2007_09_nyfoundling.jpgNew York Foundling, an agency that cares for and placed abandoned children, was founded in 1869 in Greenwich Village, and on its first night, a baby was left on its doorstep. Now, it's organizing its vast collection of materials, from letters written by desperate mothers to admissions registers, for its 140th anniversary and an archival center.

The NY Times details some of the history and efforts, as well as New York Foundling's role in the city. For instance, the "State Legislature deemed the agency’s work so crucial that it appropriated $100,000 for construction of a larger building." And it shipped out some of its children:

In the late 19th century and into the 20th century, the Foundling was a pediatric and maternity hospital and participated in the “orphan trains.” Starting in the mid-19th century, and continuing for 75 years, the trains shipped as many as 200,000 city children to do farm and domestic labor out west. Many city welfare agencies, including the Foundling, lauded the practice as wholesome rural salvation. Some of the children were trained in the trades, others were adopted.

Ultimately the child-protection system of which the Foundling was a part was assailed by child-development researchers, who said that institutional care deprived children of maternal care, and by reformers who saw rampant inequities in assigning children to religious-based agencies.

New York Foundling is now the third largest child welfare agency in the city and the second largest foster home provider. And a 98-year-old Nebraska woman, Mabel Anne Gruele Harrison, who was adopted after being put on an orphan train at age 2, told the NY Times that Foundling's system was "a wonderful thing," "I got a good upbringing and landed on two feet. Why should I complain? It was good the Foundling was there to take me.”

The archive will also be put online, but for now, there's an interactive timeline on the website.