In the mid-19th century, Charles Loring Brace, the son of a Connecticut school teacher, moved to New York, determined to do something about the wave of children he saw living on the streets of lower Manhattan, selling newspapers and shining shoes.
Brace opened the Newsboys Lodging House at 9 Duane St., in the building then owned by the New York Sun. At this location, he would do much more than provide a clean bed. He opened savings accounts for the kids, gave them books and healthy food — all part of a larger vision.
“Those who have much to do with plans of human improvement,” he wrote, “see how superficial and comparatively useless all assistance or organization is which does not touch . . . the inner forces which form character.”
Many of his charges (including girls, housed in their own “industrial school”) went on to prosper.
“They had earned property; some received good salaries, most were married and were respected in their communities.” They had benefited from the approach, which he described as “to avert rather than cure.”
This philosophy was practiced throughout much of American history through non-governmental groups we today call civil society. New York’s Henry Street Settlement, for example, not only taught English but how to manage a healthy household. Indeed, my own father was placed in foster care and looked after by a purely private, philanthropic enterprise, Philadelphia’s Juvenile Aid Society. A wealthy volunteer would visit him and emphasize the importance of such virtues as “honor, confidence, trust, self-control, truth, honesty and good manners.”
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images