Posts Tagged ‘prison reform New York City’

An 1838 East Village townhouse’s radical history

November 10, 2014

When the handsome townhouse at 110 Second Avenue was built in 1838, Second Avenue was shaping up to be a posh residential street, with other Greek Revival homes going up alongside it for merchants and assorted wealthy New Yorkers.

Isaachopperhouse

An elite Second Avenue didn’t last long. By 1844 the merchant owner of the house declared bankruptcy, and after a few more owners and Second Avenue’s slide into a less respectable German immigrant enclave, the home was purchased by the Women’s Prison Association.

IsaachopperFormed in 1845, the Women’s Prison Association was one of the many benevolent organizations addressing social conditions in the 19th century city.

Group founders Isaac Hopper (left) and his daughter Abigail Hopper Gibbons (below) were already known as fervent abolitionists.

But they also took a strong interest in women’s prison reform, appalled by the conditions of female jails and the lack of support incarcerated women received once they were back in their communities.

AbigailhoppergibbonsAfter taking over the house in 1874, the group renamed it the Isaac T. Hopper house (he died in 1852) and turned it into the first halfway house ever for women who were newly released from prison.

“The home’s original mission was to rehabilitate these women by providing short-term shelter, religious counseling, domestic training in sewing and laundry work, and job placement,” states the Landmarks Preservation Commission report designating it a historic landmark.

“The aims of the management of the Home . . . is to prevent the recently liberated prisoners from falling back to their former evil courses, and to make an upright life easier for them,” explained King’s Handbook of New York, published in 1892.

Isaachopperhouseold“The privileges of the institution are free to the inmates, of whom their are about fifty.”

Throughout the 20th century, the home continued as a halfway house, quietly assisting hundreds of women per year.

It serves the same purpose today, an easy-to-miss house that’s undergone almost no remodeling since its 19th century beginning. It blends right into Second Avenue’s mix of bars and bodegas and tenements.

[Photo bottom left: via the Women’s Prison Association]