Boston Protestant Charity for Children
I know of no other large city where there is so much mutual helpfulness, so little neglect and ignorance of the concerns of other classes.
-- Harriet Martineau on Boston, 1836
The unclassified poorhouse was no longer considered suitable for homeless children by 1800, but the traditional alternatives--apprenticeship, domestic service, and binding out orphans and wayward children to farmers or other respectable householders--were not always convenient or possible in growing urban centers like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. America was a more mobile, more populous, and more heterogeneous society in the nineteenth century, and few Overseers of the Poor or almshouse keepers had the time or interest to find masters for children in their charge. Reports of neglect and abuse of children in poorhouses or family placements pointed to the need for new provisions for the homeless young. To the Federalist and Whig gentlemen of Boston, the well-ordered asylums established in Europe appeared to be a practical and idealistic solution.1
Like the philanthropic gentlemen who founded penitentiaries and insane asylums, those who advocated the Boston House of Reformation for Juvenile Offenders in the 1820s were confident that this publicly supported congregate asylum would benefit the city by ridding the poorhouse and the streets of destitute and delinquent boys and girls whose parents had abandoned them or were too poor, immoral, or negligent to provide proper care. They expected to provide a reform school for the training and education of wayward children, while at the same time enhancing moral order in the city.
The Boston House of Reformation for Juvenile Offenders was suggested first by Judge Josiah Quincy in 1820, and after a study of the problem by the state legislature and much debate in the newly established ( 1822) city government, it opened in South Boston in 1826. It was a congregate municipal institution like those established in New York ( 1825) and Philadelphia ( 1828); part school, part prison, and fully moral in purpose and