Before the House of Refuge opened in 1850, there was no institution serving juvenile criminal offenders in Cincinnati. Juvenile offenders were housed with adults in the Hamilton County jail. In the late 1830s, a movement began in Cincinnati to reform the penitentiary system and a man named James Handaysd Perkins took part in this movement. Although Perkins did not live long enough to see it, he had an important role in the start of the juvenile criminal justice system and social services in Cincinnati.
Perkins was born in Boston and moved to Cincinnati as a young man in 1832. He came from a well-to-do family and was a talented writer and speaker, but he seemed to struggle to find his place in life. He suffered from some health problems and also possibly from some mental health issues.[i] He arrived in Cincinnati in search of a quieter life and with hopes of purchasing land for a farm, but instead he quickly became an up and coming member of society. He began studying law under his friend, Timothy Walker, and joined a group of affluent New Englanders already living in Cincinnati. Perkins even met his wife, Sarah Elliot of Connecticut through his social circles. Even though life seemed to be going well for him, Perkins quickly became disillusioned with the law and attempted a variety of different careers from farming to establishing a milling and tool manufacturing business. Continue reading
The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, 1903
In my previous blogs, I have explored the history of Cincinnati’s House of Refuge and the records of the institution that are still available. Throughout my journey, I have been struck by the number of homeless children and children without adequate homes who were placed in this juvenile detention facility. One of the questions that I have been exploring is why these children were placed in the House of Refuge and not in another institution. My first thought was that there must not have been anywhere for these children to go, but a search for orphanages and other institutions in 19th Century Cincinnati has revealed that there actually were institutions that cared for children who had been abandoned, neglected, or whose parents were simply unable to care for them. So why were children who were not juvenile delinquents living in the House of Refuge? It seems that one reason may have been because there was not a standardized or centralized way of dealing with neglected, abused or homeless children in the city.
Services for children in need in 19th century Cincinnati were controlled by different entities and the placement of children was often influenced by religion, ethnicity, and race. Orphanages in Cincinnati were almost exclusively privately run and they were often affiliated with a particular religion. Some took in children who were homeless or children who the administrators felt were not adequately cared for by their parents, but other institutions only accepted orphans whose parents were either both deceased or whose parents were contributing members. In addition, only a few institutions in 19th century Cincinnati, including the House of Refuge, accepted African American children. A closer look at a few of these early Cincinnati orphanages shows how their services differed and overlapped. Continue reading
As anyone who has done historical research can tell you, locating old records is not always easy. Sometimes records simply were not kept. Other times, they were destroyed by fire, water damage, or pests. The House of Refuge records at UC is one collection in which the records are incomplete. The collection consists of five volumes and include inmate registers, employee registers, and a financial ledger. There are two volumes of inmate registers in the collection, which cover the years 1869-1882 and 1891-1902. Missing from the collection at UC are the years 1850-1869, 1883-1890, and 1902-1912.
This fall while conducting some general research related to the House of Refuge, I started searching local libraries for items connected to the history of the House of Refuge. Through a simple catalog search, I discovered that the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (PLCH) had three volumes of House of Refuge records! Even more exciting was how well these records complimented the collections at UC. Although registers at the University of Cincinnati list the name of the children who were admitted to the House of Refuge, their offense (or reason for being sent to the House of Refuge), and some general family information, there really is not much detail on the specifics of each child’s case or information on what happened to them after they left the House of Refuge. The records at PLCH do provide specific information on inmates’ family history, offense, and the details of their release from the House of Refuge. Continue reading