The “orphan asylums” all over Manhattan

There sure were a lot of orphanages in Manhattan in the late 19th century. I counted 20 in King’s Handbook of New York City, from 1892.

Some were founded by nonsectarian organizations; others by religious orders.

All sound pretty heartbreaking—but at the time, they were progressive institutions where orphans and “half-orphans” could live, go to school, and learn a trade rather than fall victim to the streets.

The Hebrew Orphan Asylum (above), a colossal home on Amsterdam Avenue and 136th Street that housed 1,000 kids, opened in 1822.

It was “where Hebrew orphans and indigent boys and girls are sheltered and educated,” states King’s.

The Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum opened this home (right) for girls in 1870.It’s on Madison Avenue and 51st Street; the boys building is down the block at Fifth Avenue.

“In both the boys’ and girls’ departments, provision is made for the technical instruction of the inmates,” says King’s. “The work is carried on with a thoroughness which is characteristic of the Catholic Church in other directions.”

At right is a sketch of the St. Joseph’s Asylum, at 89th Street and what was then known as Avenue A (today’s York Avenue).

I think it’s the same orphanage called St. Ann’s Home for Destitute Children in King’s, as the address is the same.

King’s describes it as “a large and cheerful edifice with accommodations for nearly 300 inmates.”

Below is the third incarnation of the Colored Orphan Asylum, first opened in 1837 on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street.

The orphanage moved to bigger digs on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street—but that building was burned to the ground during the Draft Riots of 1863, one of the city’s most shameful moments. (None of the kids were hurt.)

The orphanage moved uptown to 143rd Street, shown here in 1874.

[All photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

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14 Responses to “The “orphan asylums” all over Manhattan”

  1. Sister Morphine Says:

    interesting that they are called inmates

    • petey Says:

      that word used to be more widely applied, even of hotel guests. eventually it was specialized to cover only prisoners

  2. petey Says:

    “King’s Handbook of New York City, from 1892.”


  3. aidel Says:

    Why did you take away the tweet button? My twitter followers loved my tweets from this blog.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I didn’t! It must be a wordpress thing.

  5. The eerie facade of a Yorkville orphanage chapel | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was the country at the time, an ideal place for an orphanage, of which there were many in the city at the time, typically run by a religious […]

  6. Diane McAuley Says:

    Is there a way to find out the names of the “inmates”? My grandfather said he was raised in a catholic orphanage in New York City but it was too painful to talk about so he never did and we know nothing about the first 11 years of his life. I have done lots of research, and have found out about the rest of his life, including a sister who went west on the Orphan train, but I cant find out where he was raised as a child.

    • Thomas Dean Says:

      My third Great Uncle’s children Margaret and Charlotte Finn were two of the over 750 children at the orphanage. They are listed as inmates in the 1905 NY State Census (accessed through A headmistrss, teachers, domestics and cooks were also listed as residing at St Joseph’s Orphanage.

  7. The eerie facade of a Yorkville orphanage chapel | News for New Yorkers Says:

    […] was the country at the time, an ideal place for an orphanage, of which there were many in the city at the time, typically run by a religious […]

  8. Thanksgiving at the new Colored Orphan Asylum | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] neither the image or the article hint at the terrible backstory of the Colored Orphan Asylum (unlike the captions on the second and third illustrations, both from the […]

  9. Abe Turetsky Says:

    What about the Israel Orphsan Asylum, where I grew up?

  10. The noble mission of a Victorian Gothic building on ‘depraved’ Sullivan Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] an era when options for street kids often meant the almshouse or an orphan asylum, homes and schools like these could be real […]

  11. Caroline (Dushey) Harary Says:

    I’d like some info. on the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. I and my 3 sisters were put in a Hebrew Orphanage in Brooklyn in 1941. Does anyone have information about the “Dushey” sisters. To my knowledge the orphanage only handled girls. In the hot summers we utilize an extention of the orphanage and stay in Far Rockaway. You can email me at

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