Individual U.S. Schools: Wiltwyck School for Boys (New York)

Figure 1.--Herecwe see Mrs. Roosevelt with the Wiltwyck boys for a Christmas events during 1947. The boys look to be part of the school choir or atleast singing in a pagent. Mrs. Roosevelt is raeding 'A christmas Story' to the boys. It was a long-stanhding tradition for her husband to read the Dickens' tale first to the chikdren and then the grandchildren every Christmas. The press photo was captioned, "Hearing a Christmas story: Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt reads Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' at her annual Christmas Party for the children at the Wiltwyck School for Boys, Esopus, NecYork. The former first lady is a director of the privately supported school, which offers a non-punitive program of mental hygiene, education and recreation to delinquent and neglected youngsters committed by New York City's children's courts and Welfare Department." Some of the boys are clearly more interested than others.

The Episcopal City Mission Society (ECMS) opened the Wiltwyck School for African American juvenile delinquents (1936). The boys were not yet involved in major criminal activity. New York state did not have segregated schools in the 1930s, but Church authorities decided it was best to have a separate facility for African-American boys. Few of the boys would have come from Episcopal families. The school was located in Esopus, New York. This was a beautiful location in the Hudson River Valley. Part of the idea was to get the boys out of a bad situation in the inner city into a beautiful country environment. The school was situated on the opposite side of the River from the Roosevelt's family home at Hyde Park. There was no connection with the President or Mrs. Roosevelt at the time. The school reportedly had some success working with often troubled boys. They had grown up in poor slum neigborhoods of New York City. The ECMS had difficulty fully funding the school and during World War II was having to consider closing it (1942). It is at this time that the First Lady got involved. Mrs. Roosevelt took an interest in a wide range of charitable activities. She was especially interested in efforts to help Afro-Americans. She helped reorganize the school and obtained needed funding. One major change was that the exclusive operation for Afro-Americans was ended. And the school took in both delinquent and neglected children. Mrs. Roosevelt was appointed to the board of directors. The ECMS subequently ended its association with the school. And the school becme an interracial treatment center for pre-teen boys between the ages of 8-12 years of age. Because of the age of the boys, the school did not have to be run as a strict reformatory. The school was financed through chritable contributions and Mrs. Roosevelt's assistance was thus very valuable. Mrs. Roosevelt continued her association for the rest of her life. She not only helped with the funding, but was involved in other ways. we note picnics durung the summer for the boys at Val-Kill, the home the President built for her on the Hyde Park estate. She also sponsored an annual Christmas party (figure 1). Just before she died she was involved in fund raising activities (1962). The school finally had to close because of funding problems (1981).


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Created: 10:07 PM 5/30/2012
Last updated: 10:07 PM 5/30/2012