In 1869, in response to a sharp rise in the number of babies being abandoned in New York, often in dangerous circumstances, The Foundling Asylum — run by Sister Irene Fitzgibbon, pictured above — opened to the public with a single white cradle on its doorstep, and immediately began to give safe shelter to unwanted infants. In the first two years alone, 2’500 children were taken in.
Babies were often abandoned at the Foundling along with a letter, many of which have since been preserved by the New York Historical Society. Below are just five examples.
Transcripts follow each image.
New York Tuesday
you will find a little boy he is a month old to morrow it father will not do anything and it is a poor little boy it mother has to work to keep 3 others and can not do anything with this one it name is Walter Cooper and he is not christen yet will you be so good as to do it? I should not like him to die with out it his mother might claim him some day I have been married 5 years and I married respectfully and I did not think my husband was a bad man I had to leave him and I could not trust my children to him now I do not know where he is and he has not seen this one yet I have not a dollar in the world to give him or I would give it to him I wish you would keep him for 3 or 4 months and if he is not claimed by that time you may be sure it mother can not support it I may some day send some money to him do not forget his name.
New York April 6th
My dear good Sister,
Please accept this little outcast son of mine trusting with God’s help that I will be able to sustain it in your institution. I would not part with my baby were it in any way possible for me to make a respectable living with it, but I cannot, and so ask you to take my little one, and with the assistance of Our Blessed Lady I promise to place in the contribution box, each month all that I can spare from my earnings, and to bring it clothes as often as my means will allow. This is no idle promise Good Sister. I know how often such are made and broken, but I will do my duty. Its name is Joseph Cavalier.
I am a poor woman and I have been deceived under the promise of marriage, I am at present with no means and with out any relatives to nurse my baby. Therefore I beg you for god sake to take my child until I can find a situation and have enough means so I can bring up myself. I hope that you will so kind to accept my child and I will pray god for you.
I remain humble servant
New York, Dec. 3rd 1874
New York July 3rd 1872
Kind Sisters of Charity
This worthy man Mr. Edward Keefe has had the misfortune to lose within about a week, both daughter and wife. The mother of his child died today, leaving upon his hands a tender infant but a few hours old.
He prays of you to care for it and sustain in it the feeble spark of life which God has placed there.
F.E. Donlin MD
No 1 Ludlow Place
Dear Sister of Mercy,
Please take care of my baby as I can not do it my self. I trust God will reward you. I do not know if I live or die. I give it in charge of you and the Almighty. I have sinned can not expect much good luck. It will not be christened as I know you will attend to that. If I live I hope to claim it some day. Its fathers name is Hudson. You call it as you think best. I am not able to write any more. I call it Julia R Hudson.