At the coming session of the Legislature, this memorial will again be presented, with full belief that the help of the State will be granted by its guardians to those of its youth who are either neglected, corrupted, or abandoned by their natural protectors …
—Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, Twenty-Sixth Annual Report (1856).
VII. The Road to Albany (1827–54)
During the early years of the New York House of Refuge, its governing officials spent nearly as much time in politicking as in supervising their cherished reform. Increasingly, financial matters also dogged their steps. As early as 1827, the members of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents conducted an all-out campaign to preserve and enhance the prospects of their institution by appealing to the New York State Legislature. To some extent, the pattern of gaining support, which they established during the early years, would sustain itself throughout the rest of the antebellum period. Although numerous cities were establishing refuges elsewhere, New York City constituted the major example for the reform schools of the future.
During the winter of 1827, Isaac Collins, the astute Quaker publisher and long-time friend of the reformatory, took a large hand in preventing financial collapse. Collins’ first service came about through his discovery that one of the chief sources of Refuge income might be running dry. The Marine Fund, a surplus allotment taken from a New York City immigrant head tax, had been threatened by a decrease in the rate of immigration. Collins uncovered the unwelcome fact that the usual sum of $8,000 might soon be cut in half. The managers of the Refuge, hitherto confident of their financial support, were faced with a shrinking treasury and a reformatory full of youngsters. Collins and his colleagues decided that the time had come for a return to Albany.1
As always, the managers prepared the way for their appeal with a string of publications. In the Society’s Second Annual Report, Judge John T. Irving, a manager and founder of the institution, described the system of the House of Refuge in considerable detail, hoping thereby to inform his audience as to its worthiness. For those who did not know the details of Refuge discipline, Judge Irving spelled out the various means utilized by the Society to produce reformation among young delinquents:
- Constant employment
- Religious and moral instruction
- Allowance of food and clothing
- Space for exercise conducive to health
- Separation of the sexes
- Attendance upon the sick
In a special explanatory note on Employment, Judge Irving stressed the inclusion of labor for its “moral benefits,” not for the profit which might possibly be derived. “If the employment should be unproductive of such pecuniary profit, still the gain to the city and state will eventually prove considerable, from the reformation, and consequently the reduced number of offenders.”2 The managers preferred, of course, to train the youngsters in skills with which they could later make a living.
After stressing the positive aspects of Refuge discipline, Irving went on to list, in order of supposedly increasing severity, the variety of punishments awaiting youngsters who did not care to conform to reformatory life:
- Privation of play and exercise
- Send to bed supperless at sunset
- Bread and water, for breakfast, dinner, and supper
- Gruel without salt, for breakfast, dinner, and supper
- Camomile, boneset, or bitter herb tea, for breakfast, dinner, and supper
- Confinement in solitary cells
- Corporal punishment, if absolutely necessary, or if awarded by a jury of boys, and approved
- Fetters and handcuffs, only in extreme cases
Judge Irving’s list may have been aimed at assuring doubtful legislators that the Refuge management did not intend to run a soft institution where “excessive lenity” prevailed. His insistence on discipline and control mechanisms actually obscured some of the most ambitious work being carried on by the Refuge administration. All through 1827, the managers had applied themselves diligently to inaugurating an indenture system for the inmates. From the very beginning, they had subscribed to the view that a reliable indenture system would be the only means of successful after care for their charges. No matter how good the training received in the Refuge, the managers considered that all would be lost without the creation of a system whereby boys would be placed outside the institution under the care and surveillance of upstanding adults. The key ingredients of the indenture program would be that the children would learn good work habits and higher moral standards. Unfortunately, the whole program hinged on the type of place which the managers could secure for the inmates.
In their initial approach to the problem of finding suitable places, the managers thought of seafaring. Surely, the life of a sailor, with its self-imposed rigors and bracing environment, the managers reasoned, would remove the taint of city life. Alderman Wyckoff, one of the managers, went to see Commodore Chauncy “to ascertain whether some of the larger boys could be put in the Navy”; William Mott and Joseph Curtis conferred with Nantucket whalemen.3
Mott and Curtis brought back results. Making a deal with Captain James Coleman of Nantucket, they agreed to pay twenty dollars “a head for every boy for whom he procured a birth [sic].”4 The money would cover expenses of conveying and caring for the boy until he finally shipped on board. Parental approval would, of course, be granted before any of the boys were shipped.
Acting on the theory that their work would be undone if any of the youths were to return to the city as apprentices, the environment from which many of them had sprung, the managers decided not to indenture any of the children within New York City. Some of the children managed to stay in the city, but most of them got indentured far from its boundaries. Starting a westward migration of their own, the managers sent children as far inland as possible. The rigors of frontier life, according to the managers, would be sure to scrub off the dirt of the city.
When they heard good news from the west, Refuge officials felt as if they had really achieved something. In 1827, an Ohio judge gladdened their hearts by describing the progress of a boy sent to him well over a year before.
He proves to be one of the finest lads I ever saw. He improves at school faster than any child in the neighborhood and his School Master says he is the most attentive student he has. If he continues as he has done I will give him a good education.5
The power of indenture control and indefinite sentence proved to be an ace card in the managers’ hands. People who understood the workings of penal reform felt that this guarantee of extended surveillance, an innovation which the farsighted Thomas Eddy had inserted into the workings of the institution, meant the difference between success and failure. Edward Livingston, the leading American authority on penal theory, congratulated the managers on the whole indenture system. They had proved to his satisfaction that the provision of work and the removal of youngsters from criminal environment, together with longterm control, could work wonders.6
While the Acting Committee might have wished to devote and industriously apply most of their energies toward perfecting the indenture system, they had to spend an increasing amount of time on security measures. The problem of escapes and internal order worried the managers. Without it, they could not count on receiving financial support from the legislature and elsewhere. The managers realized that they needed to maintain an external image of order and stability.
Sticking to the more rigorous regime which they had adopted after Superintendent Joseph Curtis had run aground, the managers decided to curtail privileges formerly extended to youngsters. Trusted inmates who had been allowed to visit their parents and friends in the city had so “disgraced the Institution by gross misconduct while absent,” that the managers prohibited any further unsupervised furloughs.7
The managers also tightened their control over discharges. In the beginning of 1827, the Acting Committee announced that “no child [could] be discharged from the Refuge by the Superintendent, without a written order from the Sub-Committee.”8 They shuddered at the thought of unreformed youngsters running around sullying the public image of the institution, especially when the time had come for another financial appeal.
When Superintendent Hart asked the Acting Committee to reconsider their ruling on privileges for trusted inmates and requested that his “Guard,” a detail of trusted inmates selected to keep watch along with regular staff of the institution, be allowed to have “the privilege of an occasional walk and to go to the River to bathe, under the care of one man,” the Committee put the matter to a vote. They decided that the “Guard” would remain inside and so would the inmates.9
During the first few years of its operation, the managers of the Society seemed to spend the majority of their time deliberating over the problem of making the House of Refuge escape-proof. Although they never really solved the problem as long as the institution remained in the city, the managers periodically added more gratings to the windows and raised the wall a few more feet.
In running the institution, the managers also had to heed the complaints of the Ladies Visiting Committee. Although the ladies possessed no actual power of government, the managers paid constant attention to their suggestions. Without the ladies, they felt that their efforts would be sorely disadvantaged. They totally trusted the ladies’ evaluation of necessary adjustments in the female department.
The ladies made the preservation of virtue among the young females their ultimate concern. Consequently, they frowned on the use of children as messengers between the male and female departments. All sorts of harmful contact might be encouraged by this practice. The ladies declared that they thought “it highly improper, that there should be any intercourse in the way of errands between the boys and girls.”10 If errands needed to be run, the ladies felt that superintendents and assistants should perform the function.
The ladies had other objections as well. They did not approve of having the girls cook for the boys. Also, they thought the “nail factory” an unsuitable place for young females. How could the girls become refined and gentle in such a raucous atmosphere? They had no objection, however, to the girls doing all the washing, ironing, and sewing. The managers sought to conform to the wishes of the ladies. So as to “prevent all intercourse between Boys and Girls in the House of Refuge,”11 they altered and rearranged the bakeshop and storehouse.
For some reason, the girls, despite their smaller number, posed far greater problems than the boys. Occasionally the ladies, wearied from their attempts to mold stubborn vixens into placid and docile young ladies, wondered if it were worth the bother. One lady, gritting her teeth, denied that the abandoned little creatures could possibly have any feeling. Yet, she declared, “we must still persevere, remembering how ignorant they are, and what depraved Parents they have—taught indeed in the School of Vice.”12
Although the ladies generally adopted an attitude of resignation about the girls and made the best of their struggles, they sometimes gave up in disgust. After wrestling with the morals of a determined young wench named Ann for over a year, they finally decided that there was “no hope of reformation.” Her “awfully debased principles and vile character” poisoned those about her, and she should be removed at once. The managers did not dismiss Ann immediately, but rather, she paid a penalty for her impudence. The Superintendent delivered a number of “stripes” to remind her, in the future, to show respect to the ladies.13
Superintendent Hart handled another girl, an inveterate fibber by nature, in a different manner. Pinning a badge marked “Liar” on the girl, he hoped to impress all her friends of the dreadful imprint of the sin.14
Once in a while, the ladies thought they saw a glimmer of piety in their charges. In the middle of November, 1827, there appeared to be a kind of revival in progress among the girls. “The Matron has not had occasion to find fault with more than 2 during the past week,” one of the ladies ecstatically reported. A week later, however, the excitement died down. Although three of the worst girls were interrogated on the subject of religion and appeared to be “very tender … and as far as we can judge sincere,” the ladies themselves were not entirely convinced. After listening to the girls recite 180 verses of Scripture, the ladies conjectured that only the future would tell whether or not religion meant anything in the lives of the young women.15
Printer Matthew Carey of Philadelphia, an ardent pamphleteer for the poor, would have declared that the blame for the unruliness of the girls could be attributed to American Society. What could be the destiny of the poor girl? Where was there a place for the industrious young woman of no background? “It is hideous,” Carey declared, “that in our country, ‘overflowing with milk and honey’ women should be driven to prostitution, ‘by the lowness of wages & the absolute impossibility of procuring the necessaries of life by honest industry’ & degrading applications … made to hundreds of overgrown wealthy people.”16 When he addressed a pamphlet “To the Humane and Charitable” on the subject of providing support for impoverished seamstresses and laboring women, however, he received only $77.00 in donations, five of which came from New York City with its population of 200,000 people. The poor young woman’s plight obviously moved few people.
Besides their concern over the girls, health problems intruded upon the managers’ time. Ophthalmia, the disease of sore eyes, and scrofula, a prevalent skin disease, appeared soon after the Refuge opened and plagued the institution for many years. By 1830, the number of inmates infected had increased sufficiently to cause the managers to wonder whether or not the whole Refuge might soon be contaminated. Taking steps to combat the disease, the managers renovated a portion of the building for a permanent infirmary.
Cholera and smallpox also harassed the Refuge officials. In October 1, 1830, Superintendent Hart admitted a youngster named Timothy to the institution. Three weeks later, smallpox broke out in Timothy’s body. The officers rushed him to the almshouse hospital and vaccinated the rest of the inmates.17 The addition of pure water from the Croton Reservoir, which had been obtained through the assistance of manager Stephen Allen, who headed the Water Commission, helped somewhat in the future reduction of fever-type diseases. As long as the Refuge remained in the vicinity of the “blood dock,” however, the doctors expected that the Refuge would be infested with the city’s epidemics.
Much of the time the managers occupied themselves with more promising tasks. In keeping with their public promises, they tried to give the children the best education possible. While they did not choose to keep the youngsters in school for particularly long periods, they tried to give them as much education in the time allotted as seemed proper. De Beaumont and De Tocqueville, the two young French commissioners visiting American prisons, were amazed at the educational feats accomplished in the little time made available. As they observed the boys being taught under the customary Lancasterian method, the Frenchmen marveled over the “restless, adventurous” young minds.18 De Beaumont and De Tocqueville, though representing the aristocratic point of view, were sensitive to the abilities apparent in the lower class youths. Some of the zest for learning, observed the young Frenchmen, came from the youngsters’ peculiar circumstances. When a child had been forced to live by his wits since birth, he might well develop a “facility for learning.”
It was clear that by 1830, the managers had gained control of the major elements in their system. The leadership and control aspect had stabilized under the direction of Superintendent Hart, and the presence of a two-foot-thick wall, plus increased security, insured a check control for the time being. Also, considerable effort in the areas of indenture and education had begun to pay dividends in successful adaptations to life on the part of a number of inmates.19 The internal success of their program, however, could not have been achieved without considerable effort spent on securing financial and administrative support from various levels of government. During the period from 1827 to 1831, the managers of the Society wore a noticeable path in the road to Albany. Without their efforts to gain public support, the program would most likely have foundered because of inadequate financial resources.
The managers knew that if they wanted increased financial aid, they would have to do more than put out reports, perfect their program, and tighten controls within their institution. If they were to gain influence, they must court it. In the summer of 1828, the Society began a drive to get public officials to tour the Refuge. The senate, meeting in New York at the Court of Errors, became the first to visit the premises. Next, Governor-elect Martin Van Buren arrived. A week after his visit, the New York City delegation to the state legislature arrived. On the first month of the new year, the Mayor, members of the common council, and the police magistrates all trooped into the Refuge to inspect its program.
Since Governor Van Buren remained in office for a very short time, the managers had timed their moves extremely well. In his first and only annual message to the legislature, Van Buren delivered an accolade to the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents and directed the attention of the legislature to the Society’s forthcoming appeal.
The nature of the relief, to be asked, is such as will enable the institution to conduct its operations with more stability and success, without, as the managers suppose, materially increasing the present allowance made by the State. I should do injustice to my convictions of duty, if I failed to recommend this praiseworthy establishment to the protecting care of the legisature. Permit me also to suggest for your consideration, the expediency of extending the system throughout the State, under such modifications as may be thought proper.20
Sitting before the Governor, Stephen Allen and John Hyde, both members of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, were conveniently located to carry out both his and their expectations. All through February and March, communications flowed between Albany and New York City.
On March 23, Hyde wrote to Cadwallader Colden, still president of the Society, that work was progressing to get a clause inserted in the ninth section of the proposed Refuge bill. If the bill passed with the clause in it, the Society could expect several thousand dollars a year more than through the straight appropriation. Hyde had not been able to convince the others, however. It was “uniformly conceded, that it would be less difficult to obtain a direct appropriation” for a smaller amount of money than a “conditional” allocation for a greater sum.21 With the changes, the bill came before the house. As Hyde had surmised, the assemblymen could not be relied upon—they balked on the ninth section. Although others scurried around trying to ready a proposed alternative to the section, Hyde privately confided his pessimism. The managers might as well expect a cut in the proposed funds. “I think all we can do, is to make it as unexceptionable as possible.” As for his part in the matter, Hyde confessed that he had done his utmost “to show the great impropriety of leaving such an institution to rest upon a contingency; and have urged the responsibility that must rest upon the Legislature, if the managers should be compelled to open their doors, and let the children go at large, for want of bread.”22
An assemblyman by the name of Dayton, an excitable but gifted speaker possessing no apparent connection with the Refuge, carried the fight for the bill on the floor of the assembly. Without his efforts, even the regular appropriation would have been eliminated. Stressing the preventive aspect of the institution to his fellow legislators, Dayton singled out the penitentiaries as places designed only to punish. In these places, the “novice in guilt” very likely became accomplished. The House of Refuge, on the other hand, could remold wayward urchins into model citizens. Would “any patriot philanthropist hesitate as to the propriety of making the paltry appropriation of three or four thousand dollars?”23 The House of Refuge, declared Dayton, actually saved money for the state. Without it, the youngster eventually ended up in a state prison, a permanent drag on the taxpayers.
If Dayton had needed substantiation for his statements, he could have called on Edward Livingston, the most eminent theorist on the subject in the United States. Livingston, in writing his famous Louisiana penal code, argued that “hardly a child” in the House of Refuge, “if left to the course which would bring him to it, would not finally be supported by the State as a convict.”24
Some of the upstate legislators argued that the House of Refuge was only a New York City institution, and they felt, therefore, that the city should pay for it. Dayton could not agree. New York State thrived on the commerce of the port city. Without her, the hinterland would be “a thick and lonely forest.” In fact, the city served as a repository for all the outcasts of the countryside. Few of the criminals and paupers sponging off New York City, contended Dayton, had been born there.
The opponents of the bill chose to bypass Dayton’s arguments. In their minds, a state expenditure was unwarranted. They called the House of Refuge a strictly “local” institution which had come into existence as one of those mixed blessings connected with an increase in population.25 Since very few youngsters from outside the city were confined within its walls, the city ought to pay for all of its maintenance. If the opponents of Refuge support had but known, they could have brought another argument, based on precedent, to bear. The state of Massachusetts had so far appropriated nothing for the Boston House of Reformation. To date, the city of Boston had carried the whole burden. Fortunately for the Refuge, the supporters were able to at least neutralize the opposition. Reaching a compromise, the legislators pared one thousand dollars from the appropriation and passed it on to the senate. There, in the restoring hands of a more sympathetic body of legislators, the assembly’s work was undone. Enos Throop, soon to be the governor of New York, reported the bill out of committee for an appropriation of $8,000, to be paid in quarterly installments from the surplus funds of the Marine Hospital revenue. This time, the senators attached a guarantee. If the surplus proved less than $8,000, the state would make up the difference from its treasury, Once again, with the help of astute political maneuvering, the managers of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents had apparently gained a financial victory.
To render them further support, the senators tacked on an additional excise tax of $1.50 on retail liquor licenses and a license fee on theaters and circuses of $500 and $250, respectively.26 The theater tax came as a moral victory for manager Stephen Allen. He had labored for three years in an effort to saddle the amusement palaces with a share of the burden for delinqeuncy. As he rose to introduce another piece of legislation, a bill “to prevent hawking and pedling [sic] in the City of New York,”27 his gruff exterior must have hidden an inward glow of pious contentment.
The new legislative enactments, however, did not mean that the Society’s treasury would suddenly become inundated. First, the tax moneys must be wrung from the hands of the New York City officials. When Cadwallader Colden inquired as to how to get the appropriated funds, which legally belonged to the Society, he met with a cool response. Alderman Seaman of New York City evaded the question. He had “little knowledge on the subject,” having never seen the law. Seaman could not say what course Colden ought to take to get the money, but he at least suggested that Colden contact the Mayor, “He no doubt will (if necessary) present it to the Board.”28 With this uncertain advice, Colden approached the mayor and the common council.
While Colden and the managers struggled to get the money due them out of the common council, summer turned to fall, and fall to winter. In the meantime, Governor Throop, replacing former Governor Van Buren, came before the state legislature. Positive that the Refuge had all the money it needed, Throop praised the managers and passed on to more urgent matters. He did not realize that, as yet, the managers had received no real financial support.
On April 16, 1830, the legislature passed its only enactment affecting the House of Refuge for the year. This, however, proved to be an unwelcome act. Since it raised the age for commitment to the Refuge to seventeen, the place soon became inundated with older convicts from the state prison. The politics of reform had suddenly become complicated for the Refuge leaders.
In spite of momentary discomfort to the managers in political and financial affairs, the institution seemed to be thriving. When De Beaumont and De Tocqueville visited the Refuge in 1831, they were impressed with its prospects. To them, the success of the American Refuge could be attributed partly to the combination of “individual charity” contributing to a “private institution” vested with “public authority.”29 With more freedom to act than publicly elected officials, the managers could appoint officers and run the institution as they saw fit. Perhaps the key to the eventual failure of the Boston House of Reformation rested in this difference. Boston public officials, free to tamper with the institution’s management, finally ruined it. Free in the sense which the two Frenchmen noted, the managers of the New York Society bypassed “individual charity,” going straight to public charity, without the restricion of state surveillancee.
The managers of the Refuge, however, could not agree that the matter was as simple as De Beaumount and De Tocqueville indicated. Harried by their efforts to collect the additional excise and theater taxes, the managers again approached the legislature. On April 21, 1831, the men in Albany complied, this time appropriating an annual amount of $4,000 out of the funds used to support the poor of New York City. Finally on a more firm footing, the managers could once again devote their energies to the internal management of their institution. After all, if the Refuge program floundered, they would lose all the gains so recently achieved.
While the members of the Society might have wished to devote themselves exclusively to managing the institution s internal concerns, its financial and political exigencies seldom allowed them to do so for long. In 1839, the year of removal from the original site to a new location at East River and Twenty-third Street, the managers needed all their energies to maintain their sources of support.
When the managers went to the legislative well in 1839, they found a new breed of politician in charge. William Henry Seward, an upstate man, occupied the governor s chair, and the Whig party dominated the scene. Governor Seward, who had the reputation of being a humanitarian reformer, seemed generally favorable toward the House of Refuge. In fact, in his annual messages, two petitions from the citizens of Monroe County “praying for the establishment of a house of refuge in the western part of the State,” got his open approval.30 His concern, however, for the Refuge was more a question of appearance than reality. Governor Seward’s sympathies, despite his repeated requests for a western House of Refuge, had little to do with the institution in New York City. Before he could develop any concern for it, the managers must first educate him. In 1839, in fact, he represented a potential foe.
Neither could the Refuge supporters count on total support from the New York State Legislature. In the winter of 1842, the managers suddenly became aware of a new legislative revolt against earlier actions which had provided important sources of income. Assemblyman George Weir, from the Standing Committee on State Prisons, threatened to strike at a major source of the Society’s income and a distinct part of the rehabilitation program. Weir, backed by a constituency of laborers and mechanics, challenged the right of state institutions to engage in contract labor. Contract labor, he contended, represented a direct threat to the welfare and wages of the free working men of the state. Weir introduced a bill to get rid of all contract labor in the various institutions.
If, as the bill read, “no … convict [was] to be taught the art or method of doing any kind or description of labor”31 other than mere maintenance, how could they continue the contract labor program in the House of Refuge? As it was, periodic economic depressions closed it down. If the bill went through, a goodly portion of the Refuge “discipline” would be eliminated. Not only would the boys go untrained, but a vital source of revenue would be cut off. The managers need not have worried, however, because Weir failed to gain any substantial support for the measure. The legislators were too bent on making their programs pay to worry about equity in economic wages.
But Weir was not through. By now a hated enemy of the Society, he next introduced a piece of legislation designed to repeal sections four and five of the 1829 act, thus striking at two other sources of Society income, the theaters and the circuses. Stephen Allen, incensed by the attack on his pet legislative enactment, dashed off a remonstrance to the legislators. Who could deny the just and righteous nature of these taxes? He invited one and all to come to the Refuge and see for themselves the “baleful effects” of frequent attendance in theaters and circuses.32 Once again, however, the managers had little to fear. Weir had blundered in presenting his evidence, and they could breathe easier; the legislators assured them that their sources of income would go untouched. This was an important factor for the fiscal stability of the Refuge enterprise. Although a boy’s labor might bring only nine to twelve cents a day, the year’s total could amount to as much as a quarter of the Refuge budget. During the same year in which Weir had conducted his campaign to eliminate contract labor, the Treasurer noted the following sources of income:33
|1. Children’s labor in worshops||$4,912.69|
|2. Marine Hospital Fund||8,000.00|
|3. Licences of Theaters and Circuses||2,800.00|
|4. Corporation of the City of New York (Excise Fund)||4,000.00|
|5. Legacy from the Estate of Archibald Campbell||1,202.23|
|6. Finance Committee||300.00|
During years of severe economic crises, the contribution of the contract labor system became very clear. Four years earlier, shortly after the onset of the major decline of 1837, the Refuge shops were totally closed down. Only $768.67 came in from the children’s labor, and the keepers of the Refuge experienced considerable “difficulty in controlling the subjects.”34 This, commented the manager, was a result to be expected when children were not constantly employed.
If the external situation remained prosperous, however, the Refuge could continue to sustain a relatively stable economic existence. Occasionally, a major expenditure, such as the $3,000 for the erection in 1843 of a twenty-two-foot-high wall to enclose a portion of new land, represented a large chunk of new money to be found, but most of the program could be covered under the continuing sources of funds.
Earlier obligations also created a strain on the Refuge’s financial reserves. In 1848, the United States government notified the managers of the long-standing debt represented in the original property transaction made in 1824. The Society had paid $2,000 at the time and had agreed to pay the remainder in installments. Unfortunately, their expenses had remained so high that they had let the item go. Now, twenty-four years later, the federal government wanted its money. Stephen Allen, still serving as president of the Society, wrote to Senator John A. Dix, a long-time friend of the Society who had aided them previously when he was in the state government. Allen informed Senator Dix that the Society was “in great trouble,” and urged the Senator to get Congress to remit the debt.35 At the same time, Allen wrote to Congressman Henry Nicholl, stating that the Society was “poor” and that since the property was of little value, the federal government ought to grant relief for the loan. In fact, the property had been considered so worthless that a United States Marshal at one time had returned a “no property found report.”36 From the transaction, Allen assumed that the matter had been closed, but found to his dismay that this was not the case.
In order to follow up Allen’s request, a delegation of the managers traveled to Washington to hold an audience with their congressmen. The delegation did not produce an immediate effect. Two months later, Allen again contacted Senator Dix, pleading that the Society was in a desperate state of “poverty.” Finances were “diminishing” and “subjects augmenting.” Allen felt that Dix would understand and lend his “cordial support” to the project.37 Finally, the congressman became convinced that the Refuge supporters were not easily dissuaded, and the United States government soon removed the debt.
Economic support had always posed a problem for Refuge officials. Although there were times in which the managers made no appeal for money to the various sectors of government, the situation never stabilized sufficiently to guarantee permanent solvency. The Society’s members had to maintain constant surveillance over their promised sources of income. Also, new needs arose to tax their treasury. By 1849, it had become clear to the managers that they were going to need a completely new facility. Their current plant did not begin to meet expanding needs. During the summer months, the Board had ordered the Superintendent to refrain from receiving any more inmates. The managers lamented that “while other Institutions, having in view, the same objects which we are endeavoring to accomplish, have been liberally provided for in these respects, this Institution, the most important of all, is left with the same provision originally made for its use.”38 The allusion to other institutions obviously referred to the new New York Juvenile Asylum being built in New York City and the recently completed Western House of Refuge in Rochester, New York.
At the close of 1850, the Board took further drastic action. John H. Gourlie, secretary of the Board, notified the courts of New York City and the sheriffs of twenty-eight counties that “doors of the boys’ department were, from necessity, closed against the proper subjects of its discipline.”39 The structure was simply inadequate for the problems of a rapidly increasing population. After considerable deliberation, the Board decided to build a new institution farther away from the densely populated areas of the city. Also, because of new street patterns being adopted by the city, the move had become essential. The city corporation had authorized the Board of Managers to sell the current buildings and use the proceeds to erect a new Refuge. In accordance with directives from the city, the Board initially purchased a portion of land on the southern tip of Ward’s Island, a site opposite 102nd Street. The Society did not, of course, possess sufficient funds to build the new edifice. They applied to the state legislature for aid and were initially turned down, but they kept at it until June, 1851, when the legislators granted a sum of $50,000. With the added incentive of state money and a desire to be a bit more grandiose in their planning, the managers decided to relinquish the Ward’s Island location in favor of a larger site of approximately twenty-five acres on Randall’s Island. The location was even further removed from the center of the city than Ward’s Island had been.
The enlarged version of the Refuge proved to be more costly than the managers had originally planned. Grading alone amounted to $20,000, and when they let out a contract for the main edifice, the price came to $165,819. Near the end of 1852, Robert Kelly, Stephen Allen’s successor in Tammany Hall, as well as the presidency of the Society in the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, appealed to Governor Horatio Seymour for financial support to construct a building for at least one thousand inmates. The new system, with “complete classification and separation” would insure that the “comparatively innocent will be protected from the contamination of the more hardened and the discipline of the establishment exercised more effectively upon all.”40 Governor Symour owed a large amount of his downstate political support to Kelly, who had also served as chairman of the general committee of Tammany. He, of course, was glad to comply with Kelly’s request. Two years later, at the opening of the new building, the Society could claim to be the beneficiary of $125,000 in state funds. The connection between two leading Democrats proved useful for furthering the Refuge plan.
The large amount contributed by the New York State Legislature testified to the increasing public character of the institution. As the population had grown and as the financial support had grown larger, the quasi-public character of the relationship between the Society and the various units of government had become increasingly apparent. Speaking on November 24, 1852, to a large audience at the laying of the new building’s cornerstone, Robert Kelly felt it necessary to state that the Society was “a private corporation, employed by the State as the caretaker, educator, and reformer of its juvenile vagrants and offenders.”41 Yet, even though it was a private corporation, Kelly felt that it was “under the control of the representatives of the people.” If the state wished, it could refuse to send delinquent children to the Refuge. Kelly wanted it made quite clear that the Society was an association of volunteers, “devoting themselves to a benevolent task, giving a full account of their action, accumulating a store of experience in their work, and continued in their trust until their services shall be no longer required.”
Exactly two years later, as he presided over the formal opening of the new building, Kelly again called attention to the Refuge as a combination of private, city, and state sectors. Kelly felt that the Refuge was a typical example of American genius in the area of voluntary philanthropy. “There are some charities,” he remarked, “which perhaps could not be conducted at all except under such a system.”42 Perhaps the success of the Refuge as a system could be attributed to the public spirit of the volunteers who manned its Board of Managers. Certainly, some of the financial success of the institution lay in their resourcefulness as procurers of public money, but their success in this area, no doubt, also hinged on the amount of influence which the leaders could exert upon Albany, as well as New York City and Washington, D.C. Without sound political connections within the legislative halls and the state house, the Refuge system would probably have floundered at several points. After the Civil War, the membership of the Board would begin to change its character and become increasingly more public, but for the antebellum period, the core of its support rested with a small number of influential citizens who maintained almost continuous communication with the State Capital. Although the private, city, and federal sectors provided some support for their cause, the basic source of economic support came from the managers’ connections with the state of New York. As the Refuge idea became duplicated elsewhere, even though the original economic and political auspices might be private and city, the emerging pattern of support clearly came from the various state governments.