The Nursery and Child's Hospital

(Lexington avenue and Fifty-first street)
Among all the woes of this sorrowful world, perhaps none are more touching to consider or record than those endured by helpless, speechless childhood. If early years are well supplied with the appliances of life and culture, the privations, exposures,, and tempests of later years may be triumphantly borne; but neglect and misfortune in the morning of life, if not instantly fatal, may so extend their shadows as to sadden and ruin a noble existence. Many causes conspire to afflict childhood. Death robs many a bright- eyed child, in the earliest dawn of its existence, of her whose love and care can never be supplied. Its father may be at that instant on the Indian Ocean, in Asia, or on the Rocky Mountains. Poverty may drive the mother to give the food nature provided for her own infant to that of another; thus, to save herself from starvation, she half starves her child. Some mothers are insane, and some suffer with lingering illness, and are themselves conveyed to hospitals. Add to these the numberless illegitimate births, where shame for past crimes leads to the commission of another for its concealment, and we gain a faint conception of the ills the race encounters at the threshold of its existence. Reflections of this kind, particularly those of wet-nurses, compelled by want of subsistence to neglect their own babes and care for others, led to the founding of the " Nursery and Child's Hospital." And is it not eminently fitting that woman, to whom God in His providence has committed the race, and to whom He has given the finest susceptibilities for its culture, should be the founder and manager of this worthy Institution?

 Early in 1854 Mrs. Cornelius Du Bois, whose mind had become thoroughly imbued with this subject, undertook to interest her friends and the public in behalf of the infant children of the poor, and so successful were her endeavors, that on the 1st of March, less than a month from the time of beginning, a society was organized, with $10,000 subscribed to commence the enterprise. On the first day of the following May a building was opened in St. Mark's place, which was so soon filled that it was found necessary to add the house adjoining; but, the pressure for room still continuing, a more eligible building was secured on Sixth avenue, where the society carried on its work for two years.

The original intention was to provide a nursery for the infants of laboring women, and others deprived by any cause of their mothers. 'The design was to provide for healthy children, but unfortunately disease is not slow to march through the tender ranks of childhood, and it soon became apparent that, in order to the successful maintenance of a nursery, a hospital with physicians, nurses, and all needful appliances must be added. Every week the number of applications increased, and the managers soon became convinced that the limits hitherto assigned to their undertaking were not commensurate with the wants of the city, and that their borders must be greatly enlarged.

This could not be done without money. An application to the city authorities finally secured the permanent lease of a lot of land one hundred feet square on Fifty-first street, "between Lexington and Third avenues. The Legislature was appealed to in 1855, and again in 1857, and the sum of $10,000 was granted to aid in building. Several public entertainments and many private donations so swelled their building fund that they were permitted, in May, 1858, to complete a fine three-story brick building, at a cost of $28,000, The main building is sixty feet deep, with a front of one hundred and nineteen feet, with two wings of twenty- seven and forty feet, respectively. Up to this period no illegitimate children were admitted, but the large numbers they were compelled to refuse induced a deeper study into the necessities of these most wretched of all infants. The late Isaac Townsend, then one of the governors of the almshouse, was led to the careful consideration of the same subject, and came to the same conclusion, viz., that a foundling hospital should be established in New York.

In 1858 the Common Council appointed a select committee to examine and report on the expediency of founding such an Institution. The committee carefully examined the subject, conferred with eminent physicians, collected statistics, and reported in favor of such a Hospital. Their report showed that in one week, out of 503 deaths, no less than 107, or thirty- five per cent., were under one year of age, 54 being returned as still or premature births. But these published bills of mortality could not guess at the hundreds and thousands of cases known only to certain women and their physicians.

The annual report of the Police Department, the observations of thoughtful medical advisers, and others, proved that infanticide had become a widespread and appalling crime in American cities, and extended from the marble palace of Fifth avenue to the dingiest hovel on the island. It was believed that the establishment of foundling hospitals in the principal cities of Europe had prevented the extensive practice of child-murder in those countries. As early as 1670, Louis XIV. placed the Foundling Hospital of Paris on a common footing with the other hospitals of the city; and in 1778 a, lying-in asylum was established by Marie Antoinette. In 1739; Thomas Coram founded the London Foundling Hospital,, which has since been recognized as one of the most useful charities of England. In our country villages and towns where every one is known, infanticide is believed to be rare. Thence, many indiscreet girls and women, on pretence of a visit or an offered situation, have in the seclusion of a great city sought concealment, and there blackened their souls with infanticide. The statistics gathered in one instance showed that,, out of 195 cases, only 37 belonged to the city. Many young- girls are annually thrust from the homes of their parents on the discovery of their sad condition, some of whom enter as a last resort dens of infamy to run a brief career of crime, which terminates in an awful death; while others, whose desire for concealment is stronger than for life, are drawn from the water by our policemen, and described by the coroner. Through the unceasing exertions of Mrs. Du Bois, aided by the Common Council, a foundling hospital or " Infant Home " was erected in 1861.

It was a model building of its kind, constructed of brick and freestone, with three stories above a high basement, fronting on Lexington avenue, at the corner of Fifty-first street, and a little removed from the original Nursery and Hospital. About the time of its completion, yielding to the pressing demands of the hour, it was surrendered to the sick and disabled soldiers, who occupied it four years, but at the return of peace it was restored to its founders, and appropriated to the uses for which it had been erected. In October, 1865, it was formally opened for the reception of inmates.

Great inconvenience was experienced still for want of sufficient room, and from the separation of the two buildings. This led the enterprising managers, in 1868, to erect, at an expense of over thirty-one thousand dollars, a third building, covering the vacant space between the two former, the basement of which contains a play-room for the children, the rest being largely appropriated to a lying-in asylum. The buildings are now entirely completed and paid for. They contain fourteen wards, Besides suitable school, dining, and play rooms, and other needful apartments. The aim of the society is not to encourage vice, but Jo prevent it. Hence females seeking admission are required to furnish certificates from responsible parties, stating that until recently they have sustained virtuous characters. It opens its doors for the relief and recovery of unfortunates who have no other refuge in the wide world. Each woman admitted is required to nurse and care for one child besides her own, and if her child dies, to nurse two during her stay. On leaving she receives a certificate of recommendation from the managers and house physician, which usually secures her a good situation. Children under six years of age are received, for which the parent is expected to pay ten dollars per month for an infant, seven dollars for a child who can walk, and nine dollars for a hospital or sick child. The great majority, however, pay nothing. The city authorities now pay five dollars per week for every indigent lying-in woman, and five dollars per month for each child when nothing can be obtained from the parent.

During the year closing with March, 1870, 108 infants were born in the Hospital, and the inmates averaged about three hundred and fifty, two-thirds of whom were children. The expenditures of the Institution during the same time amour ted to $55,241. During the last year 116 infants were born in the Institution, 1,083 persons cared for, and 43 wet nurses provided with situations. The servants sometimes find an infant placed at the door of the Institution in the early hours of the morning, and others are left by heartless mothers who never call for them. These are kept and instructed until they are eight or ten years of age, when they are adopted into good families. The infants are fed condensed milk, preparations of barley, etc., and as they advance eggs and other solid articles of diet are added. An able board of physicians give much time to the care of the sick, and the Institution is watched over night and day by an experienced matron, Mrs. Polman, who possesses rare fitness for the critical position. An annual ball is held in behalf of the Institution. This questionable method of sustaining a worthy charity has nevertheless proved eminently successful, as the managers have realized $10,000 or $15,000 from each, thus drawing large sums from the voluptuous public, which lacks the principle to give until entertained with some frivolous amusement. On the 4th of July, 1870, the Society opened on Staten Island a country nursery, for the benefit of the sickly children of the Institution, at an expense of $50,000. The Legislature of 1870 gave $25,000, and in 1871 added the other $25,000, thus fully equipping this country retreat for these infant sufferers. The society is now thoroughly furnished for its undertaking, and will doubtless run a long and useful career. The Institution is Protestant, but not denominational.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Nursery and Child's Hospital
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: New York and its Institutions, 1609-1873 by Rev. J.F. Richmond; publisher: E.B. Treat, 805 Broadway-New York (1872)
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