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At a Glance
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Papers cataloged Lea Osborne 2010.
Papers processed April Holm (GSAS 2010) 2009.
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.
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.