While I but indulge an ardent prayer, that the beneficence of God may rest upon this new Establishment; which promises so many valuable benefits to our community: I cultivate the impression that your generous, fostering hand, will ever be extended to aid in its support.
—The Reverend John Stanford (1825).
III. The Quest for Support (1824–26)
The months following the creation of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents were busy ones for its members. They had vacillated a long time before deciding to concentrate their efforts solely on reforming juvenile criminals. Finally dedicated to the new cause, the Society moved swiftly to gain additional support for its project. Coaches to Albany and Washington were loaded to capacity with Quakers clutching freshly drawn memorials. Ralph Olmsted, Treasurer of the new society, kept busy in his office totaling up the mounting contributions coming in from the Society’s “Ward Committees.” During the meeting of December, 1823, the final meeting of the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism and the first of the new Society, the participants had contributed $900. In the first few months of 1824, $17,000 came into the Society’s treasury.
The dominant figure in the Society’s transition during his period was a relatively new member. Rough-cut, taciturn, but tremendously capable, Mayor Stephen Allen entered the lists with great determination to save the poor waifs of the streets. Unlike many of the older men of the Society, such as Cadwallader Colden, Stephen Allen was a child of the American system of free enterprise. He had started his career without money, without family connections, and without education, and had since “made his way to independence in fortune, and to high public stations.”1 Allen had begun as an orphaned sailor boy, but when he had crossed over to become a leatherworker and later a sail-maker, he began to show signs of things to come. With customary vigor, Allen parlayed his humble post into the proprietorship of one of the largest sail lofts in the city. As a businessman, he was shrewd, exacting, and calculating, but absolutely honest. The best advertisement his firm possesed was the widespread knowledge of Allen s integrity. When confidence in the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company had been shaken, Allen restored the firm by taking over as president.
The same vigor marked Allen’s personal life. He was married three times: His first wife married him before he was twenty years of age in 1788, had eight children by him, and died in 1802; his second wife was to have nine children by him before she died; and when Allen remarried at the age of seventy-two and had no more children, someone remarked that he resembled Lord Clive in that he must have been “astonished at his own moderation.”2 Besides his active political participation in Tammany Hall, his chairmanship of the Croton Water Project, in which he saw to the creation of a fresh water supply for the City of New York, and his post in the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, Allen participated in a host of other groups. He was a leading member of the Mechanic and Scientific Institution, Public School Society, High School Society, American Bible Society, New York Tract Society, and the American Prison Discipline Society, and he served on the boards of the New York Hospital and Lunatic Asylum, New York Eye Infirmary, and the Institution for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb. His business affairs also spread to important posts with the Mechanics Bank of the City of New York, Tradesmen’s Bank of New York City, Fulton Insurance Company, and the Fireman’s Insurance Company.
In spite of his wealth, estimated at a half-million dollars, and his vigorous participation in community affairs, Allen’s fellow patrons only grudgingly accepted him. They considered him as “just but not generous; and in mind and manners rude and unpolished.”3 Allen’s political fortunes bore the impact of this attitude. Shortly after he had taken over as Mayor of New York City in 1822, opponents abortively attempted to unseat him, chiefly on the grounds of his “rough manners, and no more.”4
Allen’s attitude toward the reformation of criminals was characteristically ambivalent. In his participation with the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, he viewed himself as a patron of the juvenile delinquent. Thinking back to his own unpromising childhood, he desired a good start for young urchins. If they strayed momentarily, it was the duty of the Christian philanthropist to care for them, to point the way again.
He had no such sympathy for the adult criminal. In his report as a state commissioner on prisons in 1825, and again in reply to the renowned reformer William Roscoe, whom John Griscom had visited in England, Allen had declared that the reformation of old offenders was impossible. Only the “young in years, or in criminality” could be reformed.5
Others agreed with Allen. Dr. Samuel Akerly, an important New York physician, told Allen that “if moral and Religious benefits are not inculcated during the period of youth, there will be little or no hope of their making an impression on the minds of old and hardened offenders.”6
Allen’s list of objectives for the treatment of adults was a demanding code indeed:
- Punishment for the crime committed.
- Protection of the peace and safety of the community, by confining those, who otherwise would depredate upon their property, or jeopardize their lives.
- Prevention of crime by the fear of detection and punishment.
- Compulsory labour and seclusion to indemnify the public for their expense of maintenance … that habits of industry may be inculcated; information in mechanical science acquired; ability to gain an honest living obtained; lessons in morality and religion communicated, and submission to order and decorum, and the rules of the prison enforced.7
The great defect of the penitentiary system, according to Allen, had arisen from an “excess of lenity and indulgence shown to [adult] convicts.”8 In this sense, Allen differed greatly with his Quaker friends. Only the young, Allen contended, could be treated successfully with lenience and indulgence. The success of the House of Refuge, Allen felt, would demonstrate the truth of this statement. In his reflections, Allen did not delineate the exact point when one ceased to be a child. Like many others, he probably subscribed to the traditions of Anglo-Saxon law which claimed that children below the age of seven were not responsible. Youths between the ages of seven and eighteen in the case of girls, and twenty-one in the case of boys, required a parent or guardian.
Mayor Allen, serving as vice-president of the new Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, met with the rest of the managers for their first official gathering on January 9, 1824. Cadwallader Colden, the former mayor and now a member of the United States House of Representatives, presided, and John Griscom was among the officers.
While money continued to come in from city residents, the members of the Society went about securing property on which to establish the proposed institution. Mayor Allen interceded at this point. Acting on a suggestion of the Reverend John Stanford, the only time in which any public figure seems to have consulted the old chaplain, Allen decided that the old United States arsenal on Bloomingdale Road would be an ideal location. When the War of 1812 had ground to a close, federal officials had abandoned this installation as a needless expense; the army had since become interested in obtaining a piece of property for a deposit site along the river. The arsenal location, which would one day be located near the busy thoroughfares of Twenty-second and Twenty-third Streets, and which would be near what would eventually be known as Madison Square, appealed to the managers. What better place to send the street urchins congregating along the waterfront and in the crowded byways of the city? Nearly four acres in extent, it was located approximately a mile north of City Hall and well away from the majority of the population. Farms and orchards surrounded the post. Wildflowers bloomed in the nearby fields during the spring of the year. Although the weather-beaten barracks themselves were eyesores, the physical surroundings seemed attractive.
Allen thought so. He wrote Cadwallader Colden, then conveniently placed in Congress, to see if Colden would discreetly inquire as to the possible transferral of the property. In exchange, Allen intimated that the Corporation of the City of New York might be able to release some land along the river.9 Allen did not think, at any point, to raise the issue of the quasi-public character of the group requesting the site. To his mind, no confusion of roles appeared to exist.
In Washington, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun received the appeal of the Society and passed it on, with instructions, to Colonel Bomford, Chief of Ordnance. Commending the members of the Society for the merit of their cause, Bomford informed them that the officers of the “general government” were quite willing to aid the effort. Bomford detailed an officer stationed in New York to remove government supplies located at the post to Castle William.
Although the land on which the arsenal was sitting was returned to the city, the federal authorities actually sold the buildings to the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents on July 21, 1824, for a sum of $6,000. The Society agreed to pay $2,000 at the outset and the remainder at some later date. In November, the city turned over the grounds to the Society, for as long as the land should be used for “Juvenile Offenders.”10
The next step was to secure financial support from the state government. Following the practice which they had adopted with the Free School Society, of which most of them were members, the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents prepared a memorial to present to the New York State Legislature. In the meantime, Stephen Allen sought to line up needed support in Albany. On March 17, he wrote Walter Bowne, one of New York City’s representatives in the senate. Allen described the purpose of the institution to Bowne, noting that the population of the institution would consist of
… depraved youths of both sexes who are growing up in idleness and vice among us, and who by—petty thefts and other evil practices, are not only an injury to the City generally by depredating upon our property and increasing the public burden for their maintenance [sic] in our prisons, but are contaminating all who come within the reach of their influence.11
Confinement in the Penitentiary, Allen argued, was of no use to these youngsters; it only served to harden their already vicious propensities.
Allen told Bowne that a plan of the institution and a request for incorporation had already been submitted to the legislature. Allen also noted that New York City’s citizens had already contributed generously to the plan, but that they could not be expected to give much more. They had contributed enough money to purchase the plant and put it into operation. After that, other sources of support, on a regular basis, would be needed to continue the project. The members of the common council were “well disposed” toward the proposed institution, but they had an aversion to raising city taxes. The managers of the Society consequently came up with a plan for obtaining revenue from an “Act for Licensing Theatrical Exhibitions.” They wanted a clause added to the bill “providing that in the event of such a House [of Refuge] being put in operation in this City, that the revenue aforesaid, shall be applied toward its support.” Allen hoped Bowne would be able to assist the Society in the matter.
Two weeks later, Allen wrote to Albany again. This time, he communicated with John Morss. Allen tried to convince Assemblyman Morss of the feasibility of such a plan and told him of the letter which he had previously written to Bowne. “But,” Allen added, “if you can effect this object, I will venture to say that you will never have reason to regrett [sic] it.”12
As Allen had indicated, the managers had also done their best to forward the designs of the Society. They addressed a memorial to the New York State Legislature, stating their plight and requesting a share of the state’s bounty. The institution was ready for occupation, they pointed out, but the expenses incurred in making the buildings and grounds secure had exhausted the Society’s funds. Unless the state could provide financial support, the program could not begin. The state, argued the memorialists, must seize its mantle of protector of all citizens of society and come to the aid of the project.
Stressing its relation to the preservation of life and property, they sketched out the design of their institution.
It is an asylum, in which boys, under a certain age, who become subject to the notice of the Police, either as vagrants, or houseless, or charged with petty crimes, may be received, judiciously classed according to their degrees of depravity or innocence, put to work at such employments as will tend to encourage industry and ingenuity, taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and most carefully instructed in the nature of their moral and religious obligations, while at the same time, they are subjected to a course of treatment, that will afford a prompt and energetic corrective of their vicious propensities, and hold out every possible inducement to reformation and good conduct.13
The memorialists assured the legislature that there were some boys, of course, who would not be reformed. These boys, however, if left to run loose in the streets, would surely become pestilential beings, spreading disease and destruction wherever they went. Given a situation where clothing, food, work, “privations and enjoyments, are all made to depend on their conduct,” even the worst youngsters might change. If they knew that good conduct would be rewarded, the managers of the Society felt that youngsters would surely change their ways, and become worthy citizens.
The Refuge was also designed to be a haven for females
… either too young to have acquired habits of fixed depravity, or those whose lives have in general been virtuous, but who, having yielded to the seductive influence of corrupt associates, have suddenly to endure the bitterness of lost reputation, and are cast forlorn and destitute upon a cold and unfeeling public, full of compunction for their errors, and anxious to be restored to the paths of innocence and usefulness.14
The memorialists indicated that “they were not, of course, suggesting that the institution take in females … already smirched with guilt.” Such persons, they argued, ought to be housed in an entirely different type of institution. The memorialists assured the readers that every effort would be made to keep the prisoners separated from one another.
They did not intend for the Refuge to operate and look like a prison. “A high fence, like many factories in the neighborhood of cities,” argued the memorialists, would be sufficient protection against escape. In the minds of men such as Joseph Curtis, a tenderhearted and generous businessman who became the first superintendent at the institution, even a fence might not prove necessary. The other managers, however, felt that they should assure the legislature that the youths would not escape and become destructive marauders.
At present, the “Temporary Refuge” idea, borrowed from the English and suggested by Alderman Burtis, was not necessary. The number of inmates did not warrant it. Instead, classification would be utilized. With the fifty or sixty children who could be accommodated at present, at least six separate classes could be created; according to the memorialists, six classes would allow for considerable “gradation of treatment.” Dress, diet, lodging, laboring hours, and recreation would serve to distinguish each class. The classification system would serve as its own set of rewards and punishments. Because of classification, keepers would not be forced to use “flagellation, or other personally degrading mode of punishment.” The Society’s plan for labor would assist in the maintenance of discipline. Labor would help cut down expenses, promote a “moral influence,” and serve as useful instruction for future work. Classification, work, Bible instruction, and frequent visitations by a committee of ladies, instructing in the manner of Elizabeth Fry of London’s famed Newgate Prison, were all projected as part of the treatment.
If any precedents were needed, the legislators could look to the New World as well as the Old. In Boston, a house specifically designed for neglected children had been set up a number of years before by a group of private citizens. There was also a statute on the books of Massachusetts providing for neglected children. If a child were neglected by his parents, the state had the right to take the child away and send him to school or an apprenticship. If the legislators needed European precedents, the Society referred them to London and Dublin. Surely, the managers argued, New York could not lag behind other great cities.
In spite of the cogency of their arguments, Allen and the memorialists wasted their energies. The year 1824 was a bad one in which to apply for assistance. The entire political system was in the midst of an upheaval. On the national scene, the controversial election of 1824 had muddied the political picture, and in New York State, the politicians had become hopelessly split. In an atmosphere of this sort, favors could hardly be reciprocated. Reform legislation had to await a more auspicious time.
The bill for incorporation, since it did not contain any request for financial support, went through easily. The legislators introduced and passed it unanimously by a vote of 106–0. Politicians had thus given their approval to what they seemed to regard as a laudable plan, but apportioned no money for it.
The act of incorporation nevertheless served as a landmark in the history of reform legislation. Following the custom of the period, the legislators allowed the managers to maintain “perpetual succession.” They were to pick their own successors on the third Monday of each November, but if the annual election did not take place at this time, the board could remain in office indefinitely. Although they were to receive no pay for their services, the managers possessed considerable power. The legislature gave them the right to “receive and take into the House of Refuge … all such children as shall be taken up or committed as vagrants, or convicted of criminal offences in the said city.”15 Committing bodies could include the Court of General Sessions, Court of Oyer and Terminer, Jury, Police Magistrates, and the Commissioners of the Almshouse and the Bridewell.
In this document, the legislators of New York State created one of the first official American definitions of the term “juvenile delinquent.” A youngster who got into trouble with the law and became convicted of a criminal act, or any child picked up off the streets and charged with vagrancy, could be considered a delinquent. No definite age was specified.
In the disposal of delinquents, the state gave the managers considerable power. The very inclusiveness of the committing bodies, outside the court, indicated that the legislators gave little thought to the actual civil rights of juvenile delinquents or their parents. If a youngster or an adult was regarded by his betters as depraved or unable to care for himself, he seemingly deserved no rights. The managers could place the “children” during their minority at employment and instruction appropriate “to their years and capacities.” The legislators also gave the managers discretionary power to “bind children out during minority,” with their consent, as apprentices or servants. In the case of the female, the legislators adjudged minority to be up to eighteen years; the male remained a minor until the age of twenty-one years. The stipulations of an earlier act entitled “An Act Concerning Apprentices and Servants” applied to indentured children. The last provision, attributed to the Quaker philanthropist, Thomas Eddy, clearly set the stage for what might one day become the probation procedure. The power of “indeterminate sentence,” as it was called, constituted a tremendous control over the lives of juvenile delinquents. To some extent, it placed arbitrary power in the hands of a small group of patricians—power which they could employ to delimit or circumscribe the activities of others. With the passage of the “indeterminate sentence” section, the managers gained the right to continuous surveillance of children up to adulthood.
The law denied parental authority. As stated, it indicated that one group of people, possessing a more enlightened sense of parenthood, stood ready to step in and wrest the child away from the original parents. The state, acting through a group of private citizens, was prepared to act in loco parentis.
In spite of the lack of financial support from Albany, hopes for the financial prospects of the House of Refuge ran high. The public looked forward to its construction with considerable expectations. When he prepared his paper for the March 23, 1824, edition, the editor of the New York Evening Post expressed the fond anticipations of many New Yorkers:
If we can clean our streets of the numberless depraved boys and girls that now infest them, and most of whom are frequently tenants of our Bridewell or Penitentiary, a substantial good, will be effected and the public relieved of a considerable portion of the taxes raised for these institutions.16
In addition to the citizens of New York, other people in Europe, and particularly in England, willingly supplied information to help the new institution get started. Early in 1824, Peter Bedford, a member of the Society of Friends and a leader in the London Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders, wrote to Professor John Griscom, giving the American an excellent description of the English institution, together with a number of reports. This material was gathered and utilized in the effort to gain financial support and ideological commitment.
The London Society maintained two buildings, less than a mile apart, one for the boys and the other for girls. A few years before they had added a “Temporary Refuge” to each structure. The temporary unit was governed by a superintendent who operated under a committee and the superintendent of the main establishment.
There were a number of “peculiar advantages of the temporary concern.” Every member of the committee had the privilege of sending as many children as they wished to the institution, if they paid board, “at a rate of 6/ or 7/ per week.” After the children had been there for a time, they might be admitted to “the permanent side, which is supported by voluntary contribution, and of late years an annual grant from the Government.”17
Bedford assured Griscom that there were some failures. “Some after all the care we can bestow upon them, return again to their former bad habits; but this often arises from their not being placed out in suitable situations, which in this country are very difficult to obtain.” Yet, he found great satisfaction “even in the attempt to relieve” the sufferings of his fellow man. Bedford wished Griscom well in the new enterprise.
Through the spring and summer months, the members of the Society spent much of their time soliciting funds for the New York House of Refuge. At times, unauthorized shysters, attempting to obtain money under the cloak of the Society’s name, hampered their efforts. Nevertheless, the members were relatively successful in advertising their cause and getting through to the public. By writing editorials, including advertisements, and adopting a friendly attitude, newspaper editors greatly assisted the Society in its task. Attempting to show the widespread credence being given to the Refuge idea, on March 23, 1824, the New York Evening Post ran an article from the Edinburgh Scotsman. The author of the Scotsman article maintained a view quite similar to that of the New York group. Bridewell commitments were useless in the treatment of juveniles; only a separate institution would help to meet their unique needs. He suggested that Parliament should finance the erection of such a place, private philanthropy already having done its share.
The Post’s editor hoped that the Edinburgh article would help to demonstrate the immense activity being generated over the plight of juveniles “in all parts of the globe, and … especially … in large towns.” He hoped that “an Institution which promises to have so salutary a result, and which is so much needed, will, when once established by the generous charities of individuals, meet the deserved support from our municipal and state authorities.”
The municipal and state authorities, however, dragged their feet. At some points, they even placed obstacles in the path of the project. When the Society requested permission to gather stones on the public land adjacent to the new House of Refuge, Alderman Taylor did not wish to grant the request. He wanted the matter delayed until the next board meeting. Samuel Cowdrey managed to minimize Taylor’s complaint, pointing out that the stone was only to be used to strengthen the arsenal wall. The erection of the high wall, according to Refuge officials, was necessary because of the “erratic and vicious habits” of some of the boys being confined. The new institution, they argued, must be escape-proof.18 After some discussion, the measure passed.
Since the defeat of their bill at the spring session of the legislature, the Society had been working over plans for a renewed attack on Albany. The political situation had simmered down somewhat in the fall of 1824, and conditions appeared more conducive to another onslaught. This time, two capable veterans of public life, Cadwallader Colden and Thomas Eddy, reentered the lists. While Governor Clinton visited New York City, a number of the members seized the opportunity to approach him. On November 15 and again on November 17, the Governor was closeted with Eddy, Colden, the Reverend Wainwright, and William Stone. The following day Isaac Collins met with him. On November 20, he saw Eddy and Collins again, this time at Dr. Hosack’s party.
Eddy wrote the Governor when he returned to Albany and Clinton quickly replied. Promising to communicate with Isaac Collins as soon as possible, the Governor thanked Eddy for the materials sent and informed him that Professor Griscom and another from the Society were already in Albany. Later on, in his annual message to the New York State Legislature, Clinton rewarded the Society for their efforts to enlist his support. Calling attention to the Society’s financial requests, he entreated the legislators to assist the project.
Chiefly through indirect means, Thomas Eddy also influenced the legislators. In January, Eddy contacted Stephen Allen, Samuel Hopkins, and George Tibbits, all members of the State Commission on Prisons. This particular commission was to play an important part in shaping the New York State prison policy. Allen, of course, had recently become a member of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents. In his letter, Eddy took the opportunity to promote two of his favorite projects, one which he had supported for over twenty years, the other a new labor of love. His suggestions were incorporated in their report.
Eddy’s initial endorsement went to the Free School Society, which he described as a truly “preventive” attack on crime.19 In all the cases before the court in New York City to date, only one boy, according to Eddy, had regularly attended the free schools. He proposed a statewide extension of the system.
Eddy’s new suggestion, one on which both he and Allen heartily agreed, was a plan for a state-supported prison for “the confinement of boys under sixteen years of age, considered as vagrants, or guilty of petty thefts, or other minor offenses.” Eddy thought that all these children, even the guiltiest, could be reached, if “proper discipline” and good regulation were exercised. He had heard that in every county in Massachusetts there was a place for juvenile convicts. After describing the New York House of Refuge, Eddy suggested that one like it be set up in Albany to take care of Troy and other “North River” towns. The state, he noted, might even be divided into “convenient districts,” with a House of Refuge in each.20
Along with the contributions of Eddy’s fertile mind, the Society was fortunate to possess the political talents of Cadwallader Colden. Colden, now in the Albany senate, was in an excellent position to do favors for the Society. Vice-President Stephen Allen wrote Colden of the Society’s decision to renew the attack on the theater. When they had listened to Superintendent Joseph Curtis tell of the number of children placed in the new institution who had been “taken up at the Theater doors, where they were either detected in theft or found lurking about the passage,” the members had decided that they would use this as their line of attack. No one could frown upon those who made an offending institution pay for its transgressions. For those in the legislature who were unacquainted with the “objects” of the Society, Allen sent along materials.21
Allen had only one reservation: the members of the Society might be short-sighted if they were to adopt the theater strategy. Was this the appropriate type of appeal? If an application were made for the revenue of the theater license bill, Allen wanted to know if this would preclude all other aid from the state? Perhaps it might be best to inquire into other possibilities first.
Allen told Colden that the managers had also decided to appoint a committee “with authority to employ a member of the Society as agent,” to proceed to Albany and explain to the legislators the objectives of the Society as well as its resources. Allen wanted to know what Colden thought of their plans.
For the time being, Colden decided to stay clear of the theater proposal. On February 1, the New York Statesman reported the following legislative item:
State Senate, Albany, New York
Thurs., January 27, 1825.
Mr. Colden, from the judiciary committee to whom had been referred the memorial of the Society in New York, for the reformation of juvenile delinquents, praying for the legislative aid, reported a bill allowing said society $2,000 annually, out of the tax levied on incorporated companies in that city.22
On March 2, the bill was read for a third time and passed. On April 9, it became a law. The annual payments were to begin in May and continue over a period of five years.
The managers could relax somewhat now that they had received at least a modicum of state support. The passage of the bill represented a steady, although small, source of income during the period in which the Society needed it most.
The patrician Colden, working in a more relaxed political milieu, had thus been able to succeed where his less polished associate and the band of the Society had earlier failed. Allen, writing on behalf of the Board of Managers, congratulated Colden. The House of Refuge had reached another milestone: it had become a state-supported institution. Now that its foot was in the door of the public treasury, it would never again be removed.
In the fall of the year, just prior to the official dedication of the Refuge and the completion of its first year of operation, Governor Clinton visited the institution. The Governor’s sustained interest in their endeavors pleased the managers because they needed his influence to obtain additional financial support from the legislature. The Governors support by itself, however, was not enough; it had become clear to them that the support gained from the corporation tax would not be sufficient to sustain them. They felt that they needed to so some spadework of their own. By a unanimous vote, the Acting Committee decided to send Peter Sharpe and Isaac Collins, two veterans of public life, to Albany, for the purpose of aiding the “application of the Society to the Legislature for a Grant of additional funds to support and continue the House of Refuge, and that they be authorized to adopt such measures as they deem proper to effect the object applied for.”23 Equipping the two men with carte blanche lobbying power, the Society counted upon them to bring home the needed support from the assembly. The managers hoped to receive assistance from their own in the Albany senate. There, the Society possessed the support of the capable Colden, the Society’s president. They felt that Colden could secure appropriate legislative activity during the coming winter.
The managers also relied upon the publication of their first annual report to produce a good effect and worked hard to get it published before the end of the year. To prepare the document, they chose Professor John Griscom, the most experienced writer of the group and the only one, with the exception of Thomas Eddy, who possessed considerable familiarity with reformatory discipline.
Although tremendously busy with his newly instituted monitorial high school, which had been officially dedicated on February 28, Professor Griscom once again concentrated his talents on furthering the House of Refuge.24 His chief task was to demonstrate the positive effect of the institution on the city’s problem. For this, he needed official support. Hugh Maxwell, the Tammany politician, agreed to supply it. Maxwell, writing to Griscom in his official capacity as District Attorney, gave a complete vote of confidence to the new establishment.
According to Maxwell, the House of Refuge already had exerted “a most benign influence in diminishing the number of juvenile delinquents.”25 He felt that the presence of the institution had considerably eased his own task and that of all the city officials. Before, the courts had been reluctant to sentence depraved youngsters. Juvenile crime had consequently continued to grow without a check. Now, Maxwell maintained, objections to juvenile imprisonment could be waved aside; the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, as far as he was concerned, had rendered a great service to the cause of justice.
In their campaign to keep the House of Refuge before the public eye, the dedication of the new building also served the Society. Once again, they could bring the institution before the eyes of both New York State and New York City officials. The Acting Committee invited senators, assemblymen, and corporation officials to the ceremonies on Christmas Day.
The occasion proved to be a success. Although drizzling rain was falling outside, the venerable Reverend John Stanford, at first apprehensive, finally warmed himself to the task and delivered an eloquent oration. The throng of influential citizens before Stanford testified to the community support which he himself had hitherto been unable to mobilize. The new year, so it appeared, held considerable promise for the House of Refuge. The gathering acclaim accorded the institution, plus efficient political maneuvering in Albany, promoted the Society’s program beyond initial expectations. On December 29, De Witt Clinton met again with Cadwallader Colden, and on January 3 Clinton delivered his annual message before the assembly. In this speech, the Governor rendered the highest possible praise to the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents. He described the Refuge as the “best penitentiary institution which has ever been devised by the wit, and established by the beneficence of man.”26 He recommended the extension of the Refuge system to all parts of the state, that the same preserving, reclaiming, and reforming effects would be correspondingly experienced.
Given this valuable assist by the Governor, the managers pressed their advantage in all quarters. Seeking favor with the non-Clintonian faction, Isaac Collins, writing from Albany, requested John Pintard to compose an article for insertion in Noah’s Advocate, one of the most influential Democratic papers in the state. Pintard cheerfully complied. “Incapable of rendering personal, & but small pecuniary services to our benevolent institutions,” Pintard felt that the work of his pen might prove to be his greatest contribution.27 The writing of such an article, however, presented certain difficulties. Pintard told his daughter that so much had been written on the House of Refuge that its very mention seemed “trite”; it was “hardly possible,” he argued, “to present it in a new light.”
Trite or not, publicity paid its way. On January 28, 1826, the state legislature passed an act recognizing the House of Refuge as the official reformatory for juveniles in the state of New York. Any children under the age of sixteen, “convicted of criminal offenses in any city or county of this State,” instead of being sent to the state prison were henceforward deemed “proper subjects” of the New York House of Refuge.28 In the same enactment, the state legislature allotted the surplus funds from the Marine Hospital Fund to be “expended by the said Society, in the erection of a House of Refuge for female juvenile delinquents.”
The managers rejoiced. The granting of surplus Marine Hospital funds meant an initial grant of $13,000. This sum was enough, they felt, for a very good female reformatory. Also, the continued use of the surplus meant a probable annual accession of at least $10,000. The Society’s prospects seemed well on the way to success.