The 19th century “Home for the Friendless”

 The New York Magdalene Asylum. The Midnight Mission. The Home for Little Wanderers.

Nineteenth century New Yorkers built scores of private charitable institutions, each serving a different group in need—and with a different grimly illustrious name.

One of those was the Home for the Friendless. Constructed by the American Female Guardian Society in 1847, the home’s mission was “to protect, befriend, and train to virtue and usefulness those to whom no one seemed to have thought or pity,” according to King’s Handbook of New York City, published in 1892.

Basically the home took in orphaned and homeless girls as well as boys under age 11. And between all the deadly illnesses, tough work conditions, and disasters back then, there were lots of them.

Located on 30th Street between Madison and Park Avenue South (above, from Impressions of New York), the home “received and cared for [children] until they could be placed in Christian homes.”

Right, a photo of the Home’s chapel on East 29th Street

In 1891, the home had 446 “inmates,” as they were called then. The Society moved the home to the Bronx in 1901, and in 1974, they merged with another charity in New York State.

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49 Responses to “The 19th century “Home for the Friendless””

  1. petey Says:

    (psst – the second pic, when opened, is upside down)

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I know, I keep trying to fix it and it insists on turning around…

  3. aidel Says:

    The first representation in particular looks like pretty nice digs for the friendless/homeless. I wonder how the children were treated. I also wonder if anyone is able to trace their history back to a grandparent who grew up in one of these homes.

    • Carolyn Greene Says:

      My Grandfather James Neal was in this orphanage when he was a child. His Mother had died and his Father could no longer keep him or his two brothers. They had a sister that had passed away.
      The boys were put on an orphan train. They eventually ended up in Boone County Missouri. Even though they were seperated as children, they somehow kept in touch and grew old together.
      I have all of the records from the family and personally traced their beginnings with help from my Grandfather before he passed away.

      • Wallace Burrus Says:


        can you please contact me… I am also descendant of one of the Neal brothers (James)


      • wallaceburrus Says:


        I am in constant communication with Linda. Although I know nothing about him, James Neal was my great grandfather. Helen Neal (believe she is your aunt) was my grandmother


      • Wallace Burrus Says:


        Please contact me as I would love to get copies of what you have.

        Wallace Burrus

      • Laurie Downs Says:

        My Husbands Grandfather was adopted from Woman Guardian society /Home of the friendless in 1874. He was less than a year old. On the paperwork which was an indenture paper with the word Indenture crossed out and the word adoption put in. His name on the papers gave the name Charles Hope, I’m not sure if he was a real Hope or the name they gave him. A few years later a sister was adopted from the same place.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Yeah, makes you wonder how the friendless kids fared inside. And what the homes they were matched with eventually were like.

  5. Ann May Says:

    I recently discovered that my grandmother was listed as a resident (inmate) at this home. I found this in the 1900 census. I am trying to find info about her parents (German immigrants) who must have died around 1899 – 1900. She was 20 years old and went to Texas 5 years later and married my grandfather. I would love to see any vital statistics records of these residents.

    • Lynn Says:

      Please write to me if you had a loved one living there in the past. I am doing research on this place. Thanks so much.

      • ken smith Says:

        Hello….my father was placed here in 1913 at age 3 by his mother Anna Smith….his name was Harry R. Smith….and lived there until he was 17….I don’t know much about his childhood….he died in 1968….if you have any info. I would really appreciate it….thanks! Kenneth A. Smith
        Penfield NY

      • Ann LaBeau Says:

        My father also spoke (rarely) about being in the home for the Friendless. Is there a way to get the names and dates, possibly circumstances for placement in the home. I am currently writing a novel about my father’s life and have no details on this part. Only the name. He was born in 1899 and since they only took boys up to age 11 I feel it had to be around 1902 thru 19011. At 11 he was placed on the orphan train. Any help would certainly be appreciated.

      • Doug Milliken Says:

        Lynn, my great grandmother was placed there. She was born in 1848 and adopted out in 1852 to a wonderful family in Lockport, NY. She had a good life. If you are interested I have written reports about her life that I could forward to you. Reply and we can exchange e-mail addresses.

        Doug Milliken

  6. addie Says:

    I love the names they give these places! Home For the Friendless! lol

    Remember a, pregnant, Lucy Joining, Friends of the Friendless? She marched right in to the Tropicana Singing the organizations song, with other members.
    Great episode.

  7. Jackie Engstrom Says:

    Just discovered that my great grandmother may have been an inmate in 1860 when she was 7 years old. Don’t know what her story was getting there or during her stay there. In 1870 she was married to my great-grandfather, Henry V. Leaycraft in NYC. I am trying to learn as much as possible about their stories.

  8. jennine belcher Says:

    I have a pencil drawing of this place it looks old. The signature on the drawing is H Clay Robinson i was wondering if anyone new who he was.

  9. jennine belcher Says:

    Wrong name sorry lol the name is H Clay carpenter. It is a pencil drawing and it looks very old. thank you

  10. Lois Doyle Says:

    My grandmother, Ethel Kitchner, and two of her brothers were sent there when they were all under the age of 7 (1920). She never spoke of it to anyone. My dad never knew of a third brother that seems to have disappeared between 1917 and 1920.

  11. Jen Says:

    do you know where this home was located? The 1870 census has it in Ward 21, District 17. I am reseaching a Arthur C. Seal who was listed there is 1870 at 8 years old. There are two other Seal children, John age 10 and Mary age 5…they may be siblings. Am wondering who were the parents and what happened to them?

    • Linda Says:

      How does one find this in the census? I am clueless!

      • Jen Says:

        We I pay subscription, but it may be available somewhere else.

      • Linda Says:

        I have,too, but exactly how can I access a person in my family who was “adopted” at age 14 in 1863 from this institution and later became my g-grandmother? When I search on her name the 1860 (or earlier) census does not come up. Maybe she wasn’t there then. By 1870 she is married, living in Connecticut. Thanks for your response.
        Good luck in your search. Google brings up some history of the locations.

      • Jen Says:

        Quite possibly she wasn’t there in 1860, I have a feeling they probably didn’t stay long before being adopted out. No luck in 1860 with a family? Was she born in the US? Possibly immigrated with family and they got here and had to put the child there for financial reasons? Just guessing

      • Linda Says:

        Her name was Jennie Thring, born in New York, 1849. Subsequent 1925 Iowa state census names parents as Fredric and Mary, both born in England. I’m following up on a suggestion from this list and contacting the Children’s Aid Society in NY to see if they know where the old records might be. I have her indenture papers – very interesting reading. Thanks for your thoughts…

  12. wildnewyork Says:

    This article might help; it lists a couple of different homes run by the Female Guardian Society

  13. LeeAnn Says:

    Searching my family tree I recently found by great uncles, Hubert and Edward Burr in the American Female Guardian Society and Home of the Friendless in Bronx, NY in the 1915 NY State Census. In 1915 Hubert was 8 and Edward was 10. Don’t know how long they were there. What I find surprising is that the family lived in Troy, NY. They probably were put there because they were the youngest of 7 children of by Great Grandmother who was a widow.

  14. Mindy Trummel Says:

    My husband’s grandfather was placed on an “Orphan Train” in NYC in November 1881, by the Home for the Friendless, with a Bible inscribed “When your mother and father forsake thee, then the Lord will take you up”. He was sent to a farming community in Hamburg Iowa. His name was Lewis Sailor. I wonder how I can get any more information about him?

  15. Cathy Says:

    My great grandmother’s youngest brother died here in infancy in 1881. Her father had died the year before, and her mother had three young children and was pregnant with the fourth. He died of measles and bronchitis, according to the death certificate. So sad. She apparently kept her other children, but I wonder why she decided to give this one up. I’m sure things must have been tough for her. She did remarry in 1886 to a much older man probably in the hopes of making her life a little easier, but she died of tuberculosis at age 54. What a tragic life!

  16. Sallyjune Kuka Says:

    Does anyone know where the records for this home might be? I think my grandmother was there temporarily (in 1900). By 1910 she was back with her family – one of the lucky ones!

    • Mindy Trummel Says:

      You might try the Children’s Aid Society, New York City, which still exists, and was responsible for sending orphans West, including those from other institutions. I am told they have some records.

    • orphantraindepot Says:

      I just ran across this thread on the Home for the Friendless. My name is Shaley and I am the curator of the National Orphan Train Complex. We hold the records for the American Female Guardian Society (AFGS) and their orphanage the Home for the Friendless. While not all records survived, a large collection did.

      If your ancestor has ties to the Children’s Aid Society of New York, I recommend contacting their archivist. If children were taken from the Home for the Friendless and placed out by the CAS usually a record of their time before and after placement was kept at the in the AFGS records as well.

      You can contact us at

  17. Jen Says:

    Linda, hope you have good luck, if you do lllet me know! Jen

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  21. Sandie Williams Says:

    I recently found out that my great grandfather and his sister were inmates at The Children’s Aide Society ~ Home of the Friendless in 1873/1874. The paperwork had Indenture crossed out and Adoption written in for Charles Hope’s adoption. It was supposedly out of the Bronx but the Society didn’t move to the Bronx until 1901, which doesn’t make sense. The adoption took place in 1873/1874. He was an infant and his sister, Ceola was 4 at the time. I was told that the name Hope was given by the adoption agency and may not be his real name. Is there anyway of finding this adoption???

    • wallace burrus Says:


      You can contact the Children’s Aid Society. All Orphan Train records are at the NY Historically Society by but if you can prove a relationship to one of the riders they will research the files and provide you information. I believe there may be a nominal fee.

      They’d have accepted my proof and are researching / compiling information for me on my Great great grandfather.


  22. Sandie Williams Says:

    Wallace ~ my great grandfather and his sister were adopted by a family on Eastern Long Island, NY. I haven’t seen the Indenture/adoption paperwork. But was told that the adoption took place in 1873/1874. Should I still contact the Children’s Aide Society? I don’t believe they were on the Orphan Train ~ as the Town they grew up in is about 75 miles east of NYC. Thank you Wallace. Any guidance is appreciated.

    • wallaceburrus Says:


      I would contact anyway to see what they say. If your ancestors were at the Home for the Friendless they were most likely involved


      • Sandie Williams Says:

        Thank you Wallace. I will definitely try!

      • Laurie Downs Says:

        Sandie Williams contacted me about this conversation.It was my Husbands Grandfather that was adopted not indentured from The Woman Guardian Society/Home of the Friendless In the Bronx.I have a receipt of a donation.I also have the paperwork which says adoption and has Indenture crossed out.He was a just under a year old which would have made him born in 1874 and adopted the same year.The adoption papers were found in a safe after the Death of my in-laws.
        He did NOT ride the train and according to what I was told when I made contact with the train and others over the 29 years of doing the tree, He was adopted after Indenture.
        His sister (adopted Sister) was Born in 1869 and wasn’t brought into the Family until she was 12 yrs old that would have been 1881. Rumor through my Mother in Law was that she was bio sister that the family went back and got, but that was never confirmed.
        I saw orphan train books where riders were listed but most were listed as boy age blah blah, infant etc..

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  24. David Skrabut Says:

    i have a bible from this place. that is free to anyone that had a relitive there.
    Presented by the HouseManagers to [the name was erased]
    April 5th 1887 Born Oct. 19 1876 H.M.Harris, Cor. Sec.

    • orphantraindepot Says:


      My name is Shaley George and I am the curator at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas. We hold the American Female Guardian Society Records (AFGS) in our collection. We provide research, copies of the records and full transcriptions of the text to descendants of children who were once in the Home for the Friendless. If you still have the bible from the AFGS would you consider donating it to the museum? We would even just love images of the bible to add to the collection. Thanks!

      You can contact me at

    • Wallace Burrus Says:

      I am descendant of one of three brothers (Neal) sent from NYC to Missouri aboard the Orphan Trains. l would love to have this artifact.

      Please contact me at:

  25. cathy knebel Says:

    How do I go about getting information about my G Grandfathers adoption? I have the year and banes if his Mother and brother. (Brother was adopted into a different family) I am missing the boys fathers name. Don’t know if the mother was using her maiden name or married name. The last name is Elwood

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