The Industrial Home School


The Industrial Home School was founded during the Civil War to “furnish instruction, provide homes, and supply the pressing wants of homeless and friendless children, to furnish them with suitable clothing; bring them under Christian influence, and instruct them in industrial pursuits, that they may be taught to earn an honest living, and become useful members of society.” 

The inmates of the Industrial Home School included orphans, truants and delinquents. Over the years the typical duration of a child’s stays at the Home was shorter, and the school’s original mission of vocational training became impractical. 

In 1954 the residents of the Industrial Home School were transferred to the Children’s Center in Laurel, Maryland, and the main building of the Industrial Home School was torn down. Of an institution that had been a landmark in this neighborhood since 1875, only the schoolhouse, built in 1902, still remains; it is now the Guy Mason Recreation Center.



The Industrial Home School in 1898, seen from the southwest. (Report of the Joint Select Committee to Investigate the Charities and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1898)





The Georgetown Poor House opened in 1832. Despite the fact that it was funded by a philanthropic bequest, and had been intended as a charity, the frugal city fathers of Georgetown were unable to resist the temptation to economize by consolidating, under one roof, charity for the poor, and chastisement for the minor criminal, which they expressed with disarming candor: “The whole process of punishing the petty criminal offender and vagrant and protecting the unfortunate Poor of Town, may be connected within one general enclosure and under the same Superintendance.“ (Trustees for the Care of the Poor of George Town, to the Levy Court, January 6, 1832, Barnard Papers, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.)

Thus the Poor House of Georgetown became as well the Work House of Georgetown. At any given time it was likely to have housed a diverse population: dying paupers, blind, crippled, and mentally ill persons, unwed mothers with infants and children, runaway apprentices, prostitutes, vagrants, and disorderly drunks. This arrangement––which, it should be said, was by no means unique at the time –– only came to an end when Georgetown surrendered its municipal charter in 1871.


The Poor and Work House of Georgetown, which opened in 1832, became the Industrial Home School in 1875. (“Roadside Sketches”, Evening Star, August 15, 1891)


Georgetown’s Poor and Workhouse was taken over by the District of Columbia in 1875, and a new institution took up residence: the Industrial Home School. This institution had its origins in the Civil War, which had attracted many newcomers to the capital city to do war work. These people also had a penchant for relief work, charity, and reform.

Washington, not widely known for progressive charity, was ripe for their efforts: the seat of government lacked the wealth of commerce and industry that were the basis of philanthropy in other cities, and Congress was not inclined to take up the slack. The new philanthropy that made itself felt in Washington during and after the Civil War was different from that which had produced the Poor and Work House of Georgetown, with its devil’s brew of poverty, disease, and crime: it preferred specialized charities that addressed specific problems.

One problem that attracted the attention of reformers was that of homeless children, whose numbers were already astonishing in the decade before the war. In 1854 Charles Loring Brace, founder of the New York Children’s Aid Society, cited a police estimate that there were ten thousand vagrant children in New York City alone. Such children were fatally exposed to criminal connections and prostitution. Juvenile delinquency rose to new heights in the Civil War. In Washington, for want of a federal reformatory geared to this problem, children convicted of relatively trivial offenses were “cooped up in the county jail with hardened criminals, with the result that boys emerged showing ‘a degree of precocious villainy hard to conceive of’”. (Green, Washington, 1:251-2, quoting Report to the Secretary of Interior, 1863, p.731, Ser. 1182) These were some of the conditions that the Industrial Home School movement was intended to address.



The Industrial Home School, formerly the Georgetown Poorhouse, taken between 1895-1905. (Historical Society of Washington)

The Industrial Home School, formerly the Georgetown Poorhouse, taken between 1895-1905. (Historical Society of Washington)




In the decades leading up to the Civil War, large American cities were overrun by gangs of street children. Many of them were the children of immigrants, orphaned by the death or absence of the family breadwinner. The numbers of these children vastly exceeded the number of orphanages. (Most orphanages were geared to apprenticing the children out to someone who would house and feed them, and teach them a useful trade. The apprenticeship system declined as the Industrial Age advanced).

Charles Loring Brace, founder of the New York Children’s Aid Society (1853), believed that exploitation and environment made these street children into criminals, and proposed ways to extract them from the pernicious influences of the city. One was to place them out with farm families, in a kind of rural apprenticeship. Brace also advocated a new kind of institution that would teach orphans a trade before discharging them. These “industrial schools” caught on quickly. By 1860 Brace could report that the cities of Buffalo, Troy, Detroit, and St. Louis all had opened industrial schools. (Charles Loring Brace, Address Delivered to the Teachers of the Industrial Schools, November 13, 1868)

One class of orphans that attracted a measure of public benevolence at this time were the gangs of newsboys who hawked papers in the streets of American cities. These were not, as we imagine today, boys with paper routes, but children of destitute and broken immigrant families, often homeless, who scraped by on the meager difference between the number of papers they paid for and then resold.

The first Newsboys Lodging House had opened in New York City in 1854. The Newsboys and Children’s Aid Society of the District of Columbia came into being nine years later, when Congress authorized the Society’s trustees to build a home for destitute newsboys on vacant public land. (Joint Resolution of Congress, March 3, 1863; Statutes At Large, 12:830, October 29, 1863; Report of the News Boys’ Home Association, Washington, 1864)


Joint Resolution of the 37th Congress, Sess. III, March 3, 1863.


Temporarily, the Newsboys’ Home occupied rooms put at its disposal by the proprietors of Willard’s Hotel. “A free supper was given to newsboys at the old Mansion House adjoining Willard’s, by, among others, Postmaster Sayles Bowen, Mrs. Gangewer, and Mrs. Cooke. About 25 newsboys took tickets for the night lodging.” “Nine out of twelve were orphans who slept in the pressroom and the passage ways of the Chronicle, or in stalls of the market. Bootblacks and other orphans were welcomed.” None of the hosts were Washingtonians by birth: Sayles Bowen was a Lincoln appointee, originally from New York; Mrs. Gangewer and Mrs. Cooke’s husbands had come to the capital from Ohio with Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase.  (National Intelligencer, March 9, 1863; Star, April 3, 1863; Report of the News Boys’ Home Association, from its Commencement, in April 1863, to October, 1864)


Sayles Jenks Bowen (1813–1896), a founder of the Republican Party, was appointed Police Commissioner for the District of Columbia by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and D.C. postmaster in 1863. After the war, Bowen was mayor of Washington from 1868 to 1870.


The location selected for the permanent Newsboys’ Home was to be a corner of Armory Square (now 7th Street and Independence Avenue NW), much of which was occupied by a military hospital. As this site fell under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior, it was secured by an application to Secretary Usher from trustees of the Home who were confident of a hearing: Joseph Henry was the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Henry Beard was the principal clerk in the Secretary of the Interior’s office; the name of trustee John Wien Forney, the proprietor of the Washington Daily Chronicle, was added for good measure.


View of the Mall from the Capitol (detail); in the foreground , the military hospital at Armory Square, and the Smithsonian Institution.  (Library of Congress)


A contribution of $2500 from Henry D. Cooke, and Harris C. Fahnestock––partners in Jay Cooke and Co.––financed erection of the building, which opened formally, on March 30, 1864, with thirty boys, almost all of whom were orphans.  Among the amenities offered were a savings bank where the boys’ earnings could be safely deposited (and habits of economy be fostered); instruction in “the rudimental English branches” by volunteer teachers; and Sunday School. (October 29, 1863, Record Group 48, National Archives; Report of the News Boys’ Home Association, from its Commencement, in April 1863, to October, 1864)


Joseph Henry and Henry Beard ask permission to erect a “Home for Destitute News Boys” in Armory Square. (National Archives)



“June 30, 1864. During this month some trouble has arisen from a number of boys from New York, whose unruly conduct has given rise to much disturbance among the boys. It was proposed to allow the boys to remain at the home only at meal times and at night, but the bad effects of this on the smaller boys was so apparent, that it was decided to allow the Matron to exercise her discretion for a short time, and not to make any new rules at present. The difficulty would have been entirely obviated had the Committee succeeded in obtaining the services of a policeman, but their efforts, so far, have been unavailing. Many of the boys have left this month, there being but little for them to do during the summer in Washington. A Committee in Charge were appointed to manage the affairs of the Home during the next few months, as most of the ladies were to be absent.” (Report of the News Boys’ Home Association, from its Commencement, in April 1863, to October, 1864, Washington: Chronicle Print, 1864)


“Mrs. Olive Freeman, well known to some of your committee as former Matron of the News-boys’ Home”. (Sixth Annual Report of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, 1869)



(Library of Congress)


Far from being discouraged by difficulties such as those described in their first annual report, the managers of the Newsboys’ Home appear to have been determined to expand their mission. In 1864 the Home was reorganized as the Industrial Home School, and its trustees announced that it now stood ready to accept boys and girls. Its new mission (as cited in 1880) was to ” furnish instruction, provide homes, and supply the pressing wants of homeless and friendless children, to furnish them with suitable clothing; bring them under Christian influence, and instruct them in industrial pursuits, that they may be taught to earn an honest living, and become useful members of society.”

(Daily Morning Chronicle, March 31, 1864; National Republican, July 7, 1871; Annual Report of the Industrial Home School for the year ending June 30, 1880; “Roadside Sketches”, Star, August 15, 1891; Journal of the Columbia Historical Society, 21:227; Report of the Joint Select Committee to Investigate the Charities and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia1898, p.122-125; Green, Washington, I:317)


Joseph Henry (1797-1878), the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, presided over the formal opening of the Washington Newsboys Home, March 30, 1864. (Smithsonian Archives)


John Wien Forney, proprietor of the Washington Daily Chronicle.




Washington Newsboys


Newspapers had little interest in drawing attention the child labor employed by their distribution departments, and images of newsboys are correspondingly scarce. The most memorable images of Washington newsboys were not created until a half century later, when the photographer Lewis Hine was documenting child labor in America.

While in 1863, “Nine out of twelve were orphans who slept in the pressroom and the passage ways of the [Washington] Chronicle, or in stalls of the market”, by 1912, some Washington newsboys were able to give an address if asked.  (Report of the News Boys’ Home Association, from its Commencement, in April 1863, to October, 1864; Photographs by Lewis Hine for the National Child Labor Committee, Library of Congress)



“After midnight April 17, 1912, and still selling extras, 12th Street near G. There were many of these groups of young newsboys selling very late these nights. Youngest boy in the group is Israel Spril (9 years old), 314 I Street N.W.; Harry Shapiro (11 years old), 95 L Street N.W.; Eugene Butler, 310 (rear) 13th Street N.W. The rest were a little older.” Photo and caption by Lewis Hine. (National Archives)


“Group of newsies selling on Capitol steps. Tony Passaro, 8 years old, 124 Schottes Alley N.E.; Dan Mercurio, 9 years old, a chronic truant, 150 Schottes Alley; said he made eight cents today. Joseph Tucci, 10 years old, 411½ 5th St. N.E.; Peter Pepe, 10 years old, 24 Wonders Court; John Carlino, 11 years old.” Photo and caption by Lewis Hine, April 11, 1912. (National Archives)


“Photograph of a group of news-boys selling on the Capitol steps. Dan Mercurio, a 9-year-old chronic truant, began selling when he was 7. Joseph Tucci begins selling at 5:30 A.M. on Sundays. John Carlino began selling when he was 6.” Photo and caption by Lewis Hine, April 11, 1912. (National Archives)


William Parralla, of 313 Second Street SW, a “7 yr. old news-boy, without a badge, who tried to “short-change” me when he sold me a paper.” Photo by Lewis Hine, April, 1912. (Library of Congress)

William Parralla, of 313 Second Street SW, a “7 yr. old news-boy, without a badge, who tried to “short-change” me when he sold me a paper.” Photo by Lewis Hine, April, 1912. (Library of Congress)


A Washington Daily News newsboy, 1921 (Library of Congress)

A Washington Daily News newsboy, 1921 (Library of Congress)





That the philanthropic impulse behind the creation of the Newsboys’ Home was directed toward white newboys may be inferred from the fact that there was no mention of race in its founding documents; no surprise then that the Industrial Home School, the institution that succeeded the Newsboys’ Home, was similarly silent. This did not mean that these activists were unaware of black children in a similar plight: several of the officers and board members of the Newsboys’ Home and the Industrial Home School also served on the board of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, which had been founded to aid the neediest of the fugitive slaves who entered the District of Columbia during the Civil War.  It did, however, signify that the founders of these institutions were inclined to regard the problems as separate.  (See The Colored Home)

While there may have been practical considerations for this separation, there is no doubt that it also reflected prevailing prejudices. According to the Georgetown Courier, for example, the Industrial Home School was particularly welcome because it would at last address the needs of “neglected and despised and poverty stricken white people of the District [as] the exclusive devotion to the blacks shown by Congress render the case of the poor whites at this season particularly distressing.” (Georgetown Courier, December 7, 1867)



The Industrial Home School at Armory Square


Detail of a view (circa 1863) from the Capitol, with Washington Armory and Armory Square Hospital, Smithsonian Institution, Washington Monument, and Potomac River. (Library of Congress)


Armory Square Hospital, Washington, 1864


The Industrial Home School formally opened March 30, 1864, in a two-story frame building near Armory Square, at about Seventh and Independence, NW. A few years later, an auxiliary school was opened in Georgetown, and Thanksgiving dinner was given in the old Market Street Chapel on 34th Street to make its presence known. The children that came were told that the school would open there the following Monday. Forty-two reported for class. (“Roadside Sketches”, Star, August 15, 1891; National Republican, November 28, 1867; Annual Reports of the Industrial Home School, 1873, 1880, 1920)

The school then moved to a large old-fashioned brick house on Jefferson Street, in a working-class neighborhood of Georgetown. Its parlors were used as carpentry workshops, the second floor served as a school, and the third as a dormitory; paper boxes were produced in the attic. The school advertised for a turning lathe, and one was soon donated, to make “croquet sets, baseball clubs, and many convenient housekeeping articles.” Nine former street children were employed in the shops. Making boxes paid two cents an hour. This expense was paid for, in part, by monthly subscribers. (Georgetown Courier, January 4 and 18, April 18, May 30, August 8, 1868)

The case for the new institution was to be made by publication of The Industrial Advocate, which began to appear the following year, “to spread before the community the working and needs of the Industrial Schools…The object of these Schools is to prevent children from begging in the streets, by inducing them to do something better.”

Philadelphia financier Henry D. Cooke was now the president of the Industrial Home School. Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian, and Sayles Bowen, the mayor of Washington, were trustees, and the writer E.D.E.N. Southworth had been enlisted as an advisor.



E.D.E.N. Southworth


Day-to-day operations of the Industrial Home School were in the hands of Mrs. Gangewer and Mrs. Blackford. While these “lady managers” petitioned the Georgetown city council for funds, Mrs. Gangewer’s husband addressed his appeal for support to the president of the United States. (The Industrial Advocate, Volume I, No. 1, Washington City, D.C., February 1, 1869; Georgetown Courier, February 15, 22, 1868; Georgetown Ordinances, November 14, 1868; A. M. Gangewer to Andrew Johnson, November 1, 1868, Johnson Papers, Library of Congress)



The Industrial Home School in Georgetown


By late 1870 the Industrial Home School still had a building on Armory Square, at about Seventh and Independence, NW, where homeless girls were taught to make paper boxes. According to one report in the press, not many girls came. “It is argued that since girl beggars are more effective than boy beggars, the girls’ mothers train them for begging. It is understood that they will graduate to prostitution.” Boys were received at 53 Jefferson Street, in Georgetown. They too were to be saved from future lives of crime. “The children who are now begging on our streets had better be put [in the Industrial Home School] before their associations lead them to criminal acts.” (National Republican, July 7, 1871; Georgetown Courier, November 12, 1870)

The Georgetown Courier approved of the new institution, and kept the public apprised of the products that were produced by the former street children. “Paper and Pasteboard Box Manufactory, at the Industrial Home School, No. 47 Jefferson Street, Georgetown D.C., Albert Gruber, Superintendent.” A few weeks later: “The attention of builders is invited to the advertisement of the Industrial School, 47 Jefferson street, Georgetown, where newel posts, banisters, &c., will be neatly turned at short notice.“ And, from time to time it was reported that the “lady managers” of the home had petitioned the Georgetown City Council for financial support. (Georgetown Courier, May 15, July 3, 1869; March 26, 1870)

At the same time, Congress was informed that larger sums were needed, if the work was not to be abandoned, and if the pupils were to be paid (in clothing, at two cents an hour). In 1870-1871, thirty thousand dollars were appropriated to allow the Secretary of War to provide for “cases of absolute necessity” among the poor of Washington and Georgetown. These funds were to be distributed by the National Freedman’s Relief, the Washington Association for the Improvement of the Conditions of the Poor, and the Industrial Home School. The officers of the Industrial Home School asked Congress for a third of the appropriation. (Petition of the Managers of the Industrial School of the District of Columbia for Relief. House of Representatives, 41st Congress, Accompanying Papers File, Box 7: DC Petitions, referred to DC Committee, January 11, 1870; Star, February 15, 1870)

The visibility and success of the school’s varied fundraising initiatives during this time evidently caught the imagination of youthful entrepreneurs, and it was reported that young impostors––including a boy who had in fact been an inmate of the home––were soliciting provisions from Georgetown merchants. “People are advised to only give if a student wears the uniform, and has an official book.” (Georgetown Courier, February 4, 1871)



Key Figures in the Industrial Home School


In 1871 the Industrial Home School found it necessary to assure the public that it was not faltering. It had encountered difficulties. Girls had proven harder to reach than boys. An experiment with paying the children for shop work had failed, as it only gave them money for candy, tobacco and alcohol. Sometimes the children’s mothers took the money to buy alcohol. In fairness to themselves, the managers of the home also felt obliged to note that the presence of slavery in Washington had “made work of all kinds so disreputable that the poorest and lowest of the white population despise labor, and will avoid it if possible. They don’t seem to know that their hands are for use.” This critique of the lack of local work ethic is likely to be connected with the fact that the people who would prove to be the key figures of the Industrial Home School had not been Washingtonians all that long. (National Republican, July 7, 1871)

Allen Gangewer started his career as editor of a German newspaper in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1851 Gangewer supported the establishment of Myrtilla Miner’s Normal School for Colored Girls in Washington. In 1854 he took charge of an anti-slavery weekly in Ohio. Five years later he became private secretary of Governor Salmon Chase of Ohio. Chase became Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, and Gangewer got a position in the Treasury. Gangewer ran for a seat on the Georgetown Common Council in 1869, but the Republican ticket was defeated. The following year, however, he was successful, and served one year.  (Star, November 11, 1865; Pennsylvania Biographical Encyclopedia, 442-3; George W. William, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880, 1882, Vol.2, p.199)

Gangewer’s wife, Ann Maria Horton, was the daughter of a Pennsylvania politician. Her charity work in Washington first comes to light as a “lady manager” of the Newsboy’s Home, the predecessor of the Industrial Home School. She was also an officer of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, which operated an orphanage for the children of “contrabands”, i.e. runaway slaves who had sought safety behind Union lines. The orphanage was located in what is now Burleith. (Star, April 3, 1863; May 29, 1863)

Mrs. Gangewer’s name was frequently paired with that of another “lady manager”, Mrs. Blackford. Hulda Wells Blackford had started her career as a schoolteacher in Rochester, New York, where she was likely to have observed the founding, in 1856, of an industrial school. A Christmas dinner for Rochester’s homeless children introduced the new institution to its prospective clientele––precisely the pattern that was later followed here. In 1865 Wells married John S. Blackford, an English widower twenty—five years her senior, who was a jeweler and silversmith with a shop in Georgetown. Widowed in 1876, Mrs. Blackford secured an appointment as superintendent of the Georgetown post office. She remained with the Industrial Home School for nearly forty years.

(Petition from the Board of Managers of the Industrial Home School, Records of the DC Committee of the House of Representatives, 1873; Journal of the Historical Society of Rochester; Peck, History of Rochester, New York; Georgetown census, 1850; Rochester Union Advertiser, November 3, 1865; Boyd’s 1881 directory; Official Register of the U.S., 1881-1893; Arthur Hecht, Postal History of the District of Columbia, published serially, January 1968—February 1974, by the Bulletin of the Washington Philatelic Society.)    

Lucy Salisbury Doolittle (1832-1908) started as a schoolteacher in Castile, N.Y., where she saved her wages to go to Antioch College. (A friend of the Horace Mann family, Doolittle was later a disciple of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s Kindergarten movement.)

Lucy Salisbury married Myrick H. Doolittle in 1862, and came to Washington in 1863. With funds from the New York National Freedman’s Relief Association she operated an industrial school for women in Georgetown (1864-67). The Doolittles were also involved in the Industrial Home School (for white children), where she was a manager in 1880. In 1875 she joined the Board of the National Colored Home; she was still there twenty years later.

Doolittle advocated for organization of the Board of Guardians, to provide for the care of dependent children (established in 1892), and served on its board for nine years, twice elected its vice-president and three times its president.

(Antiochiana, Antioch College Library)


The Industrial Home School on Georgetown Heights


The Poor and Work House of Georgetown, built in 1832, was probably not unusual for institutions of its day, frugally combining charity and correction. Here elderly and infirm paupers, unwed mothers nursing infants, and runaway children lived under one roof with lunatics, drunks, vagrants, and prostitutes. This blending of social ills only came to an end because the city of Georgetown surrendered its municipal charter. Georgetown’s property––including the Poor House––became property of the United States in 1871.

In 1875 the District Commissioners turned the building and grounds over to the Industrial Home School. Seventy boys left the slums of Georgetown along the C & O Canal, and took up residence on the “salubrious” heights.

(Georgetown Courier, August 8, 1874, June 19, 1875; Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1875, 442-4; Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1920; Kober, Development of Charitable and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1900-1926, 1927)

The changed role of the institution was not immediately noticeable. When a destitute woman and her eight-year-old daughter, found by a policeman in Georgetown’s Cecil Alley, were brought before Police Magistrate Matthias Buckey––a trustee, incidentally, of the Industrial Home School––the judge was inclined to use the facility for its former purpose. “The policeman procured a vehicle, and the grateful woman was taken to her new home.” As it happens, about a dozen aged and indigent men and women shared the dilapidated building with the children of the school for many years. There were apparently also still a number of women confined there for vagrancy, enticing, and prostitution. “These poor creatures repeat their offense so often that a majority of their lives are passed in the workhouse.” (Georgetown Courier, November 27, 1875; Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1876, 511-3; 1877, 235-44)

The shortcomings of the old Poor House began to be addressed in 1880, when the building was greatly enlarged with a new west wing. At the same time a public school was established, to which the District provided two teachers. The Industrial Home School, although still managed by a private board of trustees, was now deemed to be a public institution of the District of Columbia. “Founded and heretofore sustained mostly by private benevolence [it] now appeals for public aid to sustain its increasing cost and usefulness.”

There were other changes. The Industrial Home School had been prevailed on to take in younger children than it would have otherwise have done, and instead of the manufacture of boxes, etc., the curriculum now emphasized agriculture and horticulture. Like the old Poor House, it grew produce for its own use, as well as for sale. Keeping in mind the elderly paupers still housed there, the precise distinction between the former role of what was occasionally referred to as “the government farm”, and the new one, may well have eluded the casual observer.  (Kober, Development of Charitable and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1900-1926, 1927; Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1880, 185-191)


Excerpts from the Annual Report of the Industrial Home School for the year ending June 30, 1880:

”[The managers] have at times yielded to the pressure made upon them for admission, and they have received children too young for [industrial] training, one third of the number in the Home coming within that condition. It is the intention of the managers to teach these very young children by the Kindergarten method, by employing a kindergarten teacher thoroughly trained for the good work of illustrating Froebel’s love for little children.”

“The children are under no particular restraint; the same government which parents exercise in well-regulated households is all that pertains in this institution. We have no regular visiting days, but the Home is always open and ready for inspection.”

“[The managers] propose to introduce the “cottage system,” to take the place of the “institutional system” which is now in vogue.”

“The teaching of gardening in its two-fold condition of agriculture and horticulture was begun March 15, 1880, with John MacTaggart as teacher. In this study, the pupils were divided into classes of eight each; the lessons were daily, of one hour each, mostly in the afternoon when the usual exercises of the school were over, though occasionally they were taught in the morning from seven to eight o’clock. They were instructed in ploughing, harrowing, sowing, and planting, as the time came round for these different kinds of work. The children thus became familiar with the soil and the manner of its cultivation, with the various seeds and the manner of their planting, also with the gathering of such crops as matured prior to the thirtieth of June, and other details of agricultural and gardening life. The result of their education has widened their experience, gave them some knowledge of the labor of the farm, and deepened their convictions of the value of their industrial studies.”

“Various other improvements have been added during the year; among the most prominent was the windmill, which we received from Messrs. Mast, Foos & Co., of Springfield, Ohio. Nothing could be more useful. Erected over a spring, it forces water for a distance of several hundred feet into an elevated tank, from whence it is distributed throughout the buildings. It thus saves to the household an immense amount of labor by having the water handy––in the bath-room, the laundry, and the kitchen––rather than to bring it by hand from the distant spring or pump.”


A Few Case Histories



(Library of Congress)


In 1875, Hulda Blackford selected the stories of a several of the three hundred children that had passed through her hands. (Brief History of Some of the Inmates of the Industrial Home School of the District of Columbia, Mrs. H. W. Blackford, to Hon. A.M. Gangewer, President Industrial Home School, Georgetown D.C., February 17, 1875 [Library of Congress])


Mattie, Josephine and Julia Holderby, aged respectively nine, seven and five, came to us three years ago last November, on the death of their mother, who died of consumption, in the greatest poverty, brought to her deplorable condition by the dissipation and drunkenness of her husband. Mr. Holderby was U.S. Consul to Scotland at one time, and married his wife there, who was a Scotch lady, a miss Jane Thompson, of Aberdeen. Later, Mr. Holderby was a correspondent for the New York Times during the late war, but fell lower and lower, and finally went to the poorhouse, where the children would have gone if we had not taken them. The children are doing well attending the public school, getting an education. Martha wishes to qualify herself for a teacher, and is studying with that object in view. The father is hanging about, and had employment for a short time in the public gardens. Mattie is now thirteen.

John Corbett, parents too poor to send him to school, came to us, aged thirteen years; had never learned to read; was very ambitious; learned to read in Third Reader in a very short time; learned a good deal in our shop; afterwards finished his trade with Mr. Fry, a boss carpenter, and has been getting regular wages several years.

Alice Reiley, aged 11. Had no father; mother is a drunken prostitute, living in a miserable cellar. Alice was nearly starved when she first came to us. She attended the school and learned very fast; one of the managers took her into her own family as a servant, She was taught to read and sew, and to do housework. She afterwards lived four years, until she was married, with the Rev. Mrs. Williams who thought her a very valuable and trustworthy servant. She married a sober, steady mechanic, and is doing well. She probably would have been like her mother but for our intervention.

Maria, Julia, Joseph and Edward Gross, children of a poor widow. We took them into the day school and the shop. They were with us about a year, when their improvement in health and looks was very manifest. They learned to work, obtained situations, and at last accounts were doing well.

Charles Baker, age twelve; mother died and left five young children; his father could not possibly support them all; Charles remained with us for four years. It was his business to attend the engine; this he did so well that the Superintendent pronounces him now a competent engineer. He became a very good boy, and seemed to like his Sunday school. All the children seem to take pride in their appearance, and always to behave and look as well as possible when out.

John Burke, age thirteen. His father died three years ago; his mother was a servant, and unable to obtain a situation, unless she could get a place for John. We took him and sent him to school; he is a very promising boy; has taken a great many prizes at school, and all his teachers praise him. His mother died in the poorhouse last summer, (July, 1874,) and now he has no friends in the world but us.

Lizzy Seymour, age 11; mother a servant, and had to put Lizzy somewhere; we took her; her mother was taken sick with rheumatism; was sent to Providence hospital, and died there, leaving Lizzy friendless. She was adopted a few months ago by a lady without children, in good circumstances, and they love her as if she was their own. She is better off than she probably ever would have been with her mother.

Frank Conway, age twelve. Brought to us by his father, who had been a soldier, serving in Mexico under General Scott; also though the late war in the regular army, and possessed of an honorable discharge. Frank lost his mother in Texas while an infant, and his second mother when six years of age. He was a bright, good boy. His father begged us to take him, and he would gladly pay his board if he could get employment, but he was intemperate, and fell from a horse a few months after and was killed. Through the intervention of one of our officers his remains were interred at Soldiers’ Home. Frank remained with us two years after his father’s death, and then enlisted as a drummer in the army.

One boy, Thomas Zeiduldi, was arrested for stealing a clothes line. Upon inquiry by the Magistrate it was found that he was one of six children his mother, a widow and destitute. It appeared he had some idea that he could sell the clothes line to get them something to eat. He was sent to us; we took the other children, found places for the older children, helped the mother to a situation, and aided the whole family. Thomas stayed with us a year, attending school, and worked in the shop alternately, and was bright and obedient, and showed a good disposition in every way. We secured for him a position in Baltimore, and I have no doubt he is doing well,––better off than if he had been sent to a penal institute until he was twenty-one.

(Brief History of Some of the Inmates of the Industrial Home School of the District of Columbia, Mrs. H. W. Blackford, to Hon. A.M. Gangewer, President Industrial Home School, Georgetown D.C., February 17, 1875 [Library of Congress])



Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1877 (District of Columbia Executive Papers on microfiche, Martin Luther King Library)


John Hitz, president of the Industrial Home School in 1877, was later associated with Alexander Graham Bell’s research on hearing and speech at the Volta Bureau in Georgetown; and with the celebrated author and advocate Helen Keller. “Dr. Bell clasps Miss Keller’s hand and taps out a message. John Hitz (left), superintendent of the Volta Bureau for the Deaf, and the inventor’s father (center) await their turn to ‘speak’ to Miss Keller.”  (National Geographic Society)


“The semi-annual meeting of the board of managers of this institution was held last evening at the residence of the secretary, H.W. Blackford, Georgetown. President Hitz, M.V. Buckey, Mrs. J.C. Hitz, Professor and Mrs. Doolittle, Mrs. H.W. Blackford, and others were present. A report was read of the superintendent, Prof. L. Barnes, in which he stated that thirty-nine children are on the rolls, twenty-seven boys and twelve girls. Of these nineteen boys attend the public schools of Georgetown, and at times a portion work in the shop. The singing of the children is attracting attention, and they have been invited to assist in public worship at some of the churches. The superintendent gives a detailed account of the wants of the school, and urges several measures calculated to improve the efficiency of the institution. The shop, according to the report of the foreman, Mr. Remy, has also been doing a good work. During the past six months it turned out among other items 17,348 tree-box stakes, 2,389 tree-boxes, seventy builders’ brackets, thirty picture frames, a number of tables, book cases, block toy houses, mop handles, &c. The treasurer reports $2,276.50 having been expended. The secretary reports good homes found for four girls, and that the pressure for admission is increasing.”

(“The Industrial Home School”, Washington Post, May 3, 1878, p.4)



The Industrial Home School to 1900


In 1881 the United States Naval Observatory moved from Foggy Bottom to its present location on Georgetown Heights. The plan for the new observatory called for the creation of a 73-acre circle, at center of which the most sensitive instruments would be safest from vibrations. The purchases necessary to the creation of this circle took several decades.

Although the nearby Industrial Home School fell well within the projected circle, no new location could be found for it, and it stayed put. The dilapidated Georgetown Poor House should probably have been torn down and replaced with a new building, but that was ruled out by the knowledge that a move would be inevitable. So, the old structure was gradually obscured by the periodic addition of new wings. Congress––from which the institution now derived almost ninety percent of its funding––did appropriate money for a cottage to house the girls, and for a schoolhouse.


The Industrial Home School, seen from the north, showing the Superintendant’s House, or the Girls’ Cottage, taken between 1895-1905. (Historical Society of Washington)

The Industrial Home School, seen from the north, showing the Superintendant’s House, or the Girls’ Cottage, taken between 1895-1905.  (Historical Society of Washington)


The schoolhouse, built in 1902––at a time when the president of the Industrial Home School was John Ormond Wilson (1825-1911), who had been the first superintendent of the District of Columbia Public School System (1870-1885)––was initially attended by children of the neighborhood as well as children of the home. Its status, however, was not always clear. In 1920 the annual report of the Industrial Home School lamented that, although the schoolhouse was part of the public school system, for the last two years its cleaning material, fuel, and repairs were being borne by the Industrial Home School. (The 1902 schoolhouse is the present-day Guy Mason Recreation Center.)

(Cleere, The House On Observatory Hill, 9; Report of the Joint Select Committee to Investigate the Charities and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia1898, p.122-125; Green, Washington II, 72; “Roadside Sketches”, Star, August 15, 1891; Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1920)

Industrial home schools had been conceived in the 1850s and 1860s, in response to the need for institutions to replace apprenticeship as a way of dealing with the armies of newsboys, bootblacks and other children who lived on the streets of American cities. The 1880s and 1890s saw a debate between proponents of such institutions, and advocates of the “placing out” of children with foster parents. These currents were reflected at the Industrial Home School: by 1891, of about a hundred children, fifteen were likely to be placed out that year, and fifteen to be returned to their parents.

(Julie Berebitsky, “To Raise As Your Own: The Growth of Legal Adoption in Washington”, Journal of the Historical Society of Washington, Spring/Summer 1994; “Roadside Sketches”, Star, August 15, 1891; Kober, Development of Charitable and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1900-1926, 1927, p. 260)


South facade of the Industrial Home School in 1898; the whitewashed central wing is the former Poor House of Georgetown. (Report of the Joint Select Committee to Investigate the Charities and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1898, p.122-125)


View of the Industrial Home School from the south, in 1902; in the foreground, Observatory Lane. The former Poor House is now obscured by the addition of the new south facade, with two turrets, and two tiers of porches. (Annual Report, 1902)


Old ideas also occasionally resurfaced. Thus, in 1902, officers of the Industrial Home School paid a visit to the Secretary of Agriculture in the interest of industrial training of the children, and to revive interest in the subject of silk culture by institutions such as theirs. They were probably unaware that they were not the first officials to have contemplated the introduction of this industry to this location. In 1838 the city fathers of Georgetown had sent a delegate to the National Silk Convention in Baltimore, in hopes of learning whether silkworm cocoons, cared for and unraveled by otherwise idle hands, could turn the Georgetown poorhouse into a source of revenue. Nothing came of it the first time, either.  (Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1902, 1920; Georgetown Ordinance, December 4, 1838)



Changing Mission


The Industrial Home School, as originally conceived, derived a portion of the funds needed for its maintenance from the sale of things produced by the children, who were learning a trade as they worked. Thus, when the first systematic municipal tree planting in what was then the Territory of Columbia was undertaken by Alexander Shepherd, the Industrial Home School received the contract to turn out tree boxes to protect the young trees from damage.

The school was still on the Georgetown waterfront at the time. “The large warehouse on Congress street next south of the canal and the dwelling adjoining, both the property of Mrs. E. B. Barrett, have been leased by the trustees of the Industrial Home School, the premises on Jefferson street which have been occupied for several years being inadequate. The eligibility of the new workshop will greatly facilitate business, and already the steam machinery is on the premises, so that the young inmates of the home will be afforded excellent opportunities for acquiring a knowledge of a practical character that shall serve them beneficially hereafter.” (Washington, City and Capital, Federal; Writers’ Project, 1937, 23; Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1877, 235-44; Georgetown Courier, March 2, 1872)

After 1875 the Industrial Home School was on Georgetown Heights, and derived some of its revenue from flowers grown in its greenhouses. Children trained in this business were said to be readily employable when they went out into the world. Over time, however, this emphasis on vocational training diminished.

The question was hotly debated between the Trustees of Industrial Home School, who stood for the original mission, and the Board of Children’s Guardians, who stood for the new way of thinking. The victory of the latter was signaled when Congress abolished the Board of Trustees, and put the Industrial Home School under the newly-created D.C. Board of Public Welfare. At the peak of the debate the school was without inmates altogether for a year or two. Two or three employees harvested the crops, and marketed the flowers from the greenhouses.


“The first annual report of the board of children’s guardians was submitted to Col. John Tracey, superintendant of public charities, yesterday afternoon. The board is composed of Crosby S. Noyes, Miss Harriet Loring, R. Ross Perry, B. Pickering Mann, Simon Wolf, W.J. Miller, John F. Cook, Mrs. Lucy E. Doolittle, and Mrs. Mary L.D. Macfarland.”

“The work of receiving wards commenced July 1, 1893, since which time forty-four waifs have been cared for. Ten of these children were taken from the Industrial Home School, seventeen from the National Colored Home, two from the jail and the workhouse, and seventeen from the courts. Disposition was made of the children as follows: Eleven are in private homes on trial, three are boarding in private families, one is at the Home for Colored Foundlings, three are at St. Ann’s Infant Asylum, fourteen are at the Industrial Home School, and ten are at the National Colored Home.”

“The board expects that the cost of maintaining the dependent children of the District under its system will be much less than the cost under any former system pursued in the District. Free homes are to be substituted so far as possible for boarding institutions, and an effort will be made to secure homes for useful children, where they can pay part of the cost of their maintenance.”

(“Caring For Waifs––The Board of Children’s Guardians Makes Its First Annual Report”, Washington Post, August 23, 1893, p.3)


By 1920, children still worked in the the kitchen, the boiler house, the carpentry shop, and the greenhouses, which remained a source of revenue for the institution; but their work was no longer considered as preparation for a future trade or livelihood. The substantial number of children who were discharged within a few days of having been admitted made industrial training impracticable.

After 1920 the trend was to keep children in their original families, and if children were taken to an institution, they were to be placed with foster parents at the earliest opportunity. If sufficient children were to be placed out, as proponents urged, then institutions such as the Industrial Home School would become unnecessary, except as a way-station.

(Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1913, v.1, 670, 676; Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1920; Green II:319; 42 Stat. 1361, February 23, 1923; Star, November 27, 1939)  





By 1937 the typical inmate of the Industrial Home School might be a child awaiting placement in a foster home, a child who had not been able to adjust to a foster home, or a delinquent, such as a truant or shoplifter. Although described as “a temporary home for the training of white children”, the emphasis was on temporary rather than on training. The home’s superintendent lamented that it was also too near to liquor stores and movies; that boys and girls were insufficiently segregated; and that, because of the poor salaries offered, the staff consisted of “drifters and roamers”.

It was reported in 1946 that the crowded main building was “one of the worst fire traps in Washington”. It had no fire alarm system, no sprinkler system, and windows leading to fire escapes were barricaded by heavy screens. (On the other hand, the facility was not locked at night, and many children “absconded”, some repeatedly.)

(Ruth Bloodgood, Public Institutions for Delinquent Children in the District of Columbia, U.S. Department of Labor Children’s Bureau, 1937; Washington, City and Capital, Federal Writers’ Project, 1937, p.1063; Star, December 30, 1932; November 27, 1939; Washington Post, November 17, 1937; April 19, 1944; July 17, 1946; Daily News, July 29, 1937; June 10, 1946)

In 1941 there was trouble at a school dance when two sixteen-year-olds started to do the jitterbug. The superintendent ordered “that type of dancing” to stop. Angry words followed, and a riot began that lasted several hours, during which fire extinguishers were discharged, pillows torn open and feathers strewn, and mattresses and furniture were thrown from upstairs windows. Boys and girls milled about, shouting: “Give us a fair break…Close the dungeon…Give us decent food”. (The dungeon consisted of four punishment cells, located in the attic.) (“Boys, Girls Riot At D.C. School” Washington Times Herald, April 23, 1941)


(Washington Times Herald, April 23, 1941)


The Industrial Home School, circa 1946. (Library of Congress)


“Matron Grace Thomason––”Ma” to the boys for the past 16 years––inspects their Sunday clothes, kept in basement room cubicles. Asst. Matron Vinnie Compton stands at the serving counter in the dining hall. Food warmers are falling apart.” (Washington Daily News, June 10, 1946)


(“D.C. Industrial School Called Fire Trap by Superintendant”, Washington Post, July 17, 1946, p.B1)


The Industrial Home School, 1950; in the foreground, the future Guy Mason Recreation Center; at left, the Girls’ Cottage; at right, a swimming pool, now on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. (Archive of the U.S. Naval Observatory)



Senate Calendar No.1623, Report No.1619, 69th Congress, 2nd Session, February 25, 1927


It had long been understood that the Industrial Home School would eventually leave its outdated and decrepit facility, and the Naval Observatory––eager to complete a thousand-foot “circle of exclusion” to protect its sensitive instruments from traffic vibrations––had long been waiting for the Industrial Home School to be moved. Of course, nothing could happen until there was some place for them to go.

In 1927 the Secretary of the Navy offered the District Commissioners about sixteen unneeded acres of the Barber estate in return for seven acres of the Industrial Home School needed to complete the circle. That year, Congress approved an act (44 Stat. 1386) to assign the remainder of the site not needed by the Navy to the District Commissioners for school, recreation and highway purposes.

In 1943 and 1945 requests by the D.C. Recreation Board and the National Capital Planning Commission had narrowed that down to just recreation and highway uses, i.e. the extension of Calvert Street to Observatory Circle. A 1949 attempt by business interests to secure the site for parking purposes was successfully resisted by the Recreation Board.

In 1954, having learned that residents of the Industrial Home School were finally to be transferred to the new Children’s Center in Laurel, Maryland, the D.C. Recreation Board officially requested the Commissioners to assign the site for “city-wide and neighborhood centers programs”. The Industrial Home School was razed.

Of an institution that had come into being during the Civil War to improve the lives of homeless newsboys, and had served the needs of orphaned or neglected children for nine decades, nothing is now to be seen but its schoolhouse, which houses the Guy Mason Recreation Center.

(Senate Calendar No.1623, Report No.1619, 69th Congress, 2nd Session, February 25, 1927; Evening Star, July 23, 1954; Files of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation; Cleere, The House On Observatory Hill, p.9)






What records remain of the Industrial Home School are preserved with records relating to charitable and reformatory institutions, Record Group 351, National Archives. Of particular interest:

152. Record of Children Received. July 4, 1893-Jan. 5, 1912

153. Children’s History. 1897-1906 and 1909-13.

156. Histories of Children Committed to the Industrial Home School for White Children. 1896-1917


The only other known lists of children who passed through the doors of the Industrial Home School are those which appear the United States Census of the District of Columbia.

Of these, the earliest would be the 1880 census, series T9, roll 121, pages 212-3.

In the 1900 census the inmates of the Industrial Home School appear in series T623, roll 158, page 25.



The inmates of the Industrial Home School in 1900.



Annual Report to the Commissioners, 1875, 442-4

Report of the Joint Select Committee to Investigate the Charities and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia1898, p.122-125

Annual Report of the Industrial Home School, 1920

George M. Kober, Development of Charitable and Reformatory Institutions in the District of Columbia, 1900-1926, 1927

Ruth Bloodgood, Public Institutions for Delinquent Children in the District of Columbia, U.S. Department of Labor Children’s Bureau, 1937. Maternal and Child Health Library, Georgetown University:

Journal of the Columbia Historical Society, 21:227

Constance Green, Washington I:251-2, 317; II:72

Brief History of Some of the Inmates of the Industrial Home School of the District of Columbia, Mrs. H. W. Blackford, to Hon. A.M. Gangewer, President Industrial Home School, Georgetown D.C., February 17, 1875 (Library of Congress)


Photographs of Industrial Home School/Poorhouse at Historical Society of Washington:

WA 001, WA 002A, WA 002B, WA 005 (Henry G. Wagner Photograph Collection);

WY 2728.42 (John P. Wymer Collection);

CHS 08218 (General Photograph Collection);

KSW C 40.01 (Kathleen Sinclair Wood Collection).





 Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

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