crown CU Home > Libraries Home
Columbia University Libraries Archival CollectionsRare Book & Manuscript Library Collections

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

Download and Print CitationContact Bookmark Share

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); New York Juvenile Asylum records; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


The collection is composed primarily of ledgers used in the operation of the New York Juvenile Asylum, a reception center, home, and placement agency for orphaned, abandoned, and impoverished children. The Asylum operated in Manhattan from 1853 until 1905 when it moved to a rural campus in Dobbs Ferry, New York. In 1920 the Asylum was renamed Children's Village. The collection provides copious information about the experience of poor and orphaned children, children sent West on "orphan trains," social work, and the home life and living arrangements of poor and immigrant New Yorkers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1488
Bib ID:6909466 View CLIO record
Creator(s):New York Juvenile Asylum.
Title:New York Juvenile Asylum records (Children's Village), 1853-1954
Physical description:117.5 linear feet (137 boxes: 31 document boxes, 1 half document box, 105 ledgers in custom-made boxes)
Language(s): This collection is in English.
Access: The Medical Logs (Box 85, Folders 2-5 and Box 95, folder 1) are restricted. Researchers wishing to use the Medical Logs first must sign a nondisclosure form certifying that they will not publish, or in any way disseminate, names or personally-identifiable information from the Medical Logs. This collection is located on-site.  More information »


This collection is arranged in four series.

Return to top


Scope and Content

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.

Series I: Administrative Records, 1853-1954

This series contains ledgers pertaining to the overall operation of the New York Juvenile Asylum and Children's Village. The ledgers comprise minutes, correspondence, and financial records. The minutes do not provide a complete record of institutional operation. The correspondence is recorded in copybooks on onionskin and primarily dates to the early twentieth century. The ledger of Admissions, Indentures, and Discharge correspondence contains many original letters interleaved with copies. The financial records also largely consist of copies on onionskin. The Reports of Costs to City and State list the numbers of children housed at the institution each month and were used to collect public funds from the city and state.

Series II: General Operation Records, 1853- 1950

The General Operation Records form the heart of this collection and pertain to the movement of children though the asylum system. Many of these records contain unique case numbers that were assigned to each child.

The Registers of Children list the age and important characteristics of new arrivals at the House of Reception, such as race, religion, language spoken, and name and address of parents. These records reveal that NYJA housed Catholic and Jewish, as well as Protestant children, and admitted African-American and immigrant youth. Most of these registers contain case numbers and information about the eventual fate of the child: if she was sent to the Asylum, home to family, or out West as an apprentice. Some unusual cases are marked with additional notes.

Social workers created Home Visit Records when they visited the families of children living in the Asylum to determine whether those families could provide a fit home for children. These visits were conducted for children living in the Asylum who had families with a known address. These ledgers do not all follow the same format. Some contain an Admission form and Discharge form on facing pages. A social worker filled out the first of these forms when a child was removed from his home. The facing, Discharge, form was filled out when a child returned home, sometimes years later. Where noted, some ledgers contain only Admission or only Discharge forms. In these cases, each individual page was dedicated to a single child and only contains information about the condition of that child's home, either when she was admitted to NJYA, or when she was released to her family. The ledgers provide a wealth of detail about home life and living arrangements among poor and immigrant New Yorkers in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Parent Surrender Forms were used when parents or family members relinquished control of their children to the institution. These are brief forms and contain little more than children's names and the names and signatures (or marks) of the parents.

Apprentice Records kept track of older children indentured to homes in the West. The records contain information about the lives and experiences of these children and the families who took them in. Indentured children and the families who housed them reported their progress and satisfaction with placement regularly. The NYJA maintained contact with these children until they reached adulthood, and sometimes afterward, if formerly indentured children remained in contact. The Apprentice Records therefore give an excellent overview of the experience of “orphan train” children.

Transfer Slips record where children were sent (usually to the NYJA) after arriving at the House of Reception.

Applications for Discharge were required of all parents and guardians wishing to retrieve their children from the asylum. The forms record how fit the applicants are to care for a child and whether discharge was granted or denied. Most of the children applied for were discharged to their guardians.

Series III: Daily Logs, 1858-1953

This series contains records of daily activity in the NYJA and Children's Village, including visitor's registers, daily events, runaways, and medical and school records. They offer a fragmented but illuminating glimpse into daily operations at the institution.

Physicians' Certificates certified that children who entered the asylum system were in good physical and mental health and free of infectious diseases. Inspecting doctors could record any health problems that were present. Almost all the children were found to be healthy and given a clean bill of health.

The Doctor's Orders Books and Medical Logs were kept at the Children's Village infirmary. The former records medical treatments prescribed by physicians and the latter lists the complaints of children who visited the nurse each day.

Series IV: Children's Village, 1921-1936

The bulk of this series consists of a 1931 New York University study of Children's Village, along with papers and plans for new buildings on the campus. These documents were produced as part of an initiative to modernize the curriculum to reflect current educational and therapeutic developments. The series also contains published pamphlets and programs reporting on the progress of Children's Village in the early twentieth century

Return to top

Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

The Medical Logs (Box 85, Folders 2-5 and Box 95, folder 1) are restricted. Researchers wishing to use the Medical Logs first must sign a nondisclosure form certifying that they will not publish, or in any way disseminate, names or personally-identifiable information from the Medical Logs. This collection is located on-site.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); New York Juvenile Asylum records; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material at Other Repositories

Records of the Children's Aid Society New-York Historical Society. New York, New York.

Papers of Charles Dewey Hilles, 1902-1909 Yale University.

Return to top

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers cataloged in 2010 by Lea Osborne.

Papers processed in 2009 by April Holm (GSAS 2010).

Finding aid written in October 2009 by April Holm (GSAS 2010).

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion July 10, 2010 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-07-10 File created.
    2010-07-13 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne.
    2010-08-04 Additions Integrated; Finding aid edited by Lea Osborne.

Return to top

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Registers (lists).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Charities--New York (N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Children's Village (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Children--Institutional care--New York (State)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Children--Middle West.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Correctional institutions--New York (State)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Indentured servants--Middle West.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Juvenile detention homes--New York (State)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New York (N.Y.)--Social conditions.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Orphan trains--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Orphans and orphan asylums.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Poverty--New York City.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Runaway children.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Social work.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Return to top

History / Biographical Note

Historical 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.

Return to top