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Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society (New York, N.Y.) records

Identifier: I-43

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York (HSGS) consist of administrative records, child records, and material regarding affiliated organizations.

The records are valuable for genealogists and alumni, as well as researchers studying reforms in the NYS child welfare and foster care systems, progressive schools, the cottage system, and the origins of child psychology and social work.

The administrative records contain annual reports, Board of Directors' annual reports and meeting minutes, a limited amount of committee reports, financial records, donation books, and property records.

Genealogists and alumni will be interested in the children admission and discharge ledgers, 1898-1942, with gaps. Please note that child records dated after 1925 are restricted for privacy reasons. Additional material regarding orphan life is available through student publications and programs, alumni newsletters and programs, and HSGS promotional material.

Affiliated organizational records include material on Fellowship House, an after care service; Foster Home Bureau, including newsletters recruiting foster parents and records of its Baby Department; and alumni associations. Of additional interest are dedications and speeches held during the inauguration of Pleasantville, child care study papers, histories, and material concerning the New York Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies merger.


  • Creation: undated, 1879-1972, 1995


Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

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

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Note

On July 1st, 1912, 500 children in grey uniforms marched down Broadway from the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York (HSGS) to Grand Central Station and boarded a train to Pleasantville, New York. Little did they know how their move from Manhattan to Pleasantville would change the course of the American child-care system.

The history of the Jewish orphanage in New York City begins with the 1860 merger of the Hebrew Benevolent Society with the German Hebrew Benevolent Society. The merger, undertaken partly in response to a public outcry against a forced conversion of an Italian Jewish boy named Edward Mortara, served as the foundation for the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum. 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 congestion, poverty, disease, and family desertion in the Lower East Side. 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 followed its restriction with a refusal to take children referred to them from the courts.

In 1879, Priscilla Joachimsen, who had previously helped to found the Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews and the Ladies' Deborah Nursery, undertook to care for any Jewish child, orphaned or not, referred by the courts. The possibility that Jewish children might be transferred to Christian institutions led Mrs. Joachimsen, together with an all female board of managers and an all male advisory committee (headed by Mrs. Joachimsen's husband, Judge Philip Joachimsen), to form the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York. Mrs. Joachimsen's opening address was printed in its entirety in the New York Herald. In it, she wrote that "...Unless we take care of our children, they become lost to our religion...Our Holy Writ instructs us that when King Pharoah's daughter saved the infant Moses, recognizing him as a Jewish child, she immediately sent for a Jewish woman to nurse him. This is a lesson to us to this day, and we have to take care of and nurse the neglected and abandoned Jewish children because we are Jewesses."

Ladies in charge of societies were generally held in mistrust in the late 1800s. An editorial from The Jewish Messenger stated that "It is always a delicate matter to criticize the work of societies managed or controlled by ladies. They are sure to have the sympathies of the public before and after the criticism, and they are hard to convince of any error or extravagance in statement and management." As a result of such social norms, Mrs. Joachimsen and her Board of Ladies Managers were timid in fundraising. Much of HSGS fundraising came from private donations and annual fund raising benefits.

Soon after its opening, unanticipated waves of immigrants began arriving in NEw York City, leading the HSGS to quickly expand its facilities. The HSGS's first location was in a former city councilman's home at 57th Street and First Avenue with an enrollment of 164 children. Quickly purchasing an annex on the same street, the HSGS then leased a third building in 1882 a few doors away to house girls, and two to six year olds. In 1884, the girls and young children were moved to a mansion previously owned by John Jacob Astor on East 87th Street and Avenue A. The distance between these four buildings--315 and 237 East 57th Street, 1st Avenue and 57th Street, and East 87th Street and Avenue A--led the HSGS in 1886 to lease the former home of the "Union Home and School for Children of Our Soldiers and Sailors," located at Grand Drive, Western Boulevard, and 150th and 151st Streets, reducing the total HSGS buildings to two. In 1891, HSGS added a wing for the girls, and in 1894, they purchase the building. Enrollment at this time was approximately 700.

The HSGS accepted children referred to by the N.Y.C. Court system, ages 2-13. The majority of these children were committed to the court by the Department of Public Welfare, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and other agencies. Many of these children were not orphans, but had parents that could not support them. Once a child was committed to the court system, the City paid for their upkeep. In 1888, the HSGS was chartered as an orphan asylum, making it eligible for educational bonds for boarded out children.

Like many Jewish orphan asylums, the HSGS wished to Americanize its immigrant children through public school, vocational education, and by raising them on the tenets of Reform Judaism versus the Orthodoxy of their parents. The HSGS's early child-care managing method was modeled after the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA), the largest and highly praised Jewish child-care institution at the time, which was noted for its rigid monitorial structure with a strong emphasis on religious education. According to Michael Sharlitt, who entered HSGS in 1887, "Institutional care of children in 1887 may not have been too much removed in standards and atmosphere from the picture presented by Dickens in the Charity School of his Oliver Twist, though, of course, time made some improvement....Food costs must have been close to a daring minimum; and there was a significant reflection of this in the weirdly small stature of the boys who left the institution at the legal working age of fourteen years." The staff had no special training for childcare, and a policeman would search the parents for candy and goodies; "...It is painful to recall the humiliation suffered by surviving relatives....on the occasion of visiting days officially scheduled once in two months...a policeman...was to intercept visitors, particularly checking on the possibility of hidden food....I have never forgotten the figure of the officer at the front door, intercepting or frightening the sobbing women who came, frequently under difficulty, to visit their children." The public was permitted open visitation.

The monotony of institutional life was broken by school, and the existence of a military band. The band gave concerts one evening a week and played at public events. Sharlitt writes; "a rare, pleasant break in the long week, the long year, was the band...." Equally anticipated was the daily walk and break provided by public school; "School meant everything to me. I disliked, as others must have, the long vacation which meant the monotony of the daily institutional regime, and I must confess that part of my pleasure came from the fact that I generally rated high with my teachers..." Sharlitt was the first boy to receive a Samuel Lewisohn scholarship, offered by Leonard Lewisohn through HSGS, which paid for his education at City College. Education for older children included college or vocation trade schools such as the Hebrew Technical Trade School, Woodbine Agricultural Trade School, and a sewing class for the girls.

Medical care at HSGS evolved from six physicians rotating visits once a day to an attending physician and nurse. Chronic eye ailments occurred frequently, and in 1886 an epidemic of opthalmia and conjunctivitis spread due to poor hygienic practices. When over half of the residents in 1895 suffered from a scalp ringworm epidemic and the institution was quarantined, the New York Board of Health recommended a reorganizing of the medical department, which led to the creation of a consulting Medical Board of eight prominent physicians and a new attending physician, Dr. Sheffield. In 1902, another scalp ringworm epidemic affecting 450 children led to the creation of an onsite bacteriological lab. By 1903, the epidemic had been "eradicated" and in 1905, the work of attending physician Milton A. Gershel resulted in preventing the spread of three cases of diphtheria, scarlet fever, and typhoid fever.

In 1893, upon the death of Mrs. Joachimsen, Morris Goodheart became the HSGS President and resided over the asylum for three years. His replacement, Samuel Levy, was a lawyer who had served for several years on the board of the United Hebrew Charities. He was intent from the beginning on "individualizing" his residents. His visit to a cottage plan outside London at Barkenside led him to remark; " could see the radical change in the home life of the waifs and stray children, and how splendidly trades are taught..."

In 1902, the Ladies Board of Managers was officially relegated to Honorary Directresses. As Levy states in the 1904 annual report; "It was only after the Board of Directors had been decimated by the relentless hand of death so that but a bare quorum survived, that a change of management was suggested." In 1901 Levy recruited Leonard Lewisohn, a copper industrialist, to serve as Treasurer, who collected $110,000 towards the cottage plan building fund. Unfortunately, Lewisohn died the same year, and his half brother Albert took over his office. In 1903, Lewisohn's brother Adolph joined the Board, and in the following year, with Samuel Levy now as Vice-President, Adolph became President. Levy was confident that with Adolph Lewisohn's following, " a short time the whole fund will be made up..."

The retirement of Superintendent Louis Fauerbach in 1903 resulted in the appointment of Dr. Ludwig Bernstein, a language teacher from De Witt Clinton High School. Bernstein allowed the children time for "healthy and unrestrained play." He encouraged communication between a child and his parents, and worked to "make the child feel that he need not be ashamed to speak Yiddish to his parents..." He also introduced social and literary clubs for children, allowing them freedom of social interaction and self government. He abolished the monitoring system, replacing it with self governing Boys' and Girls' Republics in 1906, which was based upon a Junior Republic in Ithaca, NY. As Michael Sharlitt writes; "The Republics were a dramatic development, not altogether understood and possibly not appreciated at first by the children themselves, and their establishment was doubtless on of the earliest, if not the earliest, move to recognize the elementary citizenship of children in the sense of partnership in the family. For dependent children, it was a kind of enfranchisement." The Republics helped govern the institution, managed a savings bank, a coop store, and the library.

Due to the full capacity of the three major Jewish orphanages in New York City, in 1904, 750 Jewish children were admitted to non-Christian institutions. In response, a joint committee controlled by five New York orphanages and child welfare agencies (HSGS, Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum, Hebrew Infant Asylum, United Hebrew Charities, Jewish Protectory, and the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum) formed the Bureau of Boarding and Placing-Out Jewish Dependent Children in 1904.

After the cooperative effort collapsed after one year, the HSGS took over the sole maintenance and support of the bureau, placing 650 children in foster homes, and finding adoptive families for forty children within two years.

With over five hundred Jewish infants not provided for by the Jewish community, Dr. Bernstein recommended "for very young children the private family method is not only as good as the congregate institution plan, but much better." By 1910, President Lewisohn wrote that "We are firmly convinced that for children up to six or seven years the private family home method is efficient and productive of better results that the congregate institution, so much so that we no longer admit children under seven years to our Orphan Asylum." These views coincided with the First White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, sponsored by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. The conference overwhelmingly favored home care over institutional life, and urged that if a home could not be saved, foster care be the preferred alternative.

Nine years after former President Samuel Levy visited Barkenside, London, and with an accumulated building fund of over $670,000, the staff and President's dream came to fruition when, in July 1912, five hundred children moved to Pleasantville, NY.

In order to prepare children for the tasks of maintaining their own cottages, three hundred children were transferred from Grammar School No. 46 to a new school formed within the HSGS walls. Both boys and girls were trained in kosher cooking and cleaning, as well as introducing them to a new curriculum that differed from that of the American public school system.

The curriculum combined academic, religious, and vocational education into nine years, versus twelve. In order to offset the Cottage mothers, most of the teachers were men. The school's principal was none other than former HSGS alum Michael Sharlitt.

In 1915, the New York State Board of Education approved the school's nine year curriculum, the first of its kind in the state. The success of the cottage system depended upon staff selection. Teachers required university degrees, and cottage mothers were selected from "the very best and ...the very highest type of Jewish women..." After an intensive five week training course for the cottage mothers, they met daily with the Superintendent and his staff, and met weekly as a Council with study advisory committees.

Once in Pleasantville, 25-30 children shared each of the twenty-five cottage homes. In addition to the former Girls and Boys Republics, each cottage created a self-governing republic of its own. The cottage plan also introduced a Big Brother and Sister system, in which senior children were assigned to assist with younger children's daily activities. Intercottage competition for cleanliness, scholarship, and personal appearance added incentives.

The success of Pleasantville caught the attention of child welfare specialists from Europe and across America. Dr. Hastings H. Hart, Director of the Russell Sage Foundation, wrote on October 23, 1912: "it is undoubtedly the best equipped Institution for children in the world..." In 1915, Harvard University's Department of Social Ethics included photographs and charts of HSGS in an exhibit relating to child care agencies. Within five years of Pleasantville's opening, three new cottage plans, in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were established based upon the HSGS' model.

In 1913 Fellowship House, an after care service with counseling, vocational training, and job referral services was established. In the late 1800s, early 1900s, aftercare services were provided by special donated funds: the Simon Fox Orphans' Fund, an insufficient trust that was allowed to stay in the bank to earn interest; the Samuel Lewisohn Scholarship, created by his father Leonard Lewisohn, to provide an orphan with advance education; and the Discharged Children's Fund, also founded by Lewisohn, which incorporated the moneys from the Simon Fox Orphans' Fund.

Alumni supported each other through alumni associations, such as the Young Folks Fraternal League, the Leonard Lewisohn Club, and the Ardentes; all formed in the early 1900s. In 1909, the HSGS pioneered the creation of an Aftercare Department, which was headed by Louis J. Cohen. Cohen conducted follow up visits and employment assistance, until the necessity of expanding the department let to the construction of a headquarters located at 202 West 124th Street in 1913. Alice Seligsberg, former Director of Social Activities, became the Department's head.

The organization was soon renamed the Fellowship House and moved to larger facilities at 32 West 115th Street. Incorporating the Big Brothers and Sisters system, called the "Guild of Friends" as well as a House Senate, the Fellowship House provided social, emotional, and job related support.

A two month study of Fellowship House led by former resident and Cottage Mother, Mary Boretz, found that one follow up visit per year was grossly inefficient. Mary Boretz was also concerned about separating contented foster children from their placements without warning or consultation, which occurred when beds were made available in Pleasantville. In 1918, Ms. Boretz became the new head of the Boarding and Placing-Out Bureau in 1918, renaming it the Home Bureau, where she changed the policy of transferring foster children to institutions, improved the education and attitudes of Foster mothers, recruited quality foster families, found homes for chronically ill children, and published a newsletter called the Homefinder.

In 1922, Alice Seligsberg, former head of Fellowship House, became Executive Director of the new Jewish Children's Clearing Bureau, an umbrella organization of ten New York City child care agencies that took over the placement of children into institutions and boarding homes. Bernard wrote, "For the first time there was enough staff and a large enough budget to permit a thorough investigation of applications and a careful study of each child's home-when there was a home-before reaching a decision for or against placement." During its first 18 months, the Clearing Bureau found alternative solutions for over 75% of its applicants that did not involve long-term placements.

The nascent fields of child psychology and social work made their way into New York State law in 1914, when Governor William Sulzer commissioned a committee to explore a widows' pension system already instituted in several states. In March 1915, New York State passed the law almost unanimously, providing pensions for widowed mothers through the creation of county and city welfare boards. Although the law did not help families with unemployed fathers or unmarried mothers, its existence combined with the foster home trend began to lower the number of children placed in institutions. The effect on HSGS, however, was not immediately apparent; the number of children cared for by HSGS increased slightly from 904 in 1914 to 922 in 1917.

Several factors led HSGS to experience financial setbacks beginning in 1916. World War I, depressions before and after the war, the competition for charitable funds to help overseas Jews, plus a polio epidemic in 1918 resulted in growing deficits. In October, 1917, the children and staff were urged to "economize as much as possible in sugar until the present famine is over." The long sought establishment of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies in New York City in 1917, which included twenty-four New York City and Bronx agencies, and of which HOA and HSGS were charter members, undertook fundraising, and established standards for allocating money. As a result of the Federation's influence, the prized school at Pleasantville was now considered a luxury. Fortunately, the school remained by annexing to P.S. 62 in Manhattan. In protest over this change, Dr. Bernstein resigned. His replacement, Dr. Leon Goldrich, a previous New York City High School Principal, would lead the HSGS through the next twelve years.

One of Dr. Goldrich's recommendations was "to take out of the institution....the sub-normal children and put them in the Boarding-Out Bureau." In order to carry out his plan, the HSGS hired a part-time psychiatrist in 1920. The overall preference given to boarding out children led to a decrease in population of Pleasantville; in 1921 there were 500 residents. Ironically, in efforts to fill up cottages, the Board discussed admitting "cardiac children" and "crippled or blind" children "who were mentally normal."

The orphanges' population was changing. Restrictive immigration laws--the first passed in 1921, and a quota act passed in 1924, restricting immigrants of non-Nordic stock--sharply decreased Jewish immigration. Further, poverty was no longer the primary reason children's commitment to the institutions; the residents of the 1920s were often second generation Americans, raised amidst social, economic, and family issues pertaining to their parents' immigrant hardships.

The Board repeatedly resolved to house as many HSGS charges as possibe. Despite the Board voting to take on "free cases" and to keep "mentally defective children at all times separate from normal types," by October 1925 there were only 270 children at Pleasantville, and discussions focused on easing the deficit by reducing staff. The Board introduced the idea of using part of Pleasantville for "mentally defective children," stating "The Board doubtless knows that there is no Jewish institution of any size which today makes provision for mentally defective children."

To provide further care to this segment of their residents, the HSGS created the first child psychiatric clinic in the country, hiring psychologist, three psychiatrists, and two social workers. The Board relied on consulting doctors from Mt. Sinai, who installed Julia Goldman, a psychiatric nurse to conduct evaluations.

In 1931, Dr. Goldrich resigned to accept the position of Director a Child Behavior Clinic organized by the New York City Board of Education, and Ms. Julia Goldman assumed the Executive Directorship in his stead. Among the changes Ms. Goldman introduced was vocational training for girls in the form of millinery and dental assistant work, and a floriculture and agriculture training program that served as both a therapeutic outlet and provided produce for the institution; a helpful addition to help offset the years of the Depression. As aftercare services struggled to help unemployed graduates of orphanages, the admission of emotionally disturbed children also grew. German Jewish refugee children also were added to the child care system.

In 1926, the HSGS began to discuss combining their child care services with those of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and other child care agencies. Although merger negotiations were brought up sporadically through the 1930s, in 1940 the merger was finally realized and the HSGS officially combined with the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Fellowship House, and the Jewish Children's Clearing Bureau, creating the New York Association for Jewish Children (later titled the Jewish Child Care Association).

A few years after the merger, the HOA was sold to the city government, and was eventually demolished to make way for a public park. Pleasantville did not suffer the same fate, continuing to be used by the JCCA treat emotionally disturbed children. In 1972, the Pleasantville site added a Diagnostic Center, and in 1975 HOA's Edenwald program was also moved to the campus.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  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. 14-16, 18-19, 39, 41, 43, 51, 56, 61-62, 64-68, 70-72, 75, 81-82, 83-86.
  4. Sharlitt, Michael. As I Remember The Home in My Heart. Privately published, 1959, pgs. 19-21, 25-26, 28, 30-31, 38.


16.25 Linear Feet (18 manuscript boxes, 1 ½ manuscript box, 2 [18.5 x 13.5"] oversized boxes, 2 [20 x 24"] oversized boxes, 1 oversized folder, 1 MAP folder)


The Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, founded in 1879, merged with the Jewish Child Care Association of New York in 1940. This collection includes administrative records consisting of annual reports, Board of Directors' annual reports and meeting minutes, a limited amount of committee reports, financial records, donation books, and property records. The collection also includes children admission and discharge ledgers, which date from 1898 to 1942, 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 and programs, alumni newsletters and programs, and HSGS promotional material. Affiliated organizational records include material on Fellowship House, an after care service; Foster Home Bureau, including newsletters recruiting foster parents and records of its Baby Department; and alumni associations. Of additional interest are dedications and speeches held during the inauguration of Pleasantville, child care study papers, histories, and material concerning the New York Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies merger.


The collection has been arranged into seven series as follows:

  1. Series I: Administrative Records, undated, 1879-1942
  2. Subseries A: Annual reports, constitutions and by-laws, 1882, 1898-1914
  3. Subseries B: Board of Directors' annual reports and meeting minutes, etc., undated, 1879-1940
  4. Subseries C: Various committees' meeting minutes and departmental reports, undated, 1920-1930, 1936, 1938-1939
  5. Subseries D: Children's records, undated, 1898, 1902, 1907-1942
  6. Subsubseries i: Children's admission and discharge records, 1898, 1907-1942
  7. Subsubseries ii: Student publications and programs, undated, 1902
  8. Subseries E: Financial records, 1907-1912, 1920
  9. Subseries F: Property records, 1886, 1900, 1905-1924, 1932
  10. Subseries G: Donation / Subscription records, 1884-1918
  11. Subseries H: Publications, scholarship, programs, etc., undated, 1918, 1921, 1929, 1932-1934, 1937, 1940
  12. Series II: Affiliated Associations, undated, 1908, 1912-1940, 1942, 1944, 1950-1962, 1964-1968, 1970, 1995
  13. Subseries A: Fellowship House, undated, 1912-1940, 1953, 1957
  14. Subseries B: Foster Home Bureau, undated, 1920-1939, 1942
  15. Subseries C: Alumni Associations and their Publications, undated, 1908, 1927, 1932-1940, 1944, 1950-1952, 1954-1956, 1958-1962, 1964-1968, 1970, 1995
  16. Series III: Correspondence, 1920, 1926
  17. Series IV: Dedications/Speeches, 1911-1912
  18. Series V: Histories and Studies, undated, 1925-1937, 1939, 1954
  19. Series VI: Photographs, undated
  20. Series VII: Miscellaneous Items and News Clippings, 1908, 1914
  21. Separated Oversized Materials, undated, 1912, 1916, 1921-1922

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated in 1985 by the Jewish Child Care Association.

Guide to the Records of the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society of New York, undated, 1879-1972, 1995   I-43
Reprocessed by Dan Ma and Marvin Rusinek (April 2008)
© 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.

Revision Statements

  • December 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States