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© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Records of Graham Windham
1804-2011
 MS 2916

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Phyllis Barr 1992-1994 and 2006-2010, and again by Cherie Acierno 2011. Finding aid written by Phyllis Barr and Cherie Acierno. Machine readable finding aid created by Cherie Acierno in 2011.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 06, 2013
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

The child care agency Graham Windham (GW) was founded by a merger of two predecessor organizations: the Graham Home for Children (founded in 1806 as the Orphan Asylum Society) and Windham Child Care (founded in 1835 as the Society for the Relief of Half Orphans and Destitute Children). The 1977 merger created Graham Windham Services to Families and Children, now called Graham Windham.

The Orphan Asylum Society/Graham School/Graham Home for Children, 1806-1977

The Orphan Asylum Society (OAS) was founded on March 15, 1806 by a group of women, led by Isabella Graham, her daughter Joanna Graham Bethune (sometimes spelled Johanna), and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, widow of Alexander Hamilton, first United States Secretary of the Treasury and an author of the Federalist Papers. Previously, in 1797, Mrs. Graham had founded (with Elizabeth Seton) the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children (SRPW). The original mission of the OAS was to provide a home for six children of the SRPW whose widowed mothers had recently died.

The founders of the OAS elected a Board of Direction which was made up of a first and second directress, a treasurer, a secretary, and seven trustees. The day-to-day running of the OAS and most of the fund raising was done by women. A married couple was hired to live at the home and care for the orphans. Isabella Graham did not serve as a trustee at first, preferring to devote herself to the SRPW. She did agree to become a trustee in 1810.

The home for orphans opened on May 1, 1806 in a rented two-story frame house on Raisin Street in Greenwich Village. Twelve orphans were admitted during the first six months. By the end of its first year, 200 children had been admitted. They were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and sewing, as well as religious training. On July 7, 1807, the corner-stone was laid for a new home on Bank Street on land donated by one of the trustees.

In January, 1807 a constitution was written, and on April 7 the organization was incorporated. The constitution required that "The Orphans shall be educated, fed and clothed, at the expense of the Society and at the Asylum. They must have religious instruction, moral example, and habits of industry inculcated in their minds. As soon as the age and acquirements of Orphans shall, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, render them capable of earning their living, they must be bound out to some reputable persons, or families, for such object, and in such manner as the Board shall approve." The Third Annual report notes that the Board made the decision to indenture the girls and boys as servants when the girls were able to read and write until they were eighteen and from the time the boys were able to read until they were fifteen. They then went back to the OAS and were apprenticed to learn a trade.

The OAS remained headquartered in Greenwich Village until 1835. Then, after an interval in a temporary space, it moved to a newly built Asylum on West 73rd Street and Riverside Drive.

The 50th annual report in 1856 noted that by that major anniversary, more than 1,500 children had been housed, taught and cared for. In 1855, the OAS passed a resolution making changes in the binding out system, allowing children to be indentured outside of New York State. In cooperation with the Children's Aid Society, over the next few decades the OAS sent some of its boys to families out west, in the placing out system now known as the "orphan train."

In 1880, the OAS adopted co-educational schooling. OAS children (and SRHO children as well) went to summer camp, had outings to the Barnum and Bailey Circus, attended lectures at the Museum of Natural History, and had picnics in Central Park. Civic organizations, the Children's Aid Society and the Fresh Air Fund made donations which made these outings possible.

In 1899, the OAS rented space in the United Charities building on 22nd Street to work in close association with other organizations. That same year, it hired its first paid professional superintendent. It also began to emphasize higher education as a goal for the children in its care. By that point, only one-half of the children at the OAS were orphans.

In 1902 it moved to Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, New York, on a campus above the Hudson River, to provide a healthy country lifestyle for the children. There it created the "cottage system" -- smaller, home-like residences supervised by house parents. This innovation was a model for many other child care agencies.

The agency's practice of boarding-out/indenturing children was discontinued in 1905. Vocational training programs were increased and the older children began attending Hastings High School in 1914. In 1910, Mrs. R. G. Dun left a legacy to the OAS which provided the older children with scholarship assistance for advanced study. Dun Fund scholarships have continued to the present day.

Self-government was introduced among the children. The older boys and girls were given more responsibility and participated in administration. Social workers and psychologists were introduced after 1918. OAS expanded its educational program, and changed its name to the Graham School in 1929, in honor of founder Isabella Graham. In 1950 it was renamed the Graham Home for Children. In the 1950's, the home dropped its "protestant only" requirement to accomodate a new influx of Puerto Rican and other children. In 1958 men were admitted to the Board of Trustees for the first time. In the 1970's, a donation from the Batchelor family enabled the purchase of a building on Popham Avenue in the Bronx and the establishment of the agency's first group home -- Batchelor House -- which provided congregate foster care for ten youths. New buildings were also erected on the Hastings campus.

The Society for the Relief of Half-Orphan and Destitute Children/Windham Child Care, 1835-1977

The Society for the Relief of Half-Orphan and Destitute Children (SRHO) was founded on December 16, 1835 by Mrs. William A. Tomlinson, Mrs. James Boorman, Mrs. Littlefield and Mrs. Wheeler to help single parents or relatives who could not take care of their children because of ill-health or dire financial straits. It provided room, board and education to boys and girls from the ages of four through ten, using weekly or monthly fees collected from the child's relative, along with donations and government funds. The SRHO's mission "enabled 'poor but worthy (widowed) parents' to 'go to their daily labors,' secure in the fact that their children would be safely cared for, 'would be trained for some practical, useful course of life' and 'taught their duties and responsibilities as members of society.' "

The organization was incorporated in 1837. Mrs. Tomlinson was Directress from the founding until her death in 1862. The SRHO was run by women, with a male Board of Trusteees, including Mr. James Boorman and Mr. William A. Tomlinson. The home moved to increasingly larger quarters. It was housed first on White Street, then 12th Street, then on 10th Street and Sixth Avenue where it went through several enlarging renovations, before moving in 1891 to Manhattan Avenue and 104th Street, to larger quarters built on land donated by Mrs. Robert L. Stuart. The new home was called Stewart House. As with the OAS, some of the boys were sent west on the "orphan train" in the 1870's and 1880's. In 1912, the children were sent to public schools. A gift of land in Windham, New York, Given by Mrs. Henry Howells, in 1914, became the summer home for the children for many years. It was called Howells Holiday Farm.

The SRHO sold its Manhattan Avenue property in 1945 and placed the children in foster care. The following year, there was a complete agency restructuring. The male Trustees and female Directresses joined to become one group. In 1947, the organization moved to the Bronx and was renamed The Windham Society for the Care of Boys. In 1949, it merged with Protestant Children's Services, Inc. It was the first agency to provide emergency foster care for babies and young children, and the first to secure placement for African-American children. It was again renamed -- Windham Children's Services. It added an adoption program and a day care-center.

During the 1960's and 1970's Windham sold Howells Holiday Farm, established The Brooklyn Day Care Center which was one of the first preschools established in a low-income housing project, and initiated its family day care program under a contract with New York City. In 1969, Windham merged with the Child Care Center, an agency which had previously merged with the Tuberculosis Preventorium for Children. It changed its name to Windham Day Care, and also ran a group home.

Graham Windham, 1977-Present

In the 1970's, under the Child Welfare Reform Act, government agencies instituted many reforms which changed the delivery of child care services in the City. A special focus on families aimed to prevent family upheaval which resulted in foster care placement. At the same time, New York City faced a fiscal crisis which reduced the amount of funds available. Graham and Windham consolidated into a single agency in 1977, to face these challenges and strengthen and complement their services.

In 1978, Graham Windham (GW) offered for the first time services for the developmentally disabled. It created the first community based residence in the nation for severely challenged and handicapped youngsters from Willowbrook. When the Wiltwyck School closed in 1982, GW assumed sponsorship of its Manhattan Mental Health Clinic in Central Harlem. The following year it added an after-school program. In the 1980s GW renovated and added to its facilities, and moved its headquarters to 33 Irving Place. Grow With Us, an innovative preschool program for developmentally delayed children was established in the Bronx. The first work-site center for the children of Police Department employees was opened at One Police Plaza in Manhattan. A ninth group home was opened in Brooklyn.

The 1990's brought Therapeutic Foster Boarding Homes; Welcome Home for formerly homeless mothers and their children; The Beacon Center in Intermediate School 195; the agency's first child-care center in Harlem; the Family Support Services: Project Homeward Bound to reunite families; and The Bronx Neighborhood Center which was one of the first early Head Start Programs. The Hastings-on-Hudson Campus adopted the traditional name The Graham School to reflect its conversion to a residential school and treatment center with expanded and integrated services and an intensified academic program. In 2002, GW announced that literacy and education would be its signature mission. Community Learning and Technology Centers modeled after the one at The Graham School were instituted in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan centers, and in GW's early childhood programs.