New York Foundling

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The current headquarters of The New York Foundling.

The New York Foundling, founded in 1869 by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, is one of New York City’s oldest and largest child welfare agencies. The Foundling operates programs in the five boroughs of New York City, Rockland County, and Puerto Rico. Its services include foster care, adoptions, and other community-based services for families.


The Foundling Asylum (1869–1881)[edit]

A wave of very poor immigrants and social disruption were among the many social conditions that led to an epidemic of infanticide during the late 1860s. In reaction, Sister Irene Fitzgibbons, Founding Sister of The New York Foundling, placed a white wicker cradle on the doorstep of a small rented house she called "The Foundling Asylum" at 17 East 12th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, with the goal of receiving and caring for unwanted children and those whose parents could not properly care for them. The first abandoned baby arrived on October 11, 1869,[1] and 45 more babies followed in that first month. The need for this type of service was confirmed by the 126 babies that were left by January 1, 1870. After two years, The Foundling had accepted 2,500 babies. The New-York Historical Society has a collection of the notes left with the abandoned babies,[2] which is part of a larger collection of historic photographs of the Foundling maintained by the Society.[3]

As the number of babies left increased and the children already in their care grew older, the Sisters of Charity moved to a larger building and began participating in a social program that placed children with approved families in various rural regions of the United States. Parishioners in the destination regions were asked to accept children, and parish priests provided applications to approved families. This practice was first known as the "Baby Train", then later the "Orphan Train." By the 1910s 1,000 children a year were placed with new families.[4]

The Foundling Hospital (1880–1957)[edit]

Sister Irene and children, 1888

In response to an increasing need for skilled medical and nursing care for mothers and children, The New York Foundling began providing health services in addition to social services, changing its name to The New York Foundling Hospital to more accurately reflect its services.

Among its medical programs was St. Ann’s Hospital (opened 1880), which provided unmarried mothers with medical treatment; and St. John’s Hospital for Sick Children (1881), which was at the forefront of developing pediatric practices and approaches to caring for children in a hospital setting. The practice of intubation was invented by Founding Hospital staff member Dr. Joseph O'Dwyer.[5] This method of keeping airways open saved thousands of children[6] from the life-threatening disease diphtheria, an epidemic at the time. Beginning in 1945, The Foundling also operated a developmental clinic to observe, examine and analyze the developmental norms for young children. The clinic became a learning center for students from New York City area medical schools, nursing schools and psychology departments. These programs were the beginning of, and were subsequently incorporated into, what became Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.

While The Foundling provided medical treatment in addition to adoption and support services for mothers-in-need, it wasn’t until the 1930s that a Social Service department was established to assist those who could not properly care for their children.

Programs, services and initiatives[edit]

Foster care and adoption[edit]

As one of the City’s largest and most highly regarded foster care service providers,[7] The New York Foundling is responsible for more than 1,400 children who are living in individual and specialized foster boarding homes or in group residential settings. Each year, more than 120 of The Foundling’s foster parents adopt their foster children. Prospective parents are carefully screened to ensure the best interests of the child.

Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection[edit]

The Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection was founded in 1998 by Doctor Vincent J. Fontana, who served as medical director of The Foundling for over 40 years. The Fontana Center is dedicated to furthering the understanding and detection of child abuse and neglect, and to teaching prevention and treatment.

Mott Haven Academy Charter School[edit]

In 2008, The Foundling opened the Mott Haven Academy Charter School. Haven Academy opened with 90 students in kindergarten and first grade, and is expected to eventually serve 314 students in grades K-8. Haven Academy was designed to meet the needs of at-risk students currently in the foster care and child welfare system. The plan is to co-locate all of The Foundling’s Bronx-based community services into an academic complex with Haven Academy to integrate social services and the school's academic program. The school is currently operating at a temporary location (PS 43) in Mott Haven. During year two, the school will move to its permanent facility.

The New York Foundling today[edit]

The Foundling’s administrative headquarters are located at 590 Avenue of the Americas, in Chelsea. The building opened in 1988 and houses some Foundling programs such as providing a residence for young expectant mothers and those with infants as well as preventitive services for families who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Other Foundling programs operate directly out of the communities they serve throughout New York City and Rockland County, an approach highly encouraged by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.


  1. ^ "History", New York Foundling
  2. ^ "NY Foundling Hospital Volume 67". NY Foundling Hospital - Notes left with children. New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "New York Foundling Hospital Records". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Dianne Creagh, "The Baby Trains: Catholic Foster Care and Western Migration, 1873-1929," Journal of Social History (2012) 46#1 pp 197-218 online
  5. ^ Walsh, James Joseph. "Joseph O'Dwyer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 Jul. 2013
  6. ^ Richmond, J. F. New York and Its Institutions. New York: E.B. Treat, 1872.
  7. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Renée Wendinger. "Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York" an unabridged nonfiction resource book and pictorial history about the orphan trains. ISBN 978-0-615-29755-2
  • Renée Wendinger. "Last Train Home, an orphan train story" a historical novella describes the methods by which children were placed West by the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling following the lives of two children. Legendary Publications, 2014. ISBN 978-0-9913603-1-4
  • Dianne Creagh, "The Baby Trains: Catholic Foster Care and Western Migration, 1873-1929," Journal of Social History (2012) 46#1 pp 197–218 online
  • Martin Gottlieb. The Foundling: The Story of the New York Foundling Hospital (2001)
  • Carolee R. Inskeep. The New York Foundling Hospital: An Index to Its Federal, State, and Local Census Records, 1879-1925 (Baltimore, 1995)
  • Sisters of Charity. The New York Foundling Hospital: Its Foundress and Its Place in the Community (1944),

External links[edit]