Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Illustrations of Pennsylvania's orphanages, circa 1880

Above: Soldiers' Orphan Institute. Twenty-Third and Parrish Streets, Philadelphia

I have a battered and soiled hardcover copy of Pennsylvania's "Annual Report of the Superintendent of Soldiers' Orphans, for the Year 1880."1 The binding is detached from the spine, there is some water damage, many of the pages are loose and, most significantly, there are a number of missing pages.

The book has illustrations of many of the state's orphanages.2 Unfortunately, every single illustration has been defaced -- who knows how many decades ago -- with a fuchsia-colored crayon or colored pencil. The coloring ruins the fine detail of the illustrations (and also gives them a slightly eerie quality).

I am sharing a half-dozen of those illustrations in today's entry, because I think they're still historically important and interesting, even in their damaged state. I'm not sure if any of these school buildings still exist.

Above: Bridgewater School (Colored) in Bucks County

Above: Mount Joy School in Lancaster County

Above: St. Paul's Orphan Home in Butler

Above: McAlisterville School in Juniata County

Above: Mansfield School in Tioga County

The intact portions of the book contain some good nuggets of history on Pennsylvania's schools for soldiers' orphans. Here's an excerpt from the report's section on "Where the Children Come From":
"Pennsylvania furnished four hundred thousand men in the war for the supression of the rebellion. Of these probably fifty thousand were either killed or died in service. They left large numbers of orphan children in destitute circumstances. It was for the care of such children that the orphan school system was established, and, during the earlier years of its history, no others were admitted into the schools. Persons who have not kept themselves informed respecting the changes made by the Legislature in the laws governing the system, not unfrequently ask where the children come from who now fill the schools fifteen years after the close of the war. ... But in addition to the fifty thousand soldiers who lost their lives during the war, at least one hundred thousand came home disabled, sick, or with the seeds of disease deeply rooted in their systems. Many of them from the first, broken and crippled, could not earn a livelihood for their families, and others, a little more fortunate, were able to work for some years, but finally succumbed to wounds which broke out afresh, or were laid up with disease which advancing years left them less strength to resist. ... In many cases they are the fathers of children -- children worse off oftentimes than those whose fathers were killed in battle, and having an equal claim upon the bounty of the State."
There is plenty more in the way of history and statistics from these orphan schools in 1880 -- including that year's list of 16-year-olds who were successfully discharged from the school system and went on to productive lives -- that I could cover in a future post.

1. The superintendent was J.P. Wickersham.
2. Sadly, one of the illustrations that has gone missing is the frontispiece, which featured the Children's Home in York. For more on the history of York's post-Civil War orphanage, see this December 2009 entry from Jim McClure's blog, "York Town Square."


  1. Thank you for taking the time and initiative to do this. This piece of history should not be lost. I am interested in researching this further and appreciate your efforts to contribute. It is only through people like you, who sometimes hold valuable gems of our history, who selflessly offer them to the public, that we are able to preserve what otherwise might be lost forever. Thank you! Jill

  2. Hello,

    Yes, thanks for posting.
    The full PDF of the book is found here:

    Through this book, I learned that my great grandfather Richard Anderson was a resident at Mt Joy School for Soldiers Orphans from 1868 through 1872. His father John (my 2g grandfather) was KIA May 16, 1864. The building is still standing and being used to hold several apartments: 205 N Barbara St, Mount Joy, PA 17552.