  24. Series IV: Dedications/Speeches, undated, 1910, 1915, 1917, 1922, 1927-1928
  25. Series V: HOA Histories and Studies, undated, 1832-1960, 1966
  26. Series VI: Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, undated, 1884-1890, 1904, 1981-1986, 1993
  27. Series VII: Photographs, undated, 1890, 1900-1999, 2000-2013
  28. Series VIII: Audio and Visual Material
  29. Subseries A: Oral Histories, undated, 1986-1989
  30. Subseries B: Videos—VHS and DVDs, undated 2004-2013
  31. Separated Oversized Materials, 1870-1919, 1922, 1924, 1926-1927, 1949

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Database

A searchable database indexes names recorded in a ledger titled "Index of Children, 1860-1900." The ledger is located in Box 38. The page numbers shown in the database table are listed in the ledger, however; they may or may not correspond to other ledgers located in the collection.

Acquisition Information

The records of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York were donated in 1985 by its successor, the Jewish Child Care Association of New York. The records of the HOA Alumni Association, several boxes of photographs, and the museum items were donated by Esther Greenberg in 2015.

Digitization Note

Select material from Subseries D: Children's records, Series VII: Photographs, Series VIII: Audio and Video Materials has been digitized.

Separated Material

The following books were removed and transferred into the library collection: The Children You Gave Us by Jacqueline Bernard, These Are Our Children by Reena Sigman Friedman, An Orphan in New York City by Seymour Siegel with Laura Edwards, and The Peppermint Train by Edgar E. Stern. A banner for the 1931 Twilight League won by the Bears, a Murry Sprung Camp Wakitan plaque, a commemorative 100th Anniversary button and two tee-shirts, one from the 50th Anniversary celebration and the other from the fair-well luncheon, were removed and placed in the museum collection.
Title
Guide to the Records of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, undated, 1855-2013 (bulk 1900-1940)   I-42
Status
Completed
Author
Reprocessed by Dan Ma and Marvin Rusinek (February 2008).
Date
© 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Processing for this collection has been made possible through a generous grant from the New York State Archives, State Education Department. Digitization of select documents, oral histories, and photographs was made possible by a donation from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Alumni Association.

Revision Statements

  • August 2013: Added link to Family History Database.
  • September 2015: Accretion donated by the HOA Alumni Association was processed, boxes were added to the collection, and the finding aid was updated by Boni Joi Koelliker. Oral histories and photographs were digitized and added to the finding aid.
  • September 2016: Added dao links by Eric Fritzler.
  • December 2012: EH: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States