Indianapolis Orphan Asylum

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Indianapolis Orphan Asylum
Opened 1869
Closed 1950
Demolished 1964
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Single Building
Location Indianapolis, IN
Peak Patient Population 3,000 est.


The Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children was founded in 1869 by a group of Indianapolis Orthodox Friends (or Quakers) who recognized the need for an institution to care for the dependent children of destitute ex-slaves who had moved to Indianapolis after the Civil War. The black population of the city, which before the war numbered only 500, had reached almost 3,000 by 1870, overburdening the city's charitable institutions which were reluctant to provide care for them in any case. The Quakers were already involved in running a white orphanage and, after being forced to turn away a number of black children, decided to open an institution specifically for them. The orphanage was established at 317 West 21st Street with donations from the Western Yearly Meeting, several Quaker philanthropists, and with a guarantee of support from the Marion County government.

Within a short time, the orphanage was accepting children from the entire state, as welfare officials in other counties found it more convenient to send their dependent black children to Indianapolis than to care for them at home. The orphanage accepted children from infancy to age fourteen. It had housed 18 dependents at the end of its first year and would care for over 3,000 in the course of its history up to 1922.

The Quakers ran the orphanage through a Board of Women Managers, whose president also served as director of the Asylum. The Board generally met once a month to decide on purchases and improvements for the institution. In addition to the Board of Women Managers, a Board of Directors, made up of male Quakers, oversaw the financial affairs of the orphanage. Although the institution was privately operated, most of its funds came from quarterly payments from Marion County rather than from private donations.

While the orphanage's operating funds were supplied by county government, its capital still had to come from private donations. The contributions were never numerous or large, and they were totally inadequate to permit the expansion necessitated by the large influx of blacks into Indianapolis during the World War I years. A 1918 report of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, sponsored by the Indianapolis War Chest, criticized the Asylum for its unsafe and overcrowded conditions, and recommended that it be taken over by the state. No action was taken on the recommendation until 1922, when the Quakers gave up control of the orphanage to the Marion County Board of Commissioners. The money remaining in the Asylum's endowment became the foundation for a Quaker scholarship fund for black students.

The orphanage was run by the county commissioners until 1939 when the county welfare department took control and, through a vigorous placement campaign, cleared the home of children within the year. It finally closed a few years later.