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Almshouse, 1758-1953 


Admission, discharge, census, and housekeeping records for municipal institutions (Almshouse, Workhouse, and hospitals) located on Blackwell's (Welfare) Island.

Dating back to the colonial era, New York City assumed responsibility, to varying degrees, for its citizens who were destitute, sick, homeless, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. The city maintained an almshouse, various hospitals, and a "workhouse" on Blackwell's Island (now called Roosevelt Island) for the poor.

The surviving records maintained by these institutions are collectively known as the "Almshouse" collection. They consist primarily of ledger-style books that record the names of people who were confined (voluntarily or otherwise) in the almshouse, hospital, or workhouse.

Women are well represented in these books. With few opportunities for employment outside the home, a widow or unmarried woman without family support was often forced to turn to the city for help.

The collection includes a few books that are specifically devoted to children. Abandonment of children was not uncommon in the 19th century and many of these unwanted children were sent to the almshouse.

According to the ledger books, most children in the almshouse died from diarrhea, or malnutrition (infant formula had not been invented).

COLLECTION STATUS:

Many of the "Almshouse" ledgers, particularly those containing information about people in the various institutions, have been microfilmed. There is an item-level list of the ledgers available in the Reference Room.

Children's Report, June 20, 1863.
Collection: Almshouse volume 82.
 A page from 1863 ledger book showing most children in the almshouse died from diarrhea, or malnutrition.