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“The ‘street Arab’ is a very Bedouin in the midst of the thronging city multitude,” observed George C. Needham, a prominent evangelist, in his 1884 study of wayward children, the “neglected and destitute,” of America’s cities. Needham was one of a handful of social reformers, driven by Christian principles and a strong sense of civic responsibility, who called attention to the plight of the abandoned and destitute youngsters and who were involved in programs to combat this growing phenomenon. Already in February 1853, three decades prior to the publication of Needham’s book, a group of New York City reformers, led by Charles Loring Brace, established the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) to combat precisely this problem. Compelled by the belief that “something be done to meet the increasing crime and poverty among the destitute children of New York,” Brace had observed the poor and homeless who clustered on streets in various parts of the city and whose numbers were continuously being replenished by the ships arriving daily with immigrants. Some youths came as stowaways. Those disembarking from the over-crowded vessels, the CAS asserted already in its Third Annual Report, fed the “poor and criminal classes,” and Brace’s organization took a harsh view of the immigrants. “These miserable creatures of Europe, the scum and refuse of ill-formed civilizations, or the victims of oppress and public neglect, have been scattered over our land,” but many remained in New York City, the CAS concluded in the 1856 report. Here, and in other cities, “the most idle and unenterprising, the most needy and dependent of these emigrants, the unprincipled and those who have been the lowest degraded by the inequalities of European society, have settled themselves.” The rapidly growing numbers of urban poor, the abandoned children, and the accompanying crime and disease, plagued American and European cities throughout the late 19th century. In New York, the landing port of vast numbers of immigrants, the issue was particularly acute. Some contemporaries referred to New York City as “a boiling caldron of crime.”
The fear of the “great unwashed,” that seemingly unending tide of humanity coming to the shores of America in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was far-reaching, deep-seated and genuine. The newly emerging urban commercial elite increasingly shaped city life. Driven by strong religious beliefs and the recognition that the world they were creating depended upon a continuous supply of cheap labor, they recognized the need for a steady supply of immigrants. These leaders of the community believed, however, that most of those arriving in America’s ports lacked the discipline, the work ethic, required for the new commercial ventures. And they recognized that the local government and the police, who came largely from the pool of immigrants and whose positions depended upon the support of new voters from these ranks, did little to instill such values. Public officials, for their part, were confident that the private organizations could handle the problem. Already in April 1853, a Select Committee appointed by the state concluded that “a sufficient number of benevolent institutions [exist] to receive and accommodate all the street children in the city.” In the mid-19th century civic reformers in New York City, sparked by the impoverishment, drunkenness and filth they saw on the streets around them, by a mounting fear of crime and lawlessness, by a powerful sense of communal responsibility, and an energetic religious faith, established a number of privately operated and funded associations dedicated to alleviating the plight of the urban poor, especially the wayward youths who loitered on corners throughout the city all hours of the day and night. This article looks at the problem of the wayward, destitute and abandoned youths of New York City, how leaders from the commercial and religious elite of the city responded to the ever growing numbers of destitute youngsters on the streets.
Throughout the years from 1840 to 1920, child advocates and reformers eagerly posted statistics, figures on the numbers of newly arriving immigrants, homeless children, police arrests, incarcerations, and school enrollment to bolster their arguments. These were years when data were increasingly collected, tabulated, analyzed, discussed, and utilized by reformers and social critics. Statistics became a tool in the hands of the reformers and social critics. During the decades after 1834 “a tide of population has been settling towards these shores, of which there is no movement parallel in history,” wrote George Balch, an official with the New York City school board. Clearly alarmed by the wave of people, Balch cited the figures: “during the year 1852 alone, 300,992 alien passengers landed in New York, or nearly at the rate of one thousand a day for every work-day.” That massive influx led him to conclude: “The pauperism and poverty and England and Ireland have been drained into New York.” Balch went so far as to dismiss some of the immigrants as “human scum.” He and others saw the need to address the immigration issue become even more urgent following the draft riots of the summer of 1863 when “street boys…swelled the numbers of ruffians attacking homes or torturing negroes, and showed into what an element street children, grown up in neglect and unrestrained may develop,” observed the daughter of Charles Loring Brace in her commentary on his letters. “The ten thousand vagrant children of 1848, together with the accessions of subsequent years…became the brutal, savage, murderous mob of 1863,” concluded Balch. The very fabric of New York’s social order was seriously threatened and the reformers, those outside of the local government, were determined to intervene, to take steps to ensure domestic security.
Reformers saw in the youths who roamed the streets, ill clothed, begging, or trying to sell some meager item, the breeders of a future generation of criminals. The youngsters were “a class of youth who may be an element of future trouble,” observed a reporter for The New York Times in April 1870. “They are the guerillas of the streets. If one could conceive of a gang of juvenile ‘Dead Rabbits’ or ‘Plug Uglies, it would represent the boys we refer to,” he added. These youngsters will become parents, observed Needham, and “leave children to follow his downward course in crime, and burden the State.” Needham, and other like-minded reformers, urged the state to take action, to “remove him from the influences that surround him, and preserve him from becoming a criminal, by placing him under better influences.” He continued: “Society must rescue these neglected ones from their evil surroundings, or its burdens of crime and misery will be greater than can be borne.”
In New York City the venerable Children’s Aid Society, one of a number of agencies or charities or church enterprises launched to deal with “the social problem of ‘Arabism’,” came to be the best known and most successful. It was founded in 1853 by evangelical reformer Charles Loring Brace who was determined to “work for the unfortunate of our great city.” Brace had strived initially to improve the lot of adults, but soon became discouraged. He then focused increasingly on the wayward youth. Through weekly Boys’ meetings and work with “street Arabs” his determination to aid the youngsters grew. “What soon struck all engaged in these labors was the immense number of boys and girls floating and drifting about our streets, with hardly any assignable home or occupation, who continually swelled the multitude of criminals, vagrants and prostitutes,” Brace observed.
The work of the CAS was aimed at “the source and origin of the evil,” he asserted. The plan of Brace and his co-founders called for taking care of those in need through “industrial schools and lodges” that would offer both a healthful environment and hands-on experiences in the skills they needed to join the ranks of the industrial workers or to become productive farmers. Brace already had the vision of sending these youths to the countryside, to get them out of the city to “farmers, manufacturers or families” needing help where the young people could, these reformers firmly believed, learn the value and virtues of hard work and become contributing members of the new industrial-commercial society. These westward transports, he wrote, would be “the means of draining the city of this class.” Here was the beginning of the placing-out system, the so-called orphan trains which between 1854 and 1920 carried an estimated 200,000 abandoned, neglected, impoverished orphaned children out of the crowded urban centers of the east coast, particularly New York City. A circular announced the establishment of the new organization and was widely distributed. The initial response was over-whelming from backers in the commercial elite of the city and among the targets of their efforts. “Crowds of little ones soon found their way there,” Brace wrote proudly.
In terms of achieving its stated goals and objectives, the CAS was famously successful. It “has in great measure arrested crime among the vicious youths of the city, and at the same time benefited them in their rescue, education, and elevation,” wrote George Needham in 1884. The organization’s 30th annual report proudly described its success and the accounts in the press boasted “how entirely the old associations of criminal youth…of twenty years since have disappeared from the city.” Now, “They are all gone.” The report called attention to its work, asserting that “Associations of crime among youth in New York have been broken up or prevented, not by punishment and penalty, but by associations of reform and education.” It was “the gradual influences of education, labor, and religion” that caused the remarkable transformation, which turned the youth “into an honest and industrious young man.” Large numbers of wayward youngsters continued to operate on their own, however, never recruited by the CAS for one of its programs. For example, shoe-shiners, called then boot blacks, were large in number on the streets of New York City and in the early 1890s they attempted to organize themselves in a union that enforced a common fee. The youthful organizers, a handful of enterprising boot blacks, had an announcement printed and distributed. Their flyer called for fair and equitable pay, but also excluded Italians for their ranks. The youths fought for support and to maintain some control for the members. Street battles against Italian youths and kids from Brooklyn were as common as they were bloody.
For Brace and other social reformers the stunning economic growth of late 19th century New York City, and the ensuing nature of urban life, was largely responsible for the problem of wayward, destitute and abandoned children. “Society hurried on selfishly for its wealth, and left this vast class in its misery and temptation,” he wrote. Little attention was paid to the less fortunate, to those on the fringes who had not benefitted from the burgeoning economic growth. “Now these children arise, and wrest back with bloody and criminal hands what the world was too selfish or careless to give,” he warned. “The worldliness of the rich, the indifference of all classes to the poor, will always be avenged.” “Why should the ‘street rat,’ as the police called him, be expected to consider with reverence a civilization from which he received no benefit?” Brace came to know them well, spending days walking the streets, “the centres of crime and misery, until every lane and alley, with its filth and wretchedness and vice, became as familiar to him as the lanes of a country homestead to its owner,” he wrote. Brace recounted each of these areas, describing for his backers those parts of the city that spawned the hordes of destitute children, areas that most supporters could scarcely imagine. Brace called these neighborhoods “’fever-nests’, centres of ignorance, crime and poverty.” As the Rev. Lyman Abbot wrote in an introduction to a massive 1891 study of urban poverty in New York City, “The poor flock to the great city, partly because it offers delusive promises of employment to those who wish for work, and endless opportunities for beggary and crime to those who wish to live on their neighbors.”
Brace saw around him in New York City over-crowded neighborhoods where the immigrant families congregated and settled. Here was “the entire solitude and desertion into which a human being can come in a great city.” He recognized the mounting urgency of the crisis, writing, “The greatest danger that threatens a country like ours is from the existence of an ignorant, debased, and permanently poor class in the great cities.” As reports of the work of Brace and the CAS spread across the country, “numerous cities,” he observed in 1860, established similar associations to combat the growing urban problem of wayward children. Industrial schools for the urban youth were founded in, for example, Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Detroit and St. Louis, as civic and moral reformers in other urban areas faced growing numbers of poor and wayward youths.
In addition to their concerns, sparked by the rapidly changing urban life around them, Brace and other reformers were driven by strong religious beliefs. Brace wrote of being “inspired by Christ with a love of humanity,” and the First Circular of the Children’s Aid Society, the call To the Public to act, identified the motivation of the founders: “As Christian men, we cannot look upon this great multitude of unhappy, deserted, and degraded boys and girls without feeling our responsibility to God for them.” In addition to inculcating religious ideals, the CAS and other civic organizations, dedicated to ameliorating the lot of these youngsters, strived to train and educate the children in what a New York City Board of Education official called “that best of all secular knowledge-how to help themselves.”
Needham termed the youths “these nomadic tribes,” and he observed that their identity came through “their own dialect, customs, and traditions.” Lacking any social or family structure the wayward youths lived by their cunning, often relying on one another. This broad group of youngsters had its own distinctions, its own divisions, its own habits, its own bonds, and its own argot. Reformers and critics used a variety of terms to identify them, making distinctions among the wayward youths, but utilizing terms that showed their contempt for the children. “Gutter snipes” designated “that class of children, who are utterly weak, both mentally and physically.” They lived from the garbage heaps, gleaning a few edible morsels that stems off the inveterate hunger, and stood at the bottom of the hierarchy. “Waifs,” those children cast off and abandoned by their parents, were viewed as “ownerless and unclaimed.” According to Needham, “there are thousands of outcast boys and girls in every populous community” of the nation. “They are found in every large town,” Charles Loring Brace asserted, and in early 1862 a “careful police investigation” concluded that 40,000 children roamed the streets of New York City. Brace, as other reformers, was fond of using numbers, statistics from a variety of city, agencies to bolster his arguments. There were simply more such youths in New York, he noted, because it had a “poorer and a laboring class than in most cities. Brace referred to them as “the accidents of a great city.”
For Brace, Needham and other social reformers the problem of wayward youth had to be addressed in order to preserve civil society and to ensure a stable and prosperous future. As the English reformer Lord Derby cautioned, “it is very much your interest to give these lads a lift, because they are exactly at an age when habits of industry and honesty on the one hand, and of idleness and vice on the other, are permanently formed.” The matter was simply, he added, “Whether they are as workers to increase the public wealth, or whether they are to lessen it by living upon it for the rest of their days as paupers, vagrants, or possibly worse.” Needham admonished his readers: “To save these children should be the aim of all, and a wise legislation which successfully accomplishes this end will minimize crime and limit cruelty.” Brace added his voice, arguing that such youths must be helped, because “The class of street children are undoubtedly the rich bed of soil from which springs a fertile crop of vagrants, prostitutes and criminals,” echoing a widely held opinion. In 1873, a New York City clergyman explained in a well-publicized sermon that “crime in the future could be diminished by reclaiming the poor little street Arabs of this city.” And he cited police reports and arrest data for the previous 10 years to back his argument.
New York’s newspapers regularly carried articles on the misbehavior and anti-social acts of groups of wayward youths, thereby providing its readers, the more established and prosperous members of society, a constant diet of lurid tales. The Evening Post newspaper, for example, told of a “gang of street Arabs sitting on the curbstone in front of the Post-Office” when a vendor carrying “about two dozen toy balloons of every color” happened by. “The boys in the gutter looked at the balloons, then at each other and then smiled,” the reported noted, locating the youths, who were clearly up to no good, on the edge of the street where the debris and refuse collected. On cue, the youths pulled out pins and without speaking punctured each of the vendor’s ware. What was needed above all, journalist Helen Campbell argued in her 1891 study of “gutter snipes” and “wharf rats” was the “moral improvement of character.”
Reformers held firm, if sometimes conflicting, opinions of these youngsters, who they repeatedly argued, lacked the moral character and discipline needed to contribute to society. Recalling an encounter with a couple of teens, Needham described them as “decidedly unhandsome specimens…[who] so plainly bore the irreclaimable brand.” Police data showed an alarming trend, a steady rise in a variety of criminal offenses, which confirmed such views. Already in 1862 police maintained that some 10,000 youths were “given to criminal practices,” and another 10,000 were beggars. “Little lads, many of them no more than nine years of age, are charged with being concerned in various burglaries, housebreakings, and thefts from inhabited houses,” observed Needham. They showed, he added, “a degree of criminal precocity.” Some residents did not shy from expressing their own harsh assessment. Those youngsters taken by Charles Loring Brace’s CAS during its initial years were, a reader to The New York Times wrote in a letter to the editor, “little more…than bundles of rags and filth and vermin.” She applauded the founding of separate schools for the wayward and abandoned youngsters because: “They are so wild and uncivilized that they would only bring confusion; their influence would demoralizing in the extreme.”
The capability of these youngsters to alarm the well-to-do of New York City persisted. In July 1884 a group of wayward youngsters even sparked rumors of a run on a New York bank. As The Sun newspaper reported, three “Arabs” attracted attention as they walked along 8th Avenue, stopping to sit and eat on the steps of a bank. A crowd gathered, “as though the Orientals were a first class show,” and they did not disappoint. When a teller tried to get through the youths to enter the bank the group followed, changing some silver for gold. Before long a telegram arrived from a Wall Street bank asking if there was a run on the bank. Soon, more than a dozen telegrams came and messengers “came to flock in,” all with concerned and urgent “requests for information on the run on the bank, sparked by the three ‘Arabs.’”
A headline reading “Little New York Savages” summed up the prevailing sentiment when The Sun newspaper reported on July 5, 1893, the arrest of “three little boys.” Police “extracted from one of them a statement that he and his companion had planned to drown the other boy for the twenty-five or thirty cents which the other boy was known to have in his pocket.” The lengthy article describes the victim, an 11 year old, reported missing by his mother, who sold newspapers on the streets. An investigation was launched because the mother went to the police. Before long, the three suspects were identified and questioned. They were, the newspaper noted, “all typical street Arabs.”
Their presence on the streets of New York, these disheveled youths, often clothed in rags, who congregated on the corners of the busies streets, heckling pedestrians to stop to have their shoes shined or to buy a trinket, served as a constant and unpleasant reminder of society’s inequities and its difficulties in fully integrating the immigrants. To most, though, they proved a nuisance, even a hazard, because of their mischievous and often dishonest habits. As an April 1st stunt, a young shoe-black known locally as Master Hickey took his usual place at the corner of Beekman and Nassau Streets. On this day, instead of hustling shoe-shines, he feigned that he was picking pockets. To his own great amusement and that of the growing crowd that watched, he would brush against a pedestrian then run away waving a white rag. Thinking their pocket had been lifted, the unsuspecting individual would give chance. Only after some distance did it become clear that Master Hickey had played a trick on them. After a full day of trickery, “he made his final disappearance, with a policeman in full chase after him.” Master Hickey was fortunate that he got away because the police dealt sternly, often brutally, with the wayward youths. In late September 1892 The Sun newspaper reported an incident when several “mischievous street Arabs were annoying a sleepy looking tramp.” A Battery Park policeman interrupted the youngsters’ harassment and summoned them to stop. While a couple ran away, the officer caught one youngster who had halted, prepared to give himself up. The policeman did not hesitate; he raised his club and “struck the boy on the times.” Then, he “dragged” the youth to the police station.
Street Arabs tended to band together on the streets of New York, even when selling matches, shoe laces, newspapers, or shining shoes. Crowds of them were common, and the youths seldom missed an opportunity to verbally harass an intoxicated man, a wandering derelict or even well-dressed men and women. Thievery was rampant, especially pick-pocketing. Some youths became quite accomplished. “Hordes of pickpockets,” mostly youngsters, were active along Broadway, near Fulton Street. A youngster but 16 years of age was caught in October 1875 after deftly removing a wallet from the pocket of an unsuspecting passerby. Arrested and taken to court, he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. In July 1881, detectives apprehended five “young thieves,” identified in the press as “street Arabs,” who had operated a pick-pocket ring. The youths had thirty dollars on hand when taken into custody.
At times they turned against one of their own, beating him mercilessly or even throwing the lad into the river. Newspapers reported in August 1883, for example, the case of an eight year old in Philadelphia who had killed his 11 year old buddy. The pair argued after the older boy stepped on the youth’s toe. He retaliated, throwing a knife that punctured the boy’s abdomen. In New York, a newspaper boy told his story to The Evening World in July 1893. He recounted how two others tossed him into the river. Officials were convinced he had drowned and the alleged perpetrators were taken into custody. But the victim had not perished, and being “not of a resentful nature,” the newspaper reported, he even appeared in court and secured the discharge of his two playmates. Wayward youths sometimes committed other serious offenses. In 1883, a boy of 12 was part of a group harassing an Italian vendor. When he could take no more and set off in pursuit the youngster. But the boy, carrying a pistol, stood his ground and shot the merchant in the face.
Social reformers blamed the breakdown, the dissolution of the family for much of the delinquency and problems associated with the wayward youths. Often this was caused by impoverishment and the drunkenness of the immigrant parents. “Poverty and want of employment sow bad habits,” observed the CAS in its Third Annual Report. “Thoughts of wretchedness are drowned in drink.” Long the refuge for the urban poor, alcohol consumption was rampant among the lower classes of New York City and other urban centers. Drunkenness had a serious and adverse impact on family life. “A visit to a family of gutter snipes,” George Needham wrote, took him to a room of “abominable filth” and he described the scene he found there. “Lying in a corner on some rags was a blear-eyed, half-dressed man under the influence of drink, and, although now but the hour of noon, quite incapable of coherency.” Often, the mothers were heavy drinkers, too. Such parents, social reformers educators had found, became abusive towards the children, beating and threatening them as they hurried the youths out onto the streets to beg or earn a few coins, enough for them to buy more alcohol. Needham concluded that through “the ravages of drunkenness…’Arabs’ are multiplied, and ‘waifs’ are on the increase.” Alcohol abuse was not unknown among the youngsters. In February 1884, for example, a 14 year old who appeared before a judge was described as a “habitual drunkard” who had been “seen lying drunk in the street and in hallways as often as three times a week.” Alcohol dragged the children to the “lower depths of depravity,” often prompting them to “emulate their elders,” observed New York City’s The Sun newspaper in July 1893. It reported that two teenagers broke the window of a store and stole several bottles of gin to celebrate the July 4th holiday. “The boys consumed the stuff and became speedily drunk.” 
“In laying bare the fact that unnatural parents are driving their children to the streets, who become parasites on the body politic, and out of whom grow gamblers, thieves, burglars, and paupers, to impoverish and degrade our country,” Needham wrote, “I am only adding my quota of help in the direction of civil reform and national purity.” In most cases, the youngster explained that the father, and often the mother too, drank heavily, became violent, and beat him. Those who took to the streets banded together, at least in small groups that served as allies, protectors, even families to the wayward youths. An older and more experienced youth became the head of such a family.
The street experience, Needham asserted, actually worked to their advantage. “The growing responsibilities, whenever recognized, greatly develop their business capabilities,” he observed. They became “wonderfully inventive in adopting new methods.” While the city government the municipal agencies offered little solace to those families unable to find secure footing in the rapidly industrializing and changing urban landscape, “private benefactors and public institutions” did try to aid some youngsters by providing temporary work “for young men who are earnestly endeavoring to ‘turn over a new leaf’,” Needham explained. What the youths received in return for their hard, physically demanding labor, was “a suit of clothes and permanent employment.” They also obtained three square meals a day, a clean bed to sleep in and even a couple of hours of schooling each evening.
Some social reformers looked upon the neglected, the wayward and abandoned children left to their own devices to find their way in the streets and alleys of the large cities, as persons who frequently needed but a chance to get their lives back on the traditional path. The CAS, for example, within the first years of its operations opened five industrial schools, each devoted to giving the wayward youth practical experience. A New York Times reporter applauded its work, writing that these kids do have some “good qualities in them,” and, he added, echoing the prevailing view, “Much of the evil in them is but the reflection of their surroundings.” The work of organizations such as the CAS, he wrote, was highly successful in “reclaiming the street boys…from habits which would bring misery to themselves and danger to the community.”  For most wayward and destitute youngsters, such opportunities came seldom, however. “We are so greedy for gain we never think of taking destitute children under our wing, give them practical lessons in business,” wrote Needham in his book Street Arabs, an exhaustive plea for sympathy, understanding and above all aid for the dissolute youths. Social reformers, such as the evangelical George Needham and a number of other members of the Protestant clergy, firmly believed that the street children could be rescued and they saw that as their mission as Christians. Perseverance on the part of those striving to rescue the youngsters was needed and, Needham was convinced, it would soon pay off. Above all, he called for religious guidance, prayer and Biblical readings as a means to lead them back to a safe path, repeating the thoughts of Charles Loring Brace who reflected on his start in 1866 this way: “I think all engaged in these early works among the poor of New York, felt that the great power which should renovate society was…simply the Spirit of Christ.” Brace, from the very beginning of his efforts, he later wrote, presented “Christ to those boys as a living Personality,” as ‘their Friend, their Sanctifier, their Savior from sin and its effects.” And a hallmark of Brace’s shelters and lodging homes was the “constant patient religious instruction.” Many of the youngsters did resort to prayer to tide them over the tough times, these reformers insisted. Needham maintained that “’Arabs’ universally are susceptible to the transforming power of the gospel.”
A number of those who worked doggedly with wayward youths held strong religious beliefs or were members of the Protestant clergy, as noted above, and the prevailing Christian ideals motivated them. Charles Loring Brace spoke repeatedly of his Christian mission, that his commitment to Christ directed him to help the poor and homeless youths. Brace called these youngsters “the little ones of Christ.” Already in 1848, several years prior to the launching of the CAS, Brace and others began to hold Sunday church sessions specifically for the urban cast a-ways. It was the success of these services that led to the formation of the CAS. In December 1870 Brace was one of several speakers to address the Sunday evening prayer session at the Newsboys’ Lodging House which had been set up by the CAS. “The many rows of little ‘street Arabs’” listened attentively and “took part in the reading of the Bible,” he recalled. They all joined in the singing of hymns. Sermons and religious teaching to his young flock was of foremost importance to Brace. As he explained in a volume of his sermons to newsboys, “I think all engaged in these early works among the poor of New York, felt that the great power that should renovate society was not phalansteries, nor industrial homes, nor charities, but simply the force of the SPIRIT OF CHRIST.” The goal was to “put these poor creatures…where they could most easily be reached by Christian influences.” His book of collected sermons ran to more than 200 pages.
The public of New York City also attended the lectures of visiting clergymen who spoke on behalf of the “street Arabs.” In late April 1871 a full audience heard the English missionary the Rev. Nugent recall his work with “nobody’s children….The protection and Christian education of whom he considered the noblest duty.”  Having worked with convicts, Nugent recognized, as did Brace and other reformers, that the surest way to aid society was to save the children, to “strike at the root of the evil and take the child before he become inured to vice.” In his lecture Nugent entertained the audience, picturing “the life of the street Arab with wonderful exactitude, and illustrated his remarks by mimicking the boys and girls in their various avocations.” The newspaper account concluded that Father Nugent’s “address was very eloquent and was listened to with marked attention.”
The CAS was one of a handful of organizations established in the middle decades of the 19th century to deal with a steadily mounting problem of wayward children, and each served large numbers of youths. In its 32nd annual report the CAS, one of the oldest, largest and most active of these groups, proudly wrote that since its founding in 1853 it had “sheltered, partly fed and instructed over 300,000 homeless boys and girls in its six lodging houses.” It had also sent more than 70,000 to work and live in the countryside. Shepard’s House was another institution that offered shelter and training, as did a handful of other denominational based charitable organizations such as the Roman Catholic Asylum and the Orphans’ and Asylum of the Protestant and Episcopal Church, and the New York Juvenile Asylum. A smaller number of non-denominational organizations worked to aid the wayward and abandoned children. The New York House of Refuge, for example, was founded by the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents and it opened in November 1852. Housed at Randall’s Island, “it looks like a young city,” commented a reporter for The New York Times who visited there in 1878 when it held more than 400 youths. Most of its young charges had been sent to Randall’s Island shelter by the courts to serve out terms of incarceration.
For Brace and the Children’s Aid Society a crucial method of dealing with dissolute children and abject poverty in New York City was to send the unwanted youngsters westward on the railway, to farmers in the prairie lands of the mid and far West. The so-called orphan -trains carried tens of thousands of youngsters to parts of the country they had scarcely imagined. To other moral reforms of the day it was a brilliant solution. As George Needham later wrote, these youngsters , “placed in homes with the farmers of the Western States,” have “thus become useful citizens, growing with the growth of the country, many of them becoming extensive land-owners, and not a few are found filling important positions in the new towns which have so rapidly sprung into existence.” Needham was so taken by the scheme that he called for national legislation to curb immigration, what he termed the “import [of] helpless paupers to a new country,” and to relocate youths from the urban areas, “transplanting [them] from the crowded cities to the boundless prairies.” Others applauded the work of the CAS. Colonel George T. Balch, auditor of the New York City Board of Education, applauded the work of the CAS in a long essay on the values of instilling patriotism in these youth. The CAS has, he wrote, “accomplished so vast and noble a work,” namely removing from the streets of New York the wayward youths and relocating them to other parts of the country where they could learn the values of patriotism, hard-work and honesty. Another reformer added, “The boys of the streets are the voters of the future.” Balch viewed the work of the CAS as challenging and very difficult, for, he wrote, it dealt with that “large body of vagrant children and embryo criminals, whose rapidly increasing numbers, between 1846 and 1876, presented one of the most formidable social evils which the philanthropists and eleemosynary societies of that period had to cope.”
While the general public believed the CAS aided boys almost exclusively, the 30th Annual Report asserted that “we reach…more girls than boys,” largely through the Industrial Schools and Girls’ Lodging-House and Emigration branch. Already within several years of its founding Brace and the CAS had recognized the need to aid girls, especially those working in factories. Several night schools for girls were launched in New York City with the aim to keep them away from the temptations of “the low dance saloons and houses of improper character.” Work in this area continued. A night school program for girls ages 14 to 17 was in operation by 1861, and that the CAS developed in order to offer them “instruction and amusement.” Brace outlined his ideas in a circular, “A Plan for the Instruction of Poor Young Girls.” Soon, the CAS opened “The Girls’ Lodging House” to offer safe and secure accommodations, and in 1870 added a program to instruct girls in the use of sewing machines. By 1883, for example, the CAS had established a Lodging House for Homeless Girls. Statistics compiled by city officials showed that such efforts had proven effective, and that in 1859 a total of 5,778 female vagrants were committed. That number dipped in 1889 to 1,541. The number of cases of girls involved in petty larceny dropped even greater, from 1,113 in 1863 to only 309 in 1881. These figures, the report concluded, were “a direct effect of the agencies at work on so large a scale under this Society,” that work, it continued, offered “unassailable testimony of a silent change which has been going on for a generation among the daughters of the lowest poor of the city, redeeming them from the untold miseries of prostitution and careers of crime.”
Along with churches and reformers motivated by their Christian ideals, a few newspapers of New York City organized their own programs to help the wayward children. Already in 1872 The New York Times launched regular outings and in the first year alone it took more than 18,700 youngsters, boys and girls, out to the country for a picnic. Just a year later that number climbed to more than 40,000. The newspaper described them as “little urchins,” from “the poorest ranks of the community.” With “barely a rag to cover them” the boys went to the country, to “come into contact with the greenness and freshness of nature,” which was widely believed to be crucial to society’s improvement, a reporter noted. The outings had a further motivation which the newspaper was not shy to admit – it was to “kindle in some breasts a sense of obligation and gratitude” to the better classes and to “render them more amenable to the restraints and elevating influences of society.” To aid the “poor children of this city” The Evening World newspaper in December 1892 brought “carloads of pretty and useful gifts” to several areas of Brooklyn and “gave 35,000 poor tots a Merry Christmas.” Organizers took care, however, because “some of the urchins that clamored for presents…are pretty rough when they get together, but the overseer of the Christmas trees prepared for all possible street Arab disturbances.” A squad of patrolmen from the nearby police precinct was on hand “to keep the lads in good order.”
For the social and moral reformers of New York City the steady tide of immigrants which fed the over-crowded tenements with impoverished and destitute men and women was, as noted above, at the root of the problem of the wayward youths. With the number of those arriving increased yearly – and the reformers bolstered their arguments steadily with statistics – a continuously growing number of children from these families had to find some work on the streets to aid their family. Many youngsters were simply abandoned and they took to the streets to survive. Some reformers, such as the George Needham, used anecdotes about his approaches to the “street Arabs” to illustrate the magnitude of the problem. In often humorous vignettes Needham portrayed the difficult daily life of these youngsters. Others, such as Charles Loring Brace, spent years among the urban poor, the dissolute of New York City, and he used figures – census materials and police arrest statistics to bolster his argument that vigorous steps had to be taken to maintain social stability, to curb the surging rate of crime. These reformers, driven in part by strong Christian beliefs and by a real fear of crime, took the initiative, adopting measures that the state – namely local government – had long been responsible for.
Other reformers and associations moved ahead with similar plans aimed at the street kids of New York. In June 1897 a community was established in Gardiner, New York. Launched by the Industrial Colony Association of New York City, “The scheme is to teach the arabs the art of government and the business of farming,” The Sun newspaper reported. Among the advisers were several members of the clergy. A May 1898 meeting in New York City of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections addressed directly the issue of “street Arabs.” The initial topic of discussion read: “The Duty of the State to Dependent Children.” Increasingly, the state, the local and regional governing bodies, took a more active role in dealing with the longstanding problem of destitute children. The discussion was led by the director of nearby New Jersey’s State Charities Association who had spent more than six months among the wayward youth of New York City’s streets. The Sun newspaper reported that “she had found him [the street Arab] not only manly, honest and honorable, but also chivalrous, and that she believed that he was of that stuff of which the best and noblest citizens are made.” Much of the meeting’s discussion focused on means of aiding the wayward youth with speakers calling for the state to take action, the proper amount of action. A few clung to the old views and called for religious training of the youths, insisting that “the best results are found in the institution where a strong religious feeling is the groundwork.”
Other changes followed. Long neglected or simply ignored by much of the urban population as far as possible, the street Arabs became less noticeable after 1900. The years of discussion and debate had heightened awareness of their plight and stirred measures to aid them. In late September 1903, for example, The World carried a long article on the police investigation of a body of a youngster found on a pier. “He seemed to be an ordinary street arab,” the reporter wrote. The youth had been murdered elsewhere, the police concluded, his body moved to the pier and covered with a tarp. Efforts to identify the boy were largely futile, and he died much as he had lived, anonymously. Police questioned other boys who recognized him as a “waif who sold papers, ran errands and played along the water front,” the newspaper added. “To the other boys in the district he was known by the soubriquet of ‘Bum’.”
In spite of a handful of such incidents, the “street Arab” and “gutter rat,” long a feature of New York City street life, were gradually disappearing, fading from the attention of reformers and social workers, from the eyes of the public. In part, this was due to the new concept of childhood that emerged, and at the same time explanations of criminal behavior, even among juveniles, shifted from an analysis of the social environment to the nature of the offender. Brace and other reformers, driven by an evangelical zeal and a conviction that asocial behavior was caused by environmental factors, by the social world of the child, saw training and the relocation of the youngsters, their removal from the corrupt urban life, to an new, rural environment as an answer. By the late 19th century, such ideals were losing ground in the face of the growing medicalization of social work and criminology. “A much higher proportion of mental defectives is to be found among delinquents,” commented a researcher in April 1922. Eugenics shaped public policy and its biological explanation of deviant behavior came to have far-reaching influence. Also during these decades the role of local government changed and it increasingly took a pro-active role in social work, in addressing the problem of the delinquent youngster.
In November 1912 J.G. Brown, a prominent artist who, The New York Times wrote, had “made the young Arab of the city famous” through his paintings, announced that “the street gamin has vanished from New York.” The city had “greatly changed,” and Brown, who gained his fame from romanticized portraits of street youngsters, called it “a great pity.” Brown, in the eulogy for the now-gone subjects of his paintings that made him so-well known, spoke of a “feeling of genuine sadness at the disappearance of the “street Arab” who “gave the streets where he abounded a certain flavor, a tang of joyfulness, rowdiness, a rough and tumble irresponsibility, irrepressible and unending freedom.” Brown’s waning and his overly fond recollections of the life of the wayward children show how far New York City had changed by the eve of the First World War.
Dr. Robert G. Waite is a historian based in Shushan, New York. He earned a PhD in history from SUNY Binghamton and specializes in the history of law enforcement and crime. Currently, he is afffiliated with the Memorial Site for German Resistance in Berlin, Germany.
 Geo. C. Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes (Boston: D.L. Guernsey, 1884), 21. On Needham see “Rev. George C. Needham Dead,” New York Times (February 17, 1920); and Geo. C. Needham, Arabs of the City. Their Freaks and Fortunes, Their Woes and Wants (Boston: Bradley and Woodruf, 1891). James Otis, The Boys Revolt. A Story of the Street Arabs of New York (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1894). Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York (New York: Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1872).
 “First Circular of the Children’s Aid Society,” in The Life of Charles Loring Brace Chiefly Told in His Own Letters, Edited by His Daughter (NY: Charles Schreibner’s Sons, 1894), 489. “Charles Loring Brace,” New York Times (November 28, 1890). Several German cities, Berlin, Weimar, and Hamburg had by the mid-1830s, already established homes for children; see Johann Hinrich Wichern, “Rettungsanstalten für verwahrloste Kinder,” in Sämtliche Werke, Volume IV, Part 1, Schriften zur Sozialpolitik (Berlin: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1958), 115ff.
 “First Circular of the Children’s Aid Society.” Charles Loring Brace, The Children’s Aid Society of New York. Its History, Plans and Results (New York: Children’s Aid Society, 1893), 3-4. “Juvenile Stowaways. How the Vagrants of the Ocean Exist,” New York Times (September 15, 1872).
 Third Annual Report of the Children’s Aid Society, February, 1856 (NY: M.B. Wynkop, Book & Job Printers, 1856), 3-4.
 The quote is from the preface in William F. Howe and Abraham H. Hummel, Danger! A True History of a Great City’s Wiles and Temptations. The Veil Lifted and Light Thrown on Crime and Its Causes and Criminals and Their Haunts (Buffalo: The Courier Company, 1886).
 “Street Children. A Plan for Their Education and Moral Improvement,” New York Daily Times (April 5, 1853). Timothy J. Gilfoyle, “Street-Rats and Gutter-Snipes: Child Pickpockets and Street Culture in New York City, 1850-1900,” Journal of Social History 37(2004), 853-855. Peter C. Baldwin, “’Nocturnal Habits and Dark Wisdom’: The American Response to Children in the Streets at Night, 1880-1930,” Journal of Social History 35(2002), 593-597, 604.
 Colonel Geo. T. Balch, Methods of Teaching Patriotism in the Public Schools. Being An Abstract of an Address Delivered Before Teachers of the Children’s Aid Society of the City of New York (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1890), XIX, XXI-XXIII, XXVI. Balch saw his work as essential to counteracting what he termed “the pernicious influence…and evils” of immigration and crime through “that form of education which relates to the highest conception of citizenship, namely, patriotism,” and his text, with curriculum and drills, was more than a hundred pages; Balch, XXXV. Gilfoyle, “Street-Rats and Gutter-Snipes,” 855.
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 257. Balch, Methods of Teaching Patriotism, XXVII.
 “Street Arabs – The House of Refuge,” New York Times (April 24, 1870).
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 202-203. Gilfoyle, “Street-Rats and Gutter-Snipes,” 843ff.
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 153-157. Brace was born on June 19, 1826, in Lichtfield, Connecticut, and trained as a teacher before turning to the study of theology. Junius Henri Brown, The Great Metropolis; A Mirror of New York (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1869), 483-489.
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 157-159. On the early work of the CAS, see pages 159-164, 167-174. Balch, Methods of Teach Patriotism, XXVIII. On the orphan trains see Andrea Warren, We Rode the Orphan Trains (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001); Stephen O’Connor, Orphan Trains. The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001); Marilyn Irvin Holt, The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); and “National Orphan Train Complex, Inc.,” www.orphantraindepot.com
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 238.
 30th Annual Report, quoted in Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 241.
 Otis, The Boys Revolt, 15-16, 18, 47-50, 53-54, 70-72.
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 215-217. Helen Campbell, Thomas W. Knox and Thomas Byrnes, Darkness and Daylight: or, Lights and Shadows of New York Life (Hartford, Conn.: The Hartford Publishing Company, 1891), 38-40.
 Brace, The Children’s Aid Society, 10-11.
 The book runs to 750 pages and contains more than 350 illustrations and photographs; Campbell, Darkness and Daylight, 39.
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 215.
 Quoted in Balch, Methods of Teaching Patriotism, XXIII. On the problem of wayward and delinquent youth in German cities see Martin Weber, Die Sorge für die Verwahrloste Jugend. Ein Mahnruf an alle Eltern und Erzieher (Frankfurt am Main: Druck und Verlag von Peter Krueer, 1898), 3, 7, 12-19. See the account of a May 1883 international gathering in Paris to discuss “the best means of dealing with criminal and abandoned children,” “Reclaiming Street Arabs,” New York Times (May 21, 1883).
 Life of Charles Loring Brace, 230. Mrs. H.M. Stanley, London Street Arabs (London: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1926), offers a brief sketch of that city’s youth underworld and contains a large number of sketches of the “street arabs.”
 Brace, Dangerous Classes of New York, 367. “First Circular of the Children’s Aid Society,” 489. Brace made continuous references to the values and the meaning of the teachings of Christ; see Life of Charles Loring Brace, 308, 313, 358, 366-368, 372-374, 384ff. Rev. Frederick Burrill Grave, “Charles Loring Brace, The Children’s Friend,” The Magazine of Christian Literature III (October 1890 to March 1891), 52-54.
 Balach, Methods of Teaching Patriotism, XXVII.
 Needham, Street Arabs, 23-24. Gilfoyle, “Street-Rats and Gutter-Snipes,” 854-855.
 “Our Juvenile Offenders” New York Times (March 22, 1862). C.L.B. (Charles Loring Brace), “Little Street Arabs,” New York Times (March 27, 1869). Gilfoyle, “Street-Rats and Gutter-Snipes,” 870-871.
 Quoted in Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 61, 90.
 Brace, “Little Street Arabs.”
 “Crime and Its Prevention. A Sermon on Behalf of the Shephard’s Fold,” New York Times (April 28, 1873). Browne, Great Metropolis, 346-354.
 “Street Arabs Spell an Italian’s Stock of Toy Balloons,” The Evening World (June 6, 1889). Campbell, Darkness and Daylight, 48.
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 101.
 “Our Juvenile Offenders.”
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 116.
 Minnie Myrtle, “The Friendless Children,” New York Times (March 8, 1854).
 “Busy Madame Rumor,” The Sun (July 17, 1884). “She Was Only a Bum. The Street Arabs Jeered Her,” The Evening World (December 11, 1888).
 “Little New York Savages,” New York Times (July 5, 1893).
 “A Street Arab’s Exploits on April 1.,” New York Times (April 2, 1874).
 “Knocked Out a Newsboy,” The Sun (September 30, 1892).
 For an example, see “Young Wife’s Lesson,” The Evening World (September 5, 1890). One target of the harassment shot several of his young tormentors; see “Our Street Arabs,” New York Times (November 20, 1870).
 “Eighteen Months Imprisonment for Stealing Ten Cents,” New York Times (October 7, 1875).
 “Five Young Thieves,” New York Times (July 30, 1881). Gilfoyle, “Child Pickpockets and Street Culture,” 853ff.
 “Eight-Year-Old Homicide,” Atlanta Constitution (August 7, 1883).
 “Tommy Is Still Alive. They Threw Him Into the River But He Came Back,” The Evening World (July 7, 1893); and “Tommy’s Friends Go Free. The Alleged Would-Be Drowners Arraigned and Freed,” The Evening World (July 8, 1893).
 “Shot By A Street Arab,” New York Times (November 26, 1883). On crime in New York City, see Browne, Great Metropolis, 346-354.
 Third Annual Report of the Children’s Aid Society, 5. Life of Charles Loring Brace, 251. Brace devotes a full chapter to the evils of drunkenness; see Dangerous Classes of New York, 64-73, and the comments of Rev. Alvin Wiswall, “Poverty and Crime,” New York Times (October 21, 1872).
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 79, 87-88. German reformer Martin Weber identified a similar problem; see Weber, Sorge für Verwahrloste Jugend, 19-20.
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 81, 89. “A Youthful Vagabond,” New York Times (February 26, 1884). “Two Youngsters Get Drunk Together,” The Sun (July 5, 1893).
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 89-90, 107-108, 162, 213. For a description of the dire living conditions and home life, see “Poverty and Crime,” New York Times (October 21, 1872); and Browne, Great Metropolis, 76-85, 271-279.
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 113.
 Ibid., 96-97.
 “Street Arabs – The House of Refuge,” New York Times (April 23, 1870). Children’s Aid Society, Third Annual Report, 12. Life of Charles Loring Brace, 230-231.
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 200. Browne, Great Metropolis, 23-30, 40-49.
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 191, 193, 204, 207. “Crime and Its Prevention. A Sermon on Behalf of the Shepard’s Fold.” Charles Loring Brace, Short Sermons To News Boys: with a History of the Formation of News Boys’ Lodging House (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1866), V, 11, 31. “Charles Loring Brace,” New York Times (November 28, 1890).
 Otis, The Boys Revolt, 63-64. Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 350.
 Brace, The Children’s Aid Society, 4-6. On the role of Christian work and the teaching of the gospel, see Campbell, Daylight and Darkness, 68-72, 247-254.
 Brace, The Children’s Aid Society, 12-18. Brace, Short Sermons to News Boys, 12-13.
 “Newsboys’ Lodging-House,” New York Times (December 5, 1870). Large numbers of youths sold newspapers on the streets of New York, see, for example, Campbell, Darkness and Daylight, 111-117.
 “Save The Boy. Nobody’s Children-How to Treat Them-Discourse By Father Rev. Nugent,” New York Times (May 1, 1871). “The Talk of New York,” Washington Post (July 21, 1889).
 “Street Arabs Sheltered,” New York Times (November 25, 1885).
 Brace, The Children’s Aid Society, 18-20. “House of Refuge at Randall’s Island. Laying of the Corner-Stone,” New York Daily Times (November 25, 1852); and “The Juvenile Delinquency Society,” New York Times (September 30, 1879. A fuller list of organizations aiding children is in “Charity of Children. The Waifs of New York,” New York Times (September 15, 1873). “In the House of Refuge. Daily Life of the Little Inmates,” New York Times (April 28, 1878).
 Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 280-281. Brace, Dangerous Classes of New York, 246-270. Grave, “Charles Loring Brace,” 53.
 Leonard Benedict, Waifs of the Slums and Their Way Out (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907), II. Balch, Methods of Teaching Patriotism, XIV.
 Children’s Aid Society, Third Annual Report, 19. 30th Annual Report, quoted in Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 242-243. Life of Charles Loring Brace, 249-252, 305. Jane Adams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909), 5-8.
 Children’s Aid Society, Third Annual Report, 19. 30th Annual Report, quoted in Needham, Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes, 242-243, 245. Life of Charles Loring Brace, 227-230. “Misery in the Slums,” Washington Post (January 30, 1892) reports on a lecture by Jakob Riis on the slums of New York.
 “Charity to Children.” “Excursions for the Poor,” New York Times (August 14, 1873).
 “Children Made Happy,” The Evening World (December 27, 1892).
 For a description of tenement life, see Campbell, Darkness and Daylight, 89-110, 149-160.
 “New Industrial Colony, The Sun (June 6, 1887).
 “Woman Ran the Meeting. An Innovation at the Charities Conference,” The Sun (May 24, 1898).
 “Find the Hidden Body of a Boy,” The World (September 28, 1903).
 “Criminality A Disease,” New York Times (October 18, 1895). “Clinics To Study Juvenile Delinquency,” New York Times (March 19, 1922). Paul Popencoe and Roswell Hill Johnson, Applied Eugenics (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918) VII, 357. See, W. Douglas Morrison, Juvenile Offenders (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1897); James Burt Miner, Deficiency and Delinquency (Baltimore: Warwick & York Inc., 1918); and Henry Herbert Gottard, Juvenile Delinquency (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1921).
 S. J. Duncan-Clark, The Progressive Movement: Its Principles and Its Program (Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1912), 152-154, 157-158. Benjamin Parke DeWitt, The Progressive Movement (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1915), VII, 348-349. James Leidy, A History of Social Welfare and Social Work in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 135, 144. Michael B. Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York: Basic Books, 1966), 117-119, 125. Roy Lubove, The Progressives and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890-1917 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962), 217ff. Martin J. Schiesl, The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Reform in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), passim.
 “The Street Gamin Has Vanished From New York,” New York Times (November 12, 1912). On Brown see Nym Crynkle, “The Arabs of New York,” The Quarterly Illustrator 2(April-May 1894), 125ff; and Martha J. Hoppin, “The ‘Little White Slaves’ of New York: Paintings of Child Street Musicians by J.G. Brown,” The American Art Journal XXVI(1994) 5-43.