Walkabout: The Training School and Home for Girls, Part 1

Brooklyn Training School and Home for Girls, 1919. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York.

While searching through various photo archives for photographs of Brooklyn and its architecture, I came across several photographs of the Brooklyn Training School and Home for Girls. I hadn’t heard of that one; one of the many charitable institutions of the Victorian age. The photographs showed an interesting Mediterranean/California Mission-style complex of several buildings, and the captions said that the School was located on Pacific Street. When I Googled the address, I was not too surprised to find out that the school was once located in Crown Heights. Central Brooklyn was long home to many large charitable institutions; orphanages, schools, old age homes and hospitals. But what kind of training school was this? And who ran it, and what kind of young girls were enrolled? Here’s what I found out:

The Training School and Home for Girls was the brainchild of Mrs. Phebe Francina Hallock Maine, a Park Slope lady of means, a blue blood descendent of Mayflower stock. Her husband, Malcolm T. Maine, was the head of a prosperous cotton trading company, and a member of the Cotton Exchange. The family was active in Society, Mr. Maine being one of the founding members of the Carlton Club, and one of the oldest members of the Montauk Club. Mrs. Maine’s other interests included the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, where she was an active associate member.

The Maine’s and their son lived at 24 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. Mrs. Maine had made the welfare of young girls her mission. Before she started the charity, she had made an attempt to help a young woman in need and in doing so, found out that there was no place a homeless or friendless young woman over fourteen could go if she needed shelter, other than a reformatory or jail.

Mrs. Maine gathered up some of her friends, and they set about doing something for young women. They rented a house on Schermerhorn Street and in 1889, opened the Training School for Girls. The goal was to both give shelter, and train these young women for jobs in service and housekeeping; giving them a chance for gainful and honest employment. They soon had to rent the house next door, as well. A year later, they had moved yet again, this time to 80 Livingston Street.

A lengthy article in the Eagle four years later, in 1893, praised the efforts of Mrs. Maine and her committee in establishing a large school that would house girls between the age of fourteen and twenty-one who would otherwise be out on the street or in dire straits, and give them a general education, as well as further occupational training. Much was made of the uplifted moral character of these girls, and how rescuing them saved these young women from a life of degradation and eventual depravity and cruel use.

There were very few such chances of advancement for young women. Charity programs for boys, such as the Newsboy’s Home, and the YMCA had been in place long before and training and apprenticeship programs for needy boys had many supporters. Yet the double standard of expecting young homeless and destitute women in the same poverty ridden situations, to not become prostitutes, but not giving them any help otherwise, made it hard for them to survive. Mrs. Main was very progressive in her care of these girls, making it clear to reporters and the outside world that the School was not a reform school, and the girls were not prisoners or inmates, and had not committed any crimes.

The girls were able to dress individually, not in uniforms. No corporal punishment was allowed, and the grounds had room for gardens, lawn games and leisure. By 1893, the School had moved to 14th Street, to larger facilities. There, a weekly club was instituted where music and other entertainment was presented, and after a girl left the School, and went out on her own, she was encouraged to return at any time, and would be welcome to share her experiences with the other girls. They were also encouraged to attend church services, and the school was guided in their operation by many of the goals and principals of the YWCA, which was also charting new ground in women’s social issues.

The School must have had branches, or several different houses, or moved an awful lot, because between the years of 1890 and 1901, there are several addresses mentioned in the Eagle. One was 336 14th Street, in 1893; another at 1016 Fulton Street, in 1896; but by 1901, the school is in its last address at 1483 Pacific Street, near Kingston Avenue, in the Bedford and St. Marks District. At that time, it was a series of wood framed buildings, not the Mission looking buildings in the photograph, which were built later.

By 1901, Phebe Maine was no longer in the picture. She was no longer listed on the board, and perhaps retired, or was in ill health. Both she and her husband died in 1907, according to most genealogy reports, although I found a source that said she had died in 1902, as well as one or two which gave no death date at all. Malcolm Maine is buried in the Friends Cemetery in Prospect Park, and hopefully, she is there too. Mrs. Maine had taken the plight of a homeless and friendless girl that she had befriended, and turned helping her into a very large and successful charitable institution. It was up to a new generation to take that dream further. But did they? What happened to the Training School and Home? You’ll have to wait for the conclusion of our story, next time.

(Both photographs taken in 1919. Collection of the Museum of the City of New York)

Brooklyn Training School and Home for Girls, 1919. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York.

Map dating 1904 shows wooden structures of the Brooklyn Training School and Home for Girls. These are NOT the buildings shown in the photographs from 1919.

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