Ex-Vice President Helped Shape DOC

[Gov. Morton]
Gov. Morton signed DOC into law.

The governor who signed the DOC-creation bill into law 100 years ago was Levi Parsons Morton, who only two years earlier completed serving a term as U. S. Vice President.
[President Cleveland]
DOC came to be during President Cleveland's second term.

In 1861, seven years after opening a dry goods business in the city, Morton founded an investment banking house that bore his name, helping to keep the Union financially afloat during the Civil War and advanced U.S. postwar international trade interests. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1879-81) and as U.S. minister to France (1881-85).

In 1888, Morton was elected Vice President on the Republican ticket headed by Benjamin Harrison against then-President Grover Cleveland, himself a former New York governor. Cleveland had won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Four years later he defeated Harrison. Morton then returned to New York where in 1894 he was elected governor.
Return to Centennial Issue Items List

Reform's Reasons Focused on Patients

The reasoning behind the reform splitting Public Charities and Correction focused on protecting poor patients from inmates.

Besides concerns about actual exploitation by inmates working in hospitals, the reformers were concerned that ill indigents were being stigmatized by association departmentally with accused and convicted criminals. The agency division bill had emanated from the State Charities Aid Association whose leaders made clear their concerns at a hearing held by Mayor Strong Tuesday, May 7, 1895, in City Hall.

They noted the campaign for separation had begun a dozen years earlier with introduction of proposed legislation and that reports by panels probing problems at the Ward's Island Insane Asylum called for just such a division.

Leading social reformer Mrs. Charles Russell Lowell said: "Unfortunate men, women and children who, through accident or disease, are thrown upon city charity, should be relieved from the stigma and contamination of association with criminals." Prof. Charles F. Chandler pointed out that the bill did not go as far as reformers wanted in removing inmate work details from the charity institutions, but at least "it does not permit them to be employed as nurses in the hospital. Their employment has always been a crying evil."

Association official Charles S. Fairchild noted that in all other cities in the State, jails and charitable institutions were operated separately, usually by sheriffs and superintendents of the poor. Fellow Association official Carl Schurz declared, "It's a sign of barbarism when jails and almshouses are thrown together under one management; the effort to separate them is a sign of civilization."
Return to Centennial Issue Items List

1st Commissioners: R. J. Wright, F. J. Lantry

[R. J. Wright]
First NYC DOC Commissioner: Robert J. Wright

Under terms of Chapter 912 establishing the Correction Department, Mayor William L. Strong had until Dec. 21, 1895, to name his appointees to run the two emerging departments. He did so 11 A.M., Dec. 21, designating Robert J. Wright as Commissioner of Correction. Named Commissioners of Public Charities were John P. Faure, Retired Gen. James R. O'Beirne and Silas C. Croft.

Both Wright and Faure were Mayor Strong-appointees to the old combined Charities and Correction board and therefore already familiar with their departments' operations.
[F.J. Lantry]
First Greater NYC DOC Commissioner: F. J. Lantry

Commissioner Wright's background was that of business. He was a partner in the fertilizer firm of Kane & Wright. A staunch Republican, he had been first appointed by Mayor Strong in Spring 1895 to the old Charities and Correction board. His appointment as DOC's first commissioner was fully expected because he was already familiar with its operation.

While Wright was DOC's first commissioner, his successor -- Francis J. Lantry -- was its first commissioner when New York changed from a one-county city to a multi-county city in 1898.
[Mayor VanWyck]
First Mayor of Greater NYC: Robert A. Van Wyck.

With Fusion forces divided in 1897, Tammany's candidate, City Court Judge Robert A. Van Wyck, won election as the first Mayor of Greater New York. Among Van Wyck's appointments Jan. 1,1898, Lantry -- variously a butcher, a butchers' union leader, and an Alderman -- was named Correction Commissioner. Lantry also was the Tammany leader in the 16th District where the new Mayor lived.

After scandals during the Van Wyck administration inspired anti-Tammany forces to unite again, the Fusionists successfully fielded Columbia University president Seth Low as their mayoral candidate in 1901. He named Thomas W. Hynes to replace Lantry in 1902. When Tammany's nominee, George B. McClellan, son of the famous Civil War general and Presidential candidate, defeated Low in the mayoralty of 1903, Lantry was reappointed DOC Commissioner Jan. 1, 1904.

Thus he became the only City Correction Commissioner ever to serve twice.
Return to Centennial Issue Items List

Inmate Count Began at 2,650 in 1896

[City Record 1896]"><BR>

<CENTER><EM><STRONG>The initial inmate count appeared in DOC

On Jan.1, 1896, the Department of Correction began operating on its own, no longer joined to Public Charities.

The initial inmate census on Jan. 1, 1896, was put at 2,650. That count was among the statistics contained in the Department's first quarterly report to the Mayor, filed April 10th, 1896, and published in The City Record May 2, 1896.

Of the initial total, the Penitentiary and Workhouse on Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) accounted for 2,009 inmates -- 1,049 in the Penitentiary and 960 in the Workhouse. The City Prison, also known as the Tombs, contributed 465 to the total with the remaining 176 coming from the five District Prisons. By the end of the quarter -- that is, on March 31, 1896 -- the total inmate population had risen by more than 10 percent to 2,926.

Much of the first quarterly report of the first DOC Commissioner, Robert J. Wright, was concerned -- as were subsequent reports -- with detailing the work done by inmates for the Department of Public Charities as well as for the Correction Department itself.

The number of things made or repaired and the number of days labor expended were recorded in precise detail, even down to the count of shrouds sewn. The occupations listed include blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, painters, upholsterers, cot and broom makers, tailors, stone cutters, yard and coal workers, and outdoor laborers.

Wright itemized the number of inmate days of "ordinary labor" done for -- and in many cases, done at -- various city facilities "under the care and supervision of Keepers " (the 19th Century term for Correction Officers). These included: Bellevue, City, Gouverneur, Randalls Island, Harlem, Infants, and Metropolitan Hospitals, the Insane Asylums, and Alms-house. Other facilities where inmates worked under Keeper supervision included the Steamboat Department, the Storehouse, Stable, Bakery, City Cemetery, Gashouse, Fire Department, and the Branch Workhouse. Inmate labor gangs worked at various locations unloading coal and manure.

Mechanical labor, as distinguished from "ordinary labor," also was detailed. For example: The Barge for Homeless Men, carpenters and painters; Almshouse, carpenters, painters, masons and bricklayers; Metropolitan Hospital, carpenters, masons, bricklayers and engineers.
Return to Centennial Issue Items List

Correction News Centennial issue Acknowledgments & Appreciations

The editor wishes to acknowledge help by the Municipal Archives, Police Museum and Correction Academy.

Some drawings depicting 1890s prison scenes came from Police Museum curator John R. Podracky. Another source: Darkness and Daylight by Hartford (Conn.) Publishing Co. in 1897. The Archives provided access to relevant City Record volumes and to pictorial histories such as Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 by Moses King, 1899, N.Y.; The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City of New York for 1898-99, Martin B. Brown Co., N.Y., 1899, and The Kings Handbook of New York, circa 1899, also by Moses King, excellent sources for period photos of individuals and institutions. Additionally the Archives provided access to such authoritative volumes as The History of the State of New York by Columbia University Press, 1934 N.Y., and Four Famous New Yorkers: The Political Careers of Cleveland, Platt, Hill and Roosevelt by Henry Holt & Co., 1923, N.Y. The Academy made available old training manuals that contained useful information. Other books used by the editor in gathering historical details included New York by Gaslight, an 1882 guide by James D. McCabe Jr., published by Greenwich House, N.Y.; History of Tammany Hall by Gustavus Myers, by Dover Publications, 1901, N.Y.; The Good Old Days -- They Were Terrible by Otto L. Betterman, 1974, Random House; The WPA Guide to New York (of the 1930s), 1939, Pantheon Books, N.Y.; The Encyclopedia of American Crime by Facts on File Inc., 1982, N.Y.

Queensborough Library filmed copies of 1895 New York Times issues provided relevant accounts concerning Chapter 912.

--- Thomas McCarthy, Editor, Centennial issue of Correction News

Return to Centennial Issue Items List

Home Page
History Menu
To Correction
Starter Page
Home Page
Home Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: We gratefully acknowledge NYC DOC's permission to post here material used in creating the original version of the NYC DOC web page posted on NYC LINK.
-- Thomas McCarthy, NYCHS webmaster