In the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are the records of a novel effort to rescue Philadelphia’s poor and orphaned children, the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania (CAS). Founded in 1882, the CAS, unlike existing charities, promised to help all children in need, without regard to sex, race, or religion. Every year, the CAS helped hundreds of children, some who came to the Society offices at 321 South Twelfth Street with their parents who were looking for temporary help in the form of a foster home and others who hoped to have their children adopted. Hard economic times brought poor families to the CAS doors, and hard times came in many forms. The death of a father left poor and working-class mothers with few resources at their disposal to care for themselves and their children, and racism or prejudice against immigrants could aggravate an already fragile family economy. An ill child might become too much for a parent; so too could a child with disabilities become a burden. Scholars have studied Charles Loring Brace’s New York Children’s Aid Society carefully, scrutinizing Brace’s intentions and debating the wisdom and the ethics of programs such as the NY-CAS’s orphan trains. Less attention has been paid to Pennsylvania’s CAS, which began decades later and seemed, in many cases, to be a welcome alternative to institutionalization.
A group of a Villanova students spent this summer exploring the intake records of the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania, identifying the records of six children helped by the CAS in its early years and telling their histories. The lesson attached to this unit is a summary of what they found.