Religious Ecologies: New York’s Emigrant Savings Bank and Loans to Build a Catholic Social Welfare Infrastructure circa 1870 - 1910

Kurt Schlichting, Fairfield University

The New York Public Library’s Digital Humanities initiatives include an online digital archive of over 7,842 mortgage records by the Emigrant Savings Bank (ESB) from 1850 to 1910. The bank served the needs of the Famine Irish immigrants and those that followed. Of the 500 largest loans, 24% were to build Catholic Churches and 18% to Catholic religious orders for orphanages, schools, and seminaries and enabled the building of an extensive infrastructure of churches, schools, rectories, convents, asylums and hospitals. In 1875 New York State passed the “Children’s Law”, which forbid sending children between 3 & 16 to public workhouses. The City would then pay private asylums for care and “the children shall be confided to the care of institutions in which their religious faith is taught.” Catholic institutions would receive public funding. The Sisters of Charity built the NY Foundling Asylum on 68th St between Lexington and 3rd Ave with ESB loans. In the 1880 Census the NY Foundling Hospital, cared for 1,470 children in residence at 68th St. In 1879 the institution received $ 188,026 from New York City at $ 127 per child per year, 62% of total income. With funding from the city and private donations the Sisters of Charity paid $ 19,000 interest to the ESB in 1879. In turn the ESB had a steady stream of income to pay their immigrant depositors interest and continuing to fund other Catholic institutions. Public funding to Catholic institutions drew harsh opposition. An article in the NY Times in October of 1875 thundered “Sectarian Schools: How the People of the City Support Them – Tammany Hall Giving Millions to Catholic Institutions.”

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 225. The Social and Economic Landscapes of New York City and Beyond