It’s important to remember that New Orleans wasn’t always Gumbo and Frenchmen Street. For the majority of the people who lived here it could be a hellish nightmare of disease, death. Parents died leaving children completely alone in a harsh environment. Then (as now) alcohol and drugs were rampant and addiction posed a huge threat to the people of New Orleans and left them unfit to care for their children. Immigration was staggering (the world just doesn’t know!) and immigrants poured off of ships at, literally, tens of thousands. (In 1853 alone, more than 24,000 Germans emigrated through the Port of New Orleans.) Coming here for opportunity they found, instead, discrimination and hardship. Often there was no work for them - especially if they had children. Children were routinely left on a stranger’s doorstep or left alone and abandoned and were eventually placed in the care of institutions. We can’t exactly call them “orphanages” because not all of these children were orphaned. The word “ASYLUM” means “refuge.” We often think of asylums as being solely for people with mental, intellectual and emotional handicaps but that was the rarest use of the word. What we now call “orphanages” they referred to as “asylums” - refuges. And New Orleans had dozens.
The tour that I give goes past St. Vincent’s Infants Asylum and it’s heartbreaking to hear people tell me how other tour guides laughingly spout out that it was “for people who were nuts.” First of all, mental illness is no laughing matter and secondly, St. Vincent’s was an institution for babies and very young children. Infants & toddlers who were orphaned, abandoned, placed by a parent or taken as wards of the city lived there until they were 7 years old at which time they are reassigned to asylums for older children. Most often they were segregated by gender - Boys Homes, Girls Homes - so sisters and brothers were routinely separated at age 7. St. Vincent’s was founded by the Society of St. Vincent dePaul and largely funded by an Irish woman, known and beloved for raising money for children’s causes - Margaret Haughery. (Pronounced HAW-ry.) It was an infants asylum well into the mid-20th Century and there are people still living today who actually remember being raised there.
Below is a report from 1875 listing the children who were assigned to various childrens asylums. Please note the section that says “How Disposed Of.” Keep in mind that “dispose” not only meant to throw in the garbage but “to place in the care of another,” so in this case the phrase means “assigned to.” Either way - “disposed of,” “assigned to” - it’s heartbreaking stuff. Pay attention to how they were “disposed of” and to the ages of these poor children. I’ve hightlighted St. Vincent’s in red - also, Margaret, herself, brought a child to one; I’ve highlighted her name in blue and Dr. Holt, for whom Holt Cemetery was named, also appears in the document.
Report of Children Dispersed To Children’s Asylums, City of New Orleans, 1875
Name of Person
How Disposed Of
F. Philips, &
144 Chartres St
German Protestant Orphan
Clara Barker, Mother, Mrs. Nora Henniks
No. 83 Josephine St
Mary Joseph Barker
21 days (male)
St. Vincent Infant Orphan Asylum
Corporal Wm. Carlton
Mary Jane Wilson
House Good Shepherd. These children are fatherless & mother dying with consumption, was sent to Charity Hospital
Mrs. A. H. Lambert, Aunt
No 619 Tchoupitoulas St
Charles Cornelius Lambert
2 mos & 20 dys
St. Vincent Orphan Asylum. Mother dead; father absent from the state
Mary Ellen, Child's Aunt
St. Vincent Orphan Asylum. (Father & mother dead)
No 5 Euterpe St
Protestant Orphan Home -- Cor. 7th & Constance. Mother sick & father 4 mths absent not heard from
Mr. R. S. Hegrard
St. Vincents Home for Boys. Pineville St. Father dead & mother unable to provide for them.
Francois Laspals, Mother
Jean Gadet Laspals
St. Vincent Orphan Asylum. Father dead & mother has three other children to support.
cor. Ursuline & Old Levee
5 1/2 yrs
St. Vincent Orphan Asylum -Mother dead; father sick and destitute. Has six other children to support besides these two.
3 1/2 yrs
Sent to St. Vincent Orphan Asylum
Capt. Joseph, Met. Police
Unknown Male Infant
Supposed born last night - St. Vincent Orphan Asylum
Found in Macarty Square by the police
Bienville St. bet Randon [sic] & Hagan Avenue
St. Mary's Male Orphan Asylum
W. L. Evans
Judge 1st M. P. Court
3 yrs & 4 mos old
Sent to St. Mary's Male Orphan Asylum
Mrs. L. Boone
Jackson & White Sts.
St. Vincent Infant Orphan Asylum said child having been found by her on her gallery on the night of the 15th April/75
Revd. Jack Manorilla, Pastor Italian Cath. Church
cor. Basin & Conti
Vincent Del Bono
Dr. John Del Orts, certifies that the mother has been insane for some years, father is too destitute to support the child. Sent to St. Vincents Inft. Orphan Asylum
Mrs. D. Kellon
Peter & Bartholomew Sts. (Algiers)
Sent to New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum. (Mother gone to the country) for a term of two months to pay at the rate of $5.00 per month and then to be taken out. Sent here by "Margaret"
Mrs. E. Danon
Julia & Commerce
Sent to the St. Mary's Orphan Boy's Asylum. Their mother not be able at present to take care of them. Father Dead.
No. 96 Notre Dame St.
Mary Ellen Busey
St. Elizabeth Female Orphan Asylum
Wid. Marie Messonnier
No. 286 Roman St.
St. Vincent's Infant Orphan Asylum. Mother dead & father unknown.
Lady Managers of Poydras Asylum (Permit book No. 4-see copy)
Magazine & Peters Ave. Sixth District
Sent to the House of the Good Shepherd at the request of Lady Managers the said children being unmanageable.
James Quinn through admit D. McCarthy. See permit book No 4 folio 542
St. Andrew Street
Sent to St. Mary's Male Orphan Asylum corner of Chartres & Mazant upon statement made by Adm. of Police, D. McCarthy. Mr. Quinn is a cousin of the child but having several children of his own is unable to keep the child.
Dr. A. C. Holt for Managers Lady's Poydras Asylum
242 Felicity St.
Sent to House of Good Shepherd on account of being incorrigible. She was taken out of asylum by Dr. Holt and not only robbed House but attempted to fire it. See Permit book No 4 Folio 543
Mrs. Mary Walker In great distress & unable to procure work with child
Euterpe between Camp & Magazine
Sent to the St. Vincent's Infant Orphan Asylum upon the recommendation of P.M.L. Cossrudier, Pastor of St. Theresa Church
Jane Roach; application on file, pigeon hole of July. See letter addressed to Lady Superior in Permit Book No 4, pg 546
Corner of New Levee & Girod
Mary Roach, age 8 months
Sent to St. Vincent Inft Orphan Asylum. Husband has absented himself for two years. Mother a laboring woman unable to find employment with child.
750 Love Street
St. Mary's Male Orphan Asylum. Born of Fernand and Asterio Montamat both deceased. Relatives living very poor, & unable to provide for the child. Placed in Asylum upon the in Asylum copied in permit book No. 4 Page 550.
Jas. H. Flynn
cor. Galvez & Gravier
Mary Agnes Flynn
New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum recommendation of Louis A. Shultz and J. E. Jarreau. Order placing same. Mother dead. Father out of employment, can procure labor in the country without the child. Will take it from the Asylum as soon as he can do so when times improve. His application is recommended by S.M. Higgins, Chairman Relief Association
Sarah W. Hanna, Missionary Christ Church
cor. Third & Annunciation, St. John's Church
8 mos old
Sent to St. Vincent Inft O. Asylum. Mother & father dead - Grandfather living but so destitute as to be unable to care for the child. See Permit book # 4 page 553 for order placing child in Asylum.
No. 320 Ursuline Srreet
11 mos old
Sent to St. Vincent Inft Orphan Asylum. The mother of the child aged 21, deceived by a person under promise of marriage. She seems like a modest woman and being without friends is unable with the child to find employment. See Permit book No 4 page 554.
C. Sabuzau, Corporal 2nd Precinct
Metropolitan Police Station
one week old
Found in a market basket at the corner of Howard and Erato St. at 6 a.m. Oct. 5 by Patrick J. Gashick No. 84 2nd Precinct. Foundling sent to St. Vincent Inft O. Asylum. See page 557, Permit book No. 4
91 Rocheblave St.
Mother left child at house of said Brown promising to return and take it. More than 3 weeks have elapsed and the mother has not made her appearance. Brown and wife are poor colored persons & unable to keep & care for the said white infant. He has made affidavit to these facts see his statement page 560 Permit Book No 4 *
* [Note pasted to page on which entry for Wm. Brown appears]MAYORALTY OF NEW ORLEANS [printed]
NEW ORLEANS, November 25th 1875
I Wm Brown of the City of New Orleans solemnly aver that about three weeks ago a white lady, name unknown, left at my home a white male child, about two months old, promising to return the same day and take possession of the said child. She has never returned, and said male white infant is now in our possession. I am a poor colored man and utterly unable to keep and provide for the said child, and therefore request the Hon. C. J. Leeds, Mayor of the city of New Orleans to grant me an order by which said white male infant may be placed in one of the Asylums of the city. In attestation of the foregoing facts I hereunto affirm my mark, being unable to sign my name.
Wm X Brown