Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York's Colored Orphan Asylum by William SeraileAngels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York's Colored Orphan Asylum by William Seraile

Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York's Colored Orphan Asylum

byWilliam Seraile

Paperback | May 1, 2013

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 158 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


William Seraile uncovers the history of the colored orphan asylum, founded in New York City in 1836 as the nation's first orphanage for African American children. It is a remarkable institution that is still in the forefront aiding children. Although no longer an orphanage, in its current incarnation as Harlem-Dowling West Side Center for Children and Family Services it maintains the principles of the women who organized it nearly 200 years ago.

The agency weathered three wars, two major financial panics, a devastating fire during the 1863 Draft Riots, several epidemics, waves of racial prejudice, and severe financial difficulties to care for orphaned, neglected, and delinquent children. Eventually financial support would come from some of New York's finest families, including the Jays, Murrays, Roosevelts, Macys, and Astors.

While the white female managers and their male advisers were dedicated to uplifting these black children, the evangelical, mainly Quaker founding managers also exhibited the extreme paternalistic views endemic at the time, accepting the advice or support of the African American community only grudgingly. It was frank criticism in 1913 from W. E. B. Du Bois that highlighted the conflict between the orphanage and the community it served, and it wasn't until 1939 that it hired the first black trustee.

More than 15,000 children were raised in the orphanage, and throughout its history letters and visits have revealed that hundreds if not thousands of "old boys and girls" looked back with admiration and respect at the home that nurtured them throughout their formative years.

Weaving together African American history with a unique history of New York City, this is not only a painstaking study of a previously unsung institution of black history but a unique window onto complex racial dynamics during a period when many failed to recognize equality among all citizens as a worthy purpose.

William Seraile is a professor emeritus at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he taught African American history for 36 years. His most recent books are New York's Black Regiments During the Civil War and Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce.
Title:Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York's Colored Orphan AsylumFormat:PaperbackDimensions:220 pagesPublished:May 1, 2013Publisher:Fordham University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0823251950

ISBN - 13:9780823251957


Editorial Reviews

. . . An engaging book about the establishment of the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City over a century and a half ago. . . [It] provides us a window into the condition of African Americans in the city after the abolition of slavery in New York in 1827.