The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie has a rich history of service to children and families in the Hudson Valley region. We invite you to journey back in time with us for a brief review of our proud heritage.
On January 21, 1847, a group of women from Poughkeepsie churches met to form the Female Guardian Society to help the poor and neglected in the village. “Two by two they went into the highways and byways, the garrets and cellars; feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute and providing employment and protection for the friendless and exposed.”
Having decided that “the only true way to arrest the evils of poverty and crime would be to save the children,” the women changed the name of their organization to the Poughkeepsie Guardian Society for the Poughkeepsie Orphan Home and Home for the Friendless. On April 15, 1852, a state charter was obtained and the society became incorporated. Although having no cash or endowment, the women committed to establishing “a temporary home for respectable females without employment or friends; also destitute and friendless children of both sexes, until they can be committed to the guardianship of foster parent, or worthy families, who will train them to respectability or usefulness.” The only other such institution in the country at that time had been established in New York City a mere three years earlier. Most homeless children were thus sent to almshouses.
By November 1854, the Board of Managers had raised $4,500.
In May 1855, the Board purchased a lot at the corner of South Hamilton and Franklin streets, in the City of Poughkeepsie, for $2,490. On November 15 the cornerstone was laid, with the mayor of the newly incorporated city in attendance. When the cellar was completed, funding was exhausted. The Board asked people to “buy a brick” for $1, but once the brick walls were up and the roof was on, money ran out again.
The Poughkeepsie Orphan House and Home for the Friendless was dedicated on February 23, 1857. The building had no water except from rain, no blinds, no means of meeting expenses, and a mortgage of $2,000. In June, the ladies held a strawberry festival to finance the blinds, with entertainment provided by the children. Then Matthew Vassar gave $1,000, the first contribution to a permanent endowment. During the first year 30 children were cared for, 40 the second, and 55 the third.
There were 9 women and 64 children from age 2 to 12 at the Home in 1861. Of the children, 32 were county charges, 26 were kept without compensation, and 6 were boarders. Children from 3 families were boarding while their fathers were in the Civil War. The Home used 8 barrels of flour per month and 30 quarts of milk per day. Like today, friends of the Home sent useful donations including: clothing, fruit and vegetables, chicken and apples for Thanksgiving, a 300 pound-deer from the NYC Game Commission, ice cream, two ice-cream freezers, a gas stove, toys, a rocking horse, kites, $25 for Victrola records, books, a magazine subscription, handkerchiefs, Christmas wreaths, and tickets to shows. When the excited children saw Tom Thumb driving by one day, even he sent them a special invitation to attend his exhibition.
Illness was a constant problem. Two children died during the Home’s first epidemic of scarlet fever in March 1861. In 1862, the Board no longer accepted homeless women, concentrating its efforts solely on children. By 1868, the Home had stopped taking children as paying boarders.
A resolution was passed in 1869 stating “that $100 and a suit of clothes for a boy of 21, and $50 and suit of clothes or an equivalent for a girl at 18 on arriving at age, be specified in the indenturing papers.” Most children would eventually become domestics or be indentured to a farm.
Children were educated at the Home but attended local churches. They did “as much housework as was consistent with their ages and school duties.” The matron now got an annual salary of $300, and the average cost of keeping a child was $1.69 per week.
An 1876 law stated that judges could no longer commit any child over age 3 or under age 16 to a county poorhouse. That same year city water was supplied to the Home. By 1877, the county paid board of $2.26 a week per child. Gas lighting was installed in 1879, easing fears about the use of many oil lamps. Volunteers taught basketwork, shoe mending, and sewing. The children held fairs to raise money. In 1879, it was decided that the Home could no longer keep boys over 12, “the narrow confines not being sufficient for their youthful energies and restless nature.”
A perforated pipe was installed in one of the bathrooms, enabling a number of children to wash their hands simultaneously. On a donated 36-acre farm and despite a drought year, the children grew and gathered 1,000 ears of corn, 685 cucumbers, 10 bushels of tomatoes, plus beets and turnips enough for the winter. Contributions from friends enabled the Home to erect a monument at its cemetery plot for children who died of such diseases as measles, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Decade specific entertainment included stereopticon views of different countries and temperance lectures. During summers, the children camped out. By the Home’s 25th anniversary in 1882, 1,008 children had been served.
In 1893, a four-story addition was constructed on the northwest corner of the building. The cost, including plumbing and heating, was $6,000.
Health continued to be a problem in confined quarters. Scarlet fever hit in 1900 and diphtheria in 1902 and 1911. The number of orphans was declining. A 1905 report states that fewer children were actually surrendered to the Home and most were there for temporary care. By 1912, Dutchess County had an agent for dependent children who aided in placing children when they left the Home. In debt $1200, the Board issued a fund-raising appeal and raised $1,050 in 1911. New desks, a blackboard, roller maps, and books were obtained for the schoolroom, but by 1913 the city board of education supplied school materials.
The Home began a policy of camping out in tents for the whole summer in 1912, first at a berry farm near Freedom Plains, and later along the Wappingers Creek in Rochdale, where most children learned to swim. Neighbors entertained them with auto rides and ice-cream parties.
In 1915, a night relief person was hired for the matron who had apparently been on duty 24 hours a day.
In 1918, the name was changed to The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. At this time, the Board formed a committee to arrange for a new building “in the country.”
Between May 8 and 18, 1920, the Board of Managers conducted a campaign to raise $150,000 for construction of a new Home. Liberty Bonds were accepted, and donors were reminded that charitable gifts were tax deductible up to 15% of one’s annual income. The present site of more than 20 acres was donated by Webb Floyd of New York City. The beautiful location had a trolley connection to the City of Poughkeepsie and was supplied with city light and water. Plans for the new building were approved by the State Board of Charities, and a $50,000 mortgage was secured. The cornerstone was laid in 1922, and on May 18 of the next year, 47 children in white uniforms and black stockings moved in carrying their dolls and toys. The Home had served 1998 children by that time. Soon a half-time follow-up worker was hired. A radio set was installed and manual training classes were started. The Home’s chickens produced eggs and the garden supplied vegetables.
The Home purchased a school bus, its first vehicle, in 1930. More emphasis was placed on a homey atmosphere: the assembly room was redecorated with comfortable chairs and couches, and a wading pool was constructed. The children still wore uniforms consisting of blue knickers or skirts and middy blouses; but major changes were coming, along with a new Director.
In 1937, Margaret Garrison, who would serve for decades under that name and later be known as Mrs. Race, assumed leadership of the Home. Her guiding philosophy was one of individual development and responsibility to others. Uniforms were abandoned so that the children wouldn’t stand out in school. Bright bedspreads replaced institutional white bedcovers and long tables gave way to family-style ones. Bedtime became age-appropriate, rather than a mandatory 7 pm. Children were encouraged to bring their friends home, and the annual Teachers’ Tea began. Those above nursery age received allowances with which they purchased Christmas presents for relatives. Children attended churches of their choice.
The Home bought a sedan to transport children around the community. There were weekly trips to the YMCA, movies, and visits to the Capitol in Albany and Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh. An Activities Director was hired for the summer. The 15 member staff included both a trained nurse and a consulting child psychologist. Staff began attending social worker conferences. By 1939, girls were no longer required to leave at age 12, but could remain until they were able to go out and earn a living. Boys left for foster homes at the age of 14.
World War II brought rising costs, reduced staff, and rationed food. The Home raised its own chickens and lambs. Some girls had summer jobs in factories; others were paid to work in the nursery. In addition to caring for their rooms, children had weekly chores including “tidying the Home, making salads, rinsing dishes, working in the two-acre garden, or canning vegetables.”
After school they could make a snack and were encouraged to invite friends to dinner. Older girls went to dances at the Y or invited beaus to the Home. If a young man asked a girl out, he was to meet Miss Garrison first. The boys, who were younger, had a playroom with a fort, toys, and model airplanes. Outside, there was a sandbox, swings, and a fireplace for picnics. Some boys attended a weekly Junior Achievement workshop.
Children and staff were fed for 50½ cents each per day, thanks to food donations from friends, government surpluses, and vegetables from the garden. The child-care program intensified, with staff meetings featuring speakers from related professions. The Board of Managers increased by seven women from around the county. Special contributions allowed 13 boys to attend camp, and another earned his way as an assistant counselor. Volunteers included a sewing group that contributed 820 hours in one year to clothing repair. A new oil heating system costing $7,000 replaced the original coal burning furnace.
In 1946, with the war over, the Home decided once again not to keep boys beyond age 12 or admit girls over 13 years of age. Forty applicants from broken homes had to be turned away for lack of space. There were 72 children, and 500 bed sheets were purchased for $60.25. Children could now spend holidays with family and friends. For the first time, a part-time social worker was hired. Twenty thousand dollars was needed for facility and equipment replacements and maintenance deferred by the war.
The year 1947 brought the centennial celebration of the founding of the Home. Local officials and friends attended the gala event in a period-decorated room complete with a period-dressed matron and children.
By the end of the decade, construction of a baseball diamond and a playground were complete.
Since expenses had increased 14% in five years and an aging building needed repairs, the Board of Managers instituted the first of its annual fund drives in 1951 with a goal of raising $10,000. Fifteen thousand dollars was sought the next year to help cover expenditures of $84,000, which included $10,000 for capital improvements alone. The wardrobe budget (including haircuts, shoe repair, and dry cleaning) was kept to $42.71 per child, thanks to clothing donations, volunteer efforts to make and mend clothes, and girls who funded their own clothing through earnings from summer employment.
Caseworker services of a staff Social Worker enabled the Home to accept emotionally disturbed children in 1952. Since social agencies favored sending preschool children to foster care, the Home served girls aged 5 to 16, or through high school, and boys aged 5 to 13, although it also operated a daycare center for younger children for three years.
In 1954, Miss Garrison married Austin Race, resigned, and Frank Bartholomew became the new Director. Children now not only came from Dutchess, but Putnam, Orange, Ulster, Sullivan, and Westchester Counties as well. In 1957, recently widowed Mrs. Race again took the helm. By decade’s end, the majority of the children were teens; more than 4000 children had been served, the budget passed the $100,000 mark, and the annual campaign goal reached $30,000. The Home received the American Legion’s 1959 award for “outstanding contribution to the welfare of the community.”
Children still came to the Home due to family illness, death, or separation, but admittance cases involving desertion or abuse increased. Serving an increasingly older population, children were guided in the responsibilities of employment and budgeting. Community service was stressed, and some girls became hospital Candy Stripers. Memorial funds were utilized to start a library, and a student-aid fund helped those going on to higher education when a 1964 change in social welfare laws enabled the Home to continue assistance to age 21.
In 1965, the Director, Mrs. Race, was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s Club. The Home set up an employee benefits plan and improved its hospitalization coverage in order to attract and retain capable staff members. Expenditures exceeded $250,000 in 1969.
To prepare older children to take their place in the community, the Home opened an off-campus cottage where 6 girls could live with houseparents to learn homemaking and family skills.
A part-time clinical psychologist and more social workers were added to the staff.
A capital campaign allowed the Home to expand its very successful cottage program. A larger house served girls, and one was opened for boys since they could now stay at the Home through high school age. In addition, a gymnasium and recreation center was built on campus for sports, arts and crafts, and remedial reading. Discussions were held on topics such as drugs, consumer economics, and the world of work. Children also went into the community for swimming, bowling, Scouts, ballet, and music lessons. Families were encouraged to visit, along with community volunteers like Big Brothers and Sisters. During the summer, children held jobs, vacationed in rented cottages at the beach and the mountains, and attended concerts.
In February of 1975, Mrs. Race retired after 38 years as director. She had nurtured 1049 of the 5000-plus children who had been at the Home since its founding. Indicative of her place in their hearts, 38 former residents chose to hold their weddings or receptions at the Children’s Home during her tenure. Following her death in 1978, a plaque was placed in the entrance hall of the main building to honor children who would win the annual Margaret Race Memorial Achievement Award.
Margaret Gold ably headed the staff from 1975 to 1977. She was followed by Frank Dwyer, an extraordinarily capable executive director. Children’s activities in the ’70’s focused on the development of self-esteem through group experiences designed to foster goal-setting and cooperative skills. The children’s Greener Grounds Co. did landscaping, built a log cabin entirely with hand tools, and erected a greenhouse. A wilderness program took groups up Mt. Washington and on canoeing/camping trips.
Changes in the law freed more children for adoption, and the Home responded by initiating a program to recruit and prepare families for adoption or long-term foster care. Family therapy, parenting education, and aftercare was provided for children with their own potentially viable families. The Home added a full-time psychiatrist as Director of Clinical Services, and a psychologist as well.
In 1979, for the first time, the Home’s fiscal year ended on June 30 to coincide with the state reporting year for voluntary agencies.
Children entered the Home with more serious social and psychological conditions stemming from family problems that were more resistant to change including violence, homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and unemployment. Many of the children were preadolescents, and 3 of 4 referrals were for boys. With emphasis on permanent placement, families were given counseling in parenting skills such as budgeting and nutrition. Nonetheless, it was increasingly difficult to place older children, minorities, and those with physical and behavioral problems. Therefore recreation, job training, and other staff-organized activities emphasized social and scholastic competence leading toward the goal of ultimate self-sufficiency. When children were discharged, financial aid was provided for basic needs like food, furniture, and a telephone. At least six months of transitional follow-up care was also rendered, in keeping with the philosophy that it is important to assist parents and teach them, rather than to substitute for them and assume their responsibility.
In 1980, the Margaret Race Memorial Garden, with secluded benches shaded by flowering trees, was dedicated. A picnic pavilion and playground built by children and staff were both added in 1981. A cottage for 12 girls was built on our grounds in 1984, and in 1987 an agency-operated boarding home in LaGrange was opened to prepare girls for independent living.
More than 6000 children had been cared for by this time, and the budget was $1 million, including $55,000 from the annual campaign. In 1988 those figures were $2 million and $80,000, respectively.
By decade’s end, staff members were availing themselves of The Home’s tuition assistance program for advanced study in their work-related fields.
In 1991, a group of children organized the Kids Who Care Club, which fosters an awareness of others and an appreciation of the good aspects of their own lives. The club was able to adopt a boy in a Third World country and support organizations like Save the Whales through such fundraising efforts as car washes, dinners, and bake sales. Further, club members built and expanded a nature trail on the grounds. Children also demonstrated appreciation for others at the annual Teachers’ Tea and Holiday Open House.
Staff members continued to supply remedial study, recreation, therapy, adoptive counseling, and evaluation services. Individual behavioral contracts helped each child develop interpersonal skills and promote acceptable behavior leading to success and improved self-esteem. In addition, the children benefited from community programs such as Pop Warner football, Little League, school clubs, Scouts, and activities at the YMCA and YWCA. Generous supporters donated goods, money, and volunteer time that enabled the Home to continue its tradition of excellence.
Recognizing the fact that contact between children and families facilitates reunification, the Home established an 800 number to encourage families to phone their children and the staff. The Home also offered families training and therapy, help with daycare, after-school care, and tutoring, etc. Many of these families were involved with programs in mental health and substance abuse, food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and AFDC-all of which were scheduled for reduced funding. However, a great number of our children had no family member to whom they could return. The Children’s Home thus supported treatment foster homes which provided short-term care that did not require commitment levels that deterred either adoptive parents or higher-risk case children.
The Home also participated in a coalition of agencies that helped establish a direct-care concentration in Sociology at SUNY New Paltz. These agencies raised funds for tuition assistance and provided fieldwork placement for students.
In 1992, The Children’s Home received national accreditation, affirming that it meets the very highest standards in children’s services.
The ’90s was a period of reduced state and federal services. In 1993, fees covered only 86% of our $3 million budget. In past decades, needs were identified, then resources found. However, in the ’90’s available resources were determined first, then allocated to those in need. Social service policy dictated that community service alternatives be exhausted before referral to group care, with the result that many children had several unsuccessful placements before even reaching the Children’s Home.
Over the past decade we have continued to experience rapid changes in both the programs offered and the referrals we are seeing. In 2000, thanks to a bequest from a former resident in the 1920’s, the Alvin F. Rauscher cottages were opened to house boys on campus. At the end of the year 2000, after serving as Executive Director for 22 years, Frank Dwyer retired and was replaced by the current Executive Director, Walter Joseph.
Beginning in January 2001, the main house underwent major renovations, which were completed in June 2002. The renovation project allowed staff an improved work environment and addressed a number of problems with basic systems in the building. In December 2001, the first Supervised Independent Living Program apartment was opened to house older youth preparing for full independence. This program is intended to provide a transitional experience for children for whom the plan of care is discharge from care to their own responsibility.
Changing priorities in New York’s Office of Children and Family Services continues to reduce the number of referrals to the traditional Campus Residential program. The Home responds by identifying other unmet needs for at-risk children.
In February 2003, the first Group Emergency Foster Care program cottage opened with 6 beds. The purpose of this program is to support the County’s child protective efforts by providing a safe, immediately available option when removal of children from their homes is necessary to protect them from imminent danger. A second cottage (10 beds) opened in 2006, and today the Home is licensed for 33 beds to meet this growing need.
In 2009 the Home began recruiting and training parents for either Traditional Foster Homes or Therapeutic Foster Homes, the latter of which provide care for children with higher level needs.
In early 2010 the first Young Mothers Program cottage opened, providing residential and support services to young women in foster care who are pregnant. Its immediate success led to rapid expansion to 25 beds in three cottages by 2015.
In 2012, the Board of Managers voted to change its charter, become the Board of Directors, open membership to men and women, and revamp meeting schedules. (Six members of the former Board of Counselors agreed to join the new Board.) The Home again received high marks as an outstanding agency in its reaccreditation review.
In 2014 the Home opened beds for a federally funded unaccompanied children program, located off campus. A new Sanctuary Garden was dedicated, offering respite per the Sanctuary Model of trauma-informed care, adopted successfully by the Home in 2012.
Today, the Home still continues to serve the needs of the less fortunate youth of the area. Seldom is there an orphan among today’s residents. The majority have been subjected to abuse, neglect and/or broken homes. In spite of the many changes, the Board of Directors and the staff have held constantly to the objective of maintaining a real home with loving concern for each resident.