Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alfred E. Smith, St. James School And The Howard Mission

I visited St. James' School last week after I did a Fourth Ward tour. I wanted to know if the school was in fact the same structure of the old Howard Mission. The Mission was on 37 New Bowery. The school is at 37 St. James Place, which replaced New Bowery. No one knew. While I was there I volunteered to do some neighborhood history work with their kids. I took a picture that they had of their most famous graduate that was in the lobby.
About The Howard Mission From Peter Baldwin's great Fourth Ward site
It was opened June 10, 1861, by the Rev. W.C. Van Meter, who, for 10 or 12 years, has been engaged in rescuing the "children of the street," and placing them in carefully selected homes, chiefly in the country. As, in the prosecution of his beneficent work, he walked through the purlieus of the city, he met with children who were homeless, or who needed temporary shelter and protection -- "cinder wenches," "gutter snipes,""wharf rats" and beggars of cold victuals -- others whose parents were worthy but very poor. Many were sick and dying from want and neglect. Many mothers who would gladly earn their living were compelled to remain at home without employment because there was no place where they could leave their little children during the day while they should go out to work. He found others who would gladly work if they could obtain employment; feeling that it was degrading to them to be supported wholly by charity when they might earn at least a portion of their subsistence. The greater part of these unfortunate people were indifferent to, or deprived of religious privileges. This was a sad state of things and Mr. Van Meter resolved to try to remedy it.
He knew from long experience in the work that the task would be a heavy one, but his experience had also taught him that the best method to grapple with it. He had learned that when the perishing stretch out their hands for the "bread" of help, it will not do to turn them off with the "stone" of advice. To the hungry, bread first, then preaching; or rather, let both go together, or in Mr. Van Meter's words, "My object was to the utmost of my ability to do good to the souls and bodies of these sorrowing and perishing ones, and as I thought it not necessary to 'stamp a particular creed upon a loaf of bread,' I invited to an earnest co-operation with me all who sympathized in such a work."
His plan, though so comprehensive as to meet all these wants, was very simple. For the homeless, shelter, food, clothes, and kind, intelligent, Christian homes, were to be provided. In their new homes they were to have a seat at the table with the family, and move in the same social circle. They were to be tenderly cared for in sickness and in health, receive at least an ordinary common school education, go to Sunday-school and church, and be trained to habits of active industry; and that he might not lose his power to protext them, he would not bind them, but retained the power to remove them if they were not properly treated.
Another class of children who needed a temporary shelter, but whom Mr. Van Meter was not authorized to provide with homes, were to be kept in the Mission until their friends should provide for them. A third, and by far the most numerous class, who attended no school, and were not engaged in any employment, might come in the morning, enjoy the benefits of the bath, wardrobe, dining and school-rooms, and return to their places or homes in the evening. The schools were to be conducted by the best and kindest teachers he could obtain.
The sick were to be visited, encouraged, and according to his means supplied with food, clothes, medicine, and medical attendance.
A Day Nursery was to be provided, in which mothers could leave their small children while they should be out at work, and employment was to be sought for those who wished to earn their living as far as possible.
In addition to these, families whose children were connected with the Mission, and who on personal visitation and investigation were found to be deserving of assistance, were to be supplied, according to the necessities of the case, with bread, shoes and coal, at less than cost, the price being varied according to their abilities to pay, Mr. Van Meter's theory being that true charity consists in helping a man to do only what he cannot do without assistance.
This was the plan, and he at once put it into execution, and the unprecedented success which has attended his work, shows the wisdom of it. The Rev. R.G. Toles, now Superintendent of the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston, said "I will stand by you and assist you," which he did, until he took charge of the institution in Boston.
The premises [at] No. 37 New Bowery, were rented and fitted up, and the day the Mission was opened 183 children were received. Last year the number received was 1,543. During the last four years over 3,000 children have been received, hundreds of whom have been placed in good homes all over the country. The last four months 1,237 of these little wanderers have come under the protecting roof of this Home. Daily 400 to 550 are at its table. Frequently more than 100 baskets of provisions a day are distributed among the sick and destitute.
Although the cost of this work is about $25,000 a year, it has neither asked nor received an appropriation of a dollar from the School Fund, City or State. It has not turned from its door a homeless child nor gone in debt a dollar. It is sustained entirely by the free-will offerings of those who take pleasure in placing their benefactions for the poor in its hands.

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