Alert
Close

Earn Double Rewards Points: Take the AARP Social Security True/False Quiz

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

Happiness
poll

most popular
articles

Viewed

Life Stories

Searching for the First Chapter

Orphan homecoming: 140 years in the making.

“No one cares for you a smidge,” wrote Martin Charnin in his lyrics for the musical Annie, “when you’re in an orphanage.”

In early October, a child welfare agency called the New York Foundling proved this notion wrong when nearly 550 people showed up at its homecoming in Manhattan to celebrate the institution’s 140th anniversary.

The Foundling began with three Sisters of Charity, members of a Catholic congregation who had dedicated themselves to the care of the poor. They placed a wicker crib outside a brownstone on 12th Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village and accepted abandoned or orphaned infants, no questions asked.

By the late 1950s, the Foundling was running a hospital on East 68th Street with room for more than 300 young children. The building also had a ward for unwed pregnant women. The Sisters of Charity and scores of young nurses oversaw the work. The children born or deposited at the Foundling hospital were cared for until they were placed in adoptive or foster homes, usually by their third birthday.

The Foundling’s work ultimately shifted as needs changed into a community-based network of foster care and preventive services. But the Foundling’s earlier eras were well represented at the three-day homecoming by Sisters of Charity, former nurses and those who passed through as young children decades ago.

Several of the fostered and adopted children who came began searches later in life for information about their birth parents—information that often proves to be incomplete or inaccessible. Wendy Freund, a social worker who has overseen Foundling archives for 20 years, says she receives many calls for records from former Foundling children now age 50 or older who have never searched their past before. “They wait until there is something going on in their lives that isn’t sitting well with them,” she says, such as medical issues that might benefit from knowledge of a family history. “It’s generally not a relaxed person on the other end of the phone.”

At the homecoming former Foundling children and their caregivers often shared a desire to recover lost pieces of themselves. Here are some of their stories.

Charles Wilson lives in New York City.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Cereal

Members can download and print coupons for cereals from Kellogg's®.

Grocery Coupon Center

Members can print savings coupons at the Grocery Coupon Center powered by Coupons.com.

membership schwanns discount

Members get double Schwan’s rewards on all online orders from Schwan's Home Service™.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.