From 1830 to 1890 New York City underwent massive economic and social transformations. These changes created a new industrial working class extremely vulnerable to poverty. They also created a middle class with influential ideas on how to improve the lives of poor families.
The boy who entered the offices of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) in 1855 looked older than his 16 years. The lacerations and scars on young James Hallahan, acquired during an on-the-job accident, had aged the boy, who had been working since he was 12. Work was crucial for James; wages kept him off the streets and out of children’s institutions. He had come to the CAS seeking more work, requesting to be sent out to the country to live and labor on a farm.
Orphan asylums and other institutions for children proliferated in the 1800s. Many of these asylums provided refuge for orphans, those who had lost one parent, or children whose families were simply too poor to care for them. Other institutions attempted to reform children who had broken laws or were living on the street. The locations of some of these institutions are shown on this map from 1860. Map courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection. Except where noted images courtesy the New York Public Library.Explore the Map