Founded in 1889 by Augusta Williams, Gray Lodge and Alison Gill Lodge began as a single home for transient young women near the railroad station in Hartford to protect them from “sin and vice” at a time when many were leaving home to work in the city. Through funding and support from additional community members, the home eventually expanded to two buildings under the name Shelter for Women. For decades the Shelter for Women has served adolescent girls who have a history of abuse and/or neglect, including drugs, sexual abuse, truancy, family disruption, and mental illness with therapeutic, residential and educational programs in two locations – one in Hartford and one in Manchester. Gray Lodge residential program closed in June, 2010. The Lodge is one of the oldest gender-specific residential treatment facility in the state.
The history of The Village is the history of the child welfare movement in this country. Founded in 1809 as the Female Beneficent Society of Hartford, it was one of the earliest, if not the first preventive and protective agencies for neglected children in the country. The Society was established by Hartford women shocked by conditions surrounding ‘poor females’ of Hartford, particularly young girls orphaned or deserted and whose parents could not support them. In 1813, the Female Beneficent Society obtained a charter from the Connecticut General Assembly to “take to themselves young girls and educate and lead them into paths of industry and virtue.” At first boarded with families, the children settled into an asylum established by the Society in 1824.
Heartened by the success of the Female Beneficent Society, the Hartford Orphan Asylum opened in 1831 to care for orphaned boys. Obtaining funds was a constant struggle, but both societies began to attract support. In 1836, a group committed to helping children in need purchased an old school building on Washington Street in Hartford and presented it to the two societies. The building was only used for boys until the two societies merged in 1865. The union of the two societies, combined with the drastic increase in orphans following the Civil War, resulted in the need for a new building. In 1879, the Hartford Orphan Asylum moved into its new home, a large brick building on Hartford’s Putnam Street, accommodating 150 boys and girls and, for the first time, babies under three years old. The plight of many neglected children motivated Virginia Thrall Smith, one of the pioneers in the history of child welfare. She began a crusade to remove all children from almshouses and place them for care with private families, one of the first programs of foster care placement anywhere.
Virginia Thrall Smith
Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame
Mrs. Smith also successfully lobbied the General Assembly in 1883, and a law passed preventing the placement of children in almshouses. She also increased services to unmarried mothers, including placement of their babies in temporary foster care until permanent plans could be made. As she defended herself in 1892 against critics who said she was encouraging illegitimacy by running “baby farms,” Mrs. Smith and her associates formed a new society – the Connecticut Children’s Aid Society.
Meanwhile, the Hartford Orphan Asylum continued to expand its care and in 1911 built a special cottage for girls on the Putnam Street grounds. The cottage, with its smaller groups and less institutional feel, was such a success that cottages became the design plan for a new home for the agency built at 1680 Albany Avenue in 1925. The result: the unique Children’s Village in Hartford – today it is the Village for Families & Children, Inc., serving over 7,000 children and families annually. As we enter into our third century of service to the community the Village continues to be a lead agency in human services in Connecticut.