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The Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers is situated in the heart of the Fourth Ward, in one of the most wretched quarters of the city [New York]. Here the inhabitants are packed into their dirty dwellings at the rate of 290,000 persons to the square mile. The dirt and the wretchedness of this part of the city are terrible to behold, the sufferings of the people are very great, and the mortality is heavy. Sailors’ lodging houses of the lowest character, dance houses, rum shops, and thieves’ cribs are numerous, and the moral condition of the Ward is worse than the sanitary.

In May, 1861, the Rev. W. C. Van Meter organized a Mission in the very heart of this locality, to which he gave the name of the Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers...  The Mission is located in the New Bowery, just below its junction with Chatham Square. It extends back to Roosevelt Street, upon which thoroughfare there is an entrance.  The erection of the buildings on the New Bowery will about double the size of the Mission, and proportionately increase its capacity for doing good.  It is entirely dependent upon voluntary contributions for its support.

“Our object,” says Mr. Van Meter, “is to do all the good we can to the souls and bodies of all whom we can reach.”  It may be added, that the prime object of the Mission is to care for neglected and abused children, whether orphans or not, and also for the children of honest and struggling poverty.  It further undertakes to aid and comfort the sick, to furnish food, shelter, and clothing to the destitute, to procure work for the unemployed, and to impart intellectual, moral, and religious instruction to all who are willing to receive it.

“Our field,” says Mr. Van Meter, “is the very concentration of all evil and the headquarters of the most desperate and degraded representatives of many nations. It swarms with poor little helpless victims, who are born in sin and shame, nursed in misery, want, and woe, and carefully trained to all manner of degradation, vice, and crime. The packing of these poor creatures is incredible. In this ward there are less than two dwelling houses for each low rum hole, gambling house, and den of infamy.

Near us, on a small lot, but 150 by 240 feet, are twenty tenant houses, 111 families, 5 stables, a soap and candle factory, and a tan yard

On four blocks, close to the Mission, are 517 children, 318 Roman Catholic and 10 Protestant families, 35 rum holes, and 18 brothels

In No. 14 Baxter Street, but three or four blocks from us, are 92 families, consisting of 92 men, 81 women, 54 boys and 53 girls.  Of these, 151 are Italians, 92 Irish, 28 Chinese, 3 English, 2 Africans, 2 Jews, 1 German, and but 7 Americans.

“Our work,” he says, “is chiefly with the children.  These are divided into three classes, consisting of:

I.                    Those placed under our care to be sent to homes and situations.

II.                 Those whom we are not authorized to send to homes, but who need a temporary shelter until their friends can provide for them or surrender them to us.  These two classes remain day and night in the Mission.

III.               Those who have homes or places in which to sleep. These enjoy the benefits of the wardrobe, dining and school rooms, but do not sleep in the Mission.

Food, fuel and clothing are given to the poor, after a careful inspection of their condition.  Mothers leave their small children in the day nursery during the day while they go out to work.  The sick are visited, assisted, and comforted.  Work is sought for the unemployed.  We help the poor to help themselves.

“The children over whom we can get legal control are placed in carefully selected Christian families, chiefly in the country, either for adoption or as members of the families. . .  They receive a good common school education, or are trained to some useful business, trade, or profession, and are thus fitted for the great duties of mature life.  We know that our work prevents crime; keeps hundreds of children out of the streets, keeps boys out of bar-rooms, gambling houses, and prisons, and girls out of concert saloons, dance houses, and other avenues that lead down to death; and that it makes hundreds of cellar and attic homes more cleanly, more healthy, and more happy, and less wretched, wicked, and hopeless.  We never turn a homeless child from our door.  From past experience we are warranted in saying that one dollar a week will keep a well filled plate on our table for any little wanderer, and secure to it all the benefits of the Mission.  Ten dollars will pay the average cost of placing a child in a good home.”

During the ten years of its existence, the Mission has received more than 10,000 children into its day and Sunday schools.  Hundreds of these have been provided with good homes.  Thousands of poor women have left their little ones here while they were at their daily work, knowing that their babies are cared for with kindness and intelligence.  The famous nurseries of Paris exact a fee of four cents, American money, per head for taking care of the children during the day, but at the Little Wanderers’ Home, this service is rendered to the mother and child without charge.

Yet in spite of the great work which the Missions are carrying on, the wretchedness, the suffering, the vice and the crime of the Five Points are appalling. All these establishments need all the assistance and encouragement that can possibly be given them. More workers are needed, and more means to sustain them. “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few.”

From: “Lights and Shadows of New York life; or, the sights and sensations of a great city.” by James D. Mccabe, Jr


NYPL - Image ID: 805941

Howard Mission and Home for Little Wanderers, no. 40 New Bowery. (1840-1870)