Boston's Wayward Children: Social Services for Homeless Children, 1830-1930

By Peter C. Holloran | Go to book overview

4
Separate but Unequal: Black, Jewish, and Italian Child-saving

For the love of God . . . if ever again you meet me, even though they are hacking me to bits, do not aid or succor me but let me bear it, for no misfortune could be so great as that which comes of being helped by you.

-- Don Quixote

By the end of the Civil War, Boston Protestants and Catholics, the Yankees and the Irish, had established an efficient and humane network of public and private institutions and agencies for dependent and delinquent children. These asylums, orphanages, reformatories, and child-placing agencies flourished in the sentimental Gilded Age ( 1865-90) and demonstrated the American idealization of childhood. But some children were less equal than others in this carefully arranged system of philanthropy. Excluded from the elite private sector and disproportionately served by the inferior public sector were the sons and daughters of Blacks and the offspring of the largest groups of New Immigrants in Massachusetts, Jews, and Italians. These children faced racial and ethnic prejudice in child welfare services. Ultimately, each of these minority groups devised its own alternatives to the racist public sector, the discriminatory private sector, and the Irish-dominated Catholic sector.

Boston Blacks, Jews, and Italians created their own child welfare services as a reaction to discrimination as well as a positive response to their own needs. Each of these separate child-saving systems demonstrated the vitality and self-confidence of these largely poor working-class "newer races," as the Yankees and Irish dubbed them.

Blacks constituted a permanent population in New England throughout the nineteenth century, but one too small and impoverished to support its own Colored Orphan Asylum like those established in Philadelphia ( 1822), New York ( 1836), Providence ( 1838), and Cincinnati ( 1846).1 In 1820 Boston had only 1,700 of the 6,700 Blacks in Massachusetts, and the city included only one-quarter of the state's slowly expanding Black popula

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