Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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

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 linear feet (137 document boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The Medical Logs (Box 85, Folder 3 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 has no other restrictions.

This collection is located on-site.



This collection is arranged in four series.



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

Using the Collection

This collection is not a complete set of all the records produced by the NYJA. Information on specific individuals may be very limited or entirely missing. The most complete information is available for children who lived at the asylum between 1880 and 1920. This collection can provide basic biographical information about children in the asylum including parents' names and nativity, local addresses, sibling names and ages, religion, behavior, and general circumstances. Very little of the correspondence about children placed out in the West has survived; the vast majority of information is in official ledgers and does not include personal narratives. The collection does not contain any photographs.

When researching a specific child, first consult the large register indexes in boxes 26 (1858- 1888), 27 (1888-1923), and 39 (1926-1950). These basic indexes are arranged alphabetically by last name, but each segment of the alphabet was filled in chronologically as children arrived at the asylum. If you do not know the year the child was admitted, you must scan the entire section for the desired name. The index will give you the following information: the child's case number, her age at time of admission, the dates she was admitted and discharged, and very brief remarks about how she left the NYJA. Each child received a unique case number upon admittance that was used throughout her stay in the Asylum. This number is very helpful for use in locating further information.

With the information obtained from the register indexes, next consult the appropriate Case Register. These ledgers are arranged chronologically and contain biographical information for each child. This collection contains Case Registers for the years 1861-1862, 1864-1865, 1878- 1886, 1890-1904, and 1906-1923. Locate the correct register and look up the child by the date he was admitted. The Register contains information about why the child was admitted, his parentage, parents' residence, occupation, and social habits, religion, ethnicity, and how and to whom the child was discharged. Children marked as sent to the Children's Aid Society or CSA were sent West through that agency. More information can be found using the Children's Aid Society Records at the New-York Historical Society. The NYJA/CV also maintained a yearly "Asylum Current Register" cataloging the names of all children currently in residence for a specific year. These can be used to confirm when children lived at the NYJA but do not contain further biographical information.

If the child was "placed out" in the West, more information may be available in the Apprenticeship Records. The most extensive apprenticeship records can be found in boxes 61 (1854-1888) and 62 (1888-1906). These indexes are arranged roughly by date the child was sent West, but they are not in precise chronological order. To find a particular child, you will have to scan the ledgers in the approximate date range for the child's name and case number. The entries in the ledger give information about what happened to the child after she was placed in the West—sometimes children moved from place to place and sometimes they quickly settled down. The numbers in the entries appear to refer to correspondence files that are now missing. Other information can be found elsewhere in the collection. When parents turned a child over to the NYJA, they signed a "Parent Surrender Form." These forms are in ledgers arranged by date and case number. They contain very little information but can reveal if parents were literate or if the child suffered from disability or disease. When parents sought to retrieve their children from the NYJA, they applied and submitted references. These petitions can be found in the "Applications for Discharge" ledgers and are also arranged chronologically and by case number. They give information about parental occupations and social conditions. Social workers also visited parents and guardians at home to assess their ability to care for minors. The observations made in these visits are recorded in the Home Visit Records and give a great deal of information about family life. These records are arranged by date of first visit, but also contain case numbers.

When researching a specific child in this collection, be sure to scan the finding aid for all ledgers dating from the years when the child was institutionalized. There are many types of records for which only a few ledgers survive and these may contain further information about the child.

Commonly Used Abbreviations and Terms

Asylum: New York Juvenile Asylum. Refers to the main institution building located in Washington Heights on 176 th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and used between 1854 and 1905.

CAS: Children's Aid Society. This New York institution was unrelated to the NJYA but also placed Children in the West. Some NYJA children traveled West through the CAS—records of the Children's Aid Society can be found at the New-York Historical Society.

Cath.: Catholic

Col.: Colored

Com.: Committed. Refers to children who were sent to the Asylum by a judge or city agency.

Company: Group of children sent West together to be placed with families.

Cottages: Refers to the Dobbs Ferry campus used after 1905. (Renamed Children's Village in 1920.)

H.O.R.: House of Reception. Downtown receiving house for children found homeless or surrendered by parents located on West Thirteenth Street. Children stayed here before they were sent to the Asylum.

Int. (or I): Intemperate. Used to describe parents who were not steadily employed or who were considered moral--possibly inclined to drink and keep irregular hours.

No Prop. Guard. (or N.P.G.): No Proper Guardian. Used to denote children whose parents were missing or unable to care for them.

Prot.: Protestant

S.P.C.C.: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Sur.: Surrendered. Refers to children who were voluntarily surrendered to the Asylum by a parent or guardian.

Temp. (or T): Temperate. Used to describe parents who were regularly employed and not inclined to drink or keep irregular hours.

West: Sent west on an "Orphan Train."

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

The Medical Logs (Box 85, Folder 3 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 has no other restrictions.

This collection is located on-site.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. 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.


No additions are expected

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Method of acquisition--Transferred from Teacher's College Archives; Date of acquisition--2006.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers cataloged Lea Osborne 2010.

Papers processed April Holm (GSAS 2010) 2009.

Revision Description

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.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

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.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Registers (Lists) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Charities -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Children -- Institutional care -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Children -- Middle West Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Children's Village (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correctional institutions -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Indentured servants -- Middle West Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Juvenile detention homes -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (N.Y.) -- Social conditions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Orphan trains Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Orphanages Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Orphans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poverty -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Runaway children Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social service Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

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.