Caring for the East Village’s babies and derelicts

SaracurryIf you’ve spent any time on St. Marks Place between First and Second Avenues in the past year, you may have noticed that the block has been renamed Sara Curry Way.

Who was Sara Curry? This young transplant came to the city in the late 19th century and witnessed a tragic accident that strengthened her resolve to make working with poor children her life’s mission.

Born in Utica in 1863, Curry was orphaned as a child and went to work in a local factory.

There, she “studied the problems of other girls who worked long hours for a living,” her New York Times obituary noted. “In her spare time, she devoted her energies to helping them.”

SaracurrywaysignA wealthy New York City resident heard about her efforts to help working women upstate.

He arranged for Curry to come to New York in 1894 and help run a nursery for poor working mothers at the Mariner’s Temple, a circa-1795 Baptist Church on Henry Street.┬áThat led her to do missionary work in Chinatown with the disadvantaged, and then, in 1896, her true calling.

“One day, on seeing a child crushed by a truck, she resolved to devote her life mainly to children,” stated the Times. ┬áThe child was one of thousands of “street Arabs” who roamed the city in the late 19th century, because their parents worked or they had no homes to go to.

Littlemissionarysdaynursery2014“With only enough money to pay a month’s rent and immediate necessities, she rented a room at 204 Avenue C, which became her first nursery, and in it she cared for a dozen babies.”

In 1901, the nursery, now funded by benefactors, moved to larger quarters at 93 St. Marks Place, the heart of the city’s Kleindeutschland. There, Curry helped care for 200 children of poor mothers who had to work and had no safe place to bring their young children.

Called the Little Missionary’s Day Nursery , it was an homage to Curry’s small stature and nickname “Little Angel of the Missions.”

“Miss Curry never lost sight of social conditions in the children’s background, wrote the Times.

“She made thousands of visits to their parents, visited the sick, served Thanksgiving dinner by the hundreds.”

Littlemissionarysgoodhousekeeping

Sara Curry died in 1940. But her nursery school still exists on St. Marks Place.

[Top photo: Little Missionary's Day Nursery; bottom: Good Housekeeping, 1904]

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2 Responses to “Caring for the East Village’s babies and derelicts”

  1. Bookpod Says:

    One can’t help but wonder if an individual today could enact the sort of social reforms Sara Curry did. She and the other late 19th- and early 20th-century women practically moved mountains, didn’t they?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I completely agree–there were many women, now lost to history, who helped enact similar social changes, and this in an era without city- or state-backed social services.

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