Building the Invisible Orphanage: A Prehistory of the American Welfare System

By Matthew A. Crenson | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: An End
to the Orphanage

THE AGE OF THE ORPHANAGE ended in the same diffuse, disjointed way that it had evolved. The immediate causes of decline did not always echo the larger themes of policy development. One of the first institutional casualties following John Kingsbury's edgy armistice with Cardinal Farley was the Howard Orphanage and Industrial School of King's Park, Long Island. It was an African-American institution that closed early in 1918, not long after a municipal election drove Kingsbury from his department and returned city hall to the auspices of the Tammany Democrats under Mayor John E Hylan. But the collapse of the Howard Orphanage had nothing to do with the religious tensions that were undermining state support for the regime of the orphanage. Instead it foreshadowed the racial tensions that were to replace religion as the principal perplexity in the age of welfare.

The Howard Orphanage had begun in 1866 as the Brooklyn Howard Colored Orphan Asylum. It bore the name of Oliver O. Howard, one of the Union Army's abolitionist generals who, after the war, helped to found an institution to care for the unfortunate black children of New York and its environs. But the true architect of the Howard Asylum's fortunes was its superintendent for a third of a century, the Reverend William E Johnson, a blind preacher who regularly materialized at the Sunday services of church congregations, both black and white, in New York and beyond. Silently guided into the sanctuary by several of his

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