School and shelter
for black children opened in 1836 by Mary Murray and Anna Shotwell.
It was managed solely by women for more than a century and attained
celebrity before the Civil War as a model institution. Fewer than
a third of the asylum's inmates were orphans, and about the age
of twelve most were returned to their parents or placed in positions
as farm laborers or domestic servants. After its building at 43rd
Street and 5th Avenue was destroyed by a mob during the draft riots
(1863) the asylum was rebuilt in 1867 at 143rd Street and Amsterdam
Avenue. In 1907 facilities were constructed in Riverdale according
to the "cottage plan," a reform of the Progressive era that reorganized
large, dehumanizing philanthropic institutions into campuses of
smaller, home-like "cottages." The first black member of the board
of directors was appointed in 1939, the first man in 1940. In 1944
the asylum was renamed the Riverdale Children's Association. After
a controversy over conditions in the orphanage was aired in the
press, it was decided in 1946 to discontinue institutional care
and concentrate on foster care and dispersed small-group settings.
The campus in Riverdale was sold to the Jewish Home for the Aged,
and the offices of the association moved with medical and dental
clinics to East 79th Street. In 1968 the association launched a
program to preserve families by providing referrals, counseling,
and other services rather than place children in foster care. It
moved to Riverside Drive and 168th Street, changing its name to
the Westside Center for Family Services. In March 1988 the Westside
Center merged with Harlem-Dowling Children's Services.
Street to Green Pastures: A History of the Colored Orphan Asylum
at Riverdale-on-Hudson, 1836-1936 (New York: Riverdale Children's
1836-1956 (New York: Riverdale Children's Association, 1956)
"Charity in Travail: Two Orphan Asylums for Blacks," New York
History 55 (1974), 55-77
"The Uses of Philanthropy: The Colored Orphan Asylum and Its Clients"
(thesis, Columbia University, 1990)