Posts Tagged ‘children’s aid society’

The “Street Arabs” roaming Lower Manhattan

July 1, 2010

Urchins, gamins, Street Arabs—these were the tens of thousands of kids, mostly boys, who fended for themselves in the vast slums of post–Civil War New York City.

They slept in alleys and parks and made a living hawking newspapers and shining boots, congregating along Park Row, according to social reformer Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives:

“Whence this army of homeless boys? is a question often asked. The answer is supplied by the procession of mothers that go out and in at Police Headquarters the year round, inquiring for missing boys, often not until they have been gone for weeks and months, and then sometimes rather as a matter of decent form than from any real interest in the lad’s fate.”

Says one Street Arab Riis quotes:

“‘We wuz six,’ said an urchin of twelve or thirteen I came across in the Newsboys’ Lodging House, “and we ain’t got no father. Some on us had to go.’ And so he went, to make a living by blacking boots.”

[Photos by Jacob Riis, taken in the 1890s]

A home for orphan newsboys and bootblacks

December 11, 2008

In the late 19th century, thousands of kids lived on the streets of New York, many supporting themselves by selling newspapers, shining shoes, and doing other odd jobs—not all of them legal.

streetvagrant A tough life for a homeless little dude in the 1880s











It was a pretty dicey existence, so to help them survive, the newly formed Children’s Aid Society put up several privately financed lodging houses. Here, homeless boys and girls could get a hot meal and a warm bed, not to mention attend school, go to prayer sessions, and learn a trade.











This Victorian Gothic/Queen Anne building is the third lodging house the Society opened, called the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys and Industrial School. Constructed on Avenue B and 8th Street in 1886, it housed 71 boys, according to the 1870 census, most between 12 and 15.

The architect, Calvert Vaux, also designed Central Park. Vaux was committed to helping the poor and designed all of the Children’s Aid Society homes.


A lovely S next to the window commemorates Mrs. Robert L. Stuart, the benefactor of the home.

Over the years, about 170,000 street kids passed through all the different lodging houses. The Avenue B building didn’t house kids for long though. By 1910 it became a school only, and in 1925 was sold to a Jewish congregation. Vacant in the 1970s, it was turned into apartments in 1977, then landmarked in 2000.

An extensive history of the home and neighborhood can be found here.