Home > Collections > Almshouse, 1758-1953
census, and housekeeping records for municipal institutions
(Almshouse, Workhouse, and hospitals) located on Blackwell's
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).
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.
Report, June 20, 1863.
Collection: Almshouse volume