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Exploring Historic Social Justice on Our Civil Rights Map

Launched in 2017, Village Preservation’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Map marks sites in our neighborhoods significant to the history of various civil rights and social justice movements, and now includes over 225 entries. Those sites are divided among six different groups, including one for social justice and other civil rights activism. Today we take a brief look at this category, which has 49 different locations across Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.

Children’s Aid Society 

The Children’s Aid Society was founded in 1853 by Charles Loring Brace at a time when orphan asylums and almshouses were the only “social services” available to poor and homeless children. The society’s progressive ideas transformed social services and social reforms in New York City, impacting the lives of millions of children.

From left: the former Elizabeth Home for Girls, Sullivan Street Industrial School, and Tompkins Square Lodging for Boys

A friend of Brace, Central Park architect Calvert Vaux, was interested in how architecture could be used to better the lives of the more unfortunate members of society. He designed his first building for the Children’s Aid Society in 1879, the now demolished East Side Boys’ Lodging House and Industrial School on East Broadway and Gouverneur Street. Six of the Society’s past locations are listed in the Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, including four still extant:

  • The Elizabeth Home for Girls, at 307 East 12th Street, was constructed in 1891–92 as a refuge for homeless girls. It is a High Victorian Gothic structure with a Dutch-influenced stepped gable. The Children’s Aid Society ran the home until 1930 when it was sold to Benjamin Lust. In 1946, it was purchased by the Florence Crittendon League and once again used as a home for girls until it was turned into co-op apartments in 1984.
  • The Sixth Street School, at 630-634 East 6th Street, opened in 1890 and focused on providing students with industrial and domestic art classes — including woodworking, nutrition, and sewing — which it believed would equip the children with skills to enter the workforce.
  • The Sullivan Street Industrial School, 219 Sullivan Street, was completed in 1892. In 2011, the Children’s Aid Society sold the historic building on Sullivan Street to Broad Street Development. The site has since been redeveloped as high-end residences, with the original Vaux-designed building restored and preserved. 
  • From 1887 until 1910, the Tompkins Square Lodging for Boys and Industrial School at 295 East 8th Street not only housed, fed, and clothed boys but aimed to reform them into successful members of society. Beginning in 1910, it served as a school for the Children’s Aid Society until being purchased by Darchei Noam Congregation in 1925. It was used as a Jewish social service building for almost 50 years until it was left vacant in 1974, then developed into apartments in 1978.

Greenwich House

Greenwich House was founded in 1902 as a settlement house to help New York City’s growing immigrant population adjust to life in a new country. Settlement houses were important reform institutions that provided services for crowded immigrant neighborhoods and sought to remedy poverty. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, settlement houses could be found in neighborhoods populated with recent immigrants who, in most cases, did not speak English. The first outreach was to mothers and children, through nurseries and kindergartens, and then expanded to include English education as well as classes in arts, music, and crafts. Settlements welcomed meetings of trade unions, ethnic groups, and civic organizations. As settlement house residents learned more about their communities, they began to get more involved, lobbying for state and federal legislation on social and economic problems.

Though times have changed, Greenwich House continues to serve seniors, children, and families with services such as arts education, after-school programs, substance abuse programs, and social and health programs. When the Children’s Aid Society closed and sold its buildings on Sullivan Street, Greenwich House was there to continue services that could have been lost to the community. The organization’s main headquarters are located at 27 Barrow Street, and Greenwich House has expanded over the years to include the Greenwich House Music School at 46 Barrow Street and Greenwich House Pottery at 16 Jones Street, each located in historic buildings.

Labor Lyceum

The building at 64 East 4th Street was once home to the Labor Lyceum, which was a center for workers’ classes, lectures, and social gatherings. It housed Volkszeitung, a German language workers’ newspaper in the heart of KleinDeutschland, or Little Germany. It was also where the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was founded in 1900. In 1910, the largest labor strike in the United States to date began here, when the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union descended upon the building as a part of the Cloakworkers strike.

Just one of many locations in New York City with ties to labor history, the building now houses the IATI Theater, a performing arts venue featuring Latino theater, music, dance, and workshops.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire site

On March 25, 1911, the deadliest industrial disaster in U.S. history occurred at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the building at 23-29 Washington Place. The fire killed 146 workers, predominantly recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged 16 to 23. The factory was located on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building, now known as the Brown Building. The death toll was so high because of a common practice at the time — locking the doors to the exits to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks. The incident led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and led to the development of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Frances Perkins, a witness to the fire, dedicated her life to improving working conditions for all people, and she became the first female cabinet member when President Roosevelt appointed her Secretary of Labor in 1933. 

The building survived the fire and has since been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark.

Learn more about these historic sites and many more on our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map.

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