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Claire Yaffa New York Foundling Hospital photographs

Call Number

PR 299


1979-2012 (bulk 1979-1999), inclusive


Yaffa, Claire


7.36 Linear feet (11 boxes and two flat files)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


This collection consists of photographs by Claire Yaffa of clients and staff at the New York Foundling Hospital, and related documents.

Biographical note

Claire Yaffa is a freelance photojournalist known for her social realism. Her work encompasses abused or neglected children and the ill, elderly, and homeless. In addition to the New York Foundling Hospital (now known as the "Foundling"), she has photographed for The National Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities, the Incarnation Children's Hospital, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, New York School for the Deaf and Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. This work has been published in two photojournalism monographs: Reaching Out (1987) and A Dying Child is Born: The Story of Tracy (1992). Yaffa is a critically acclaimed fine art photographer as well. Her fine-art monographs include: Light and Shadow (1998), Moments (2004), Life's Dream (2006), and Divertissement (2008). Her work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, the Hudson River Museum, the Neuberger Museum, Fait et Cause in Paris, and the United Nations, as well as published in major newspapers and magazines.

Claire Yaffa's involvement with the Foundling began with a call in 1979 to Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, the medical director of the Foundling's Center for Parent and Child Development. She asked how she might help his cause and he introduced her to the Temporary Shelter program, where abusive mothers lived with their children temporarily while learning better parenting skills. Her photographs there and at the Crisis Nursery eventually formed the basis of a 1987 exhibit at the International Center of Photography entitled "Reaching Out." Yaffa then continued to photograph various programs at the Foundling over three decades. Her photos were featured in the organization's promotional materials and events, as well as in news articles about the Foundling. Photographs from this collection were also featured in the 2001 book The Foundling: The Story of The New York Foundling Hospital by Martin Gottlieb, with contemporary photographs by Claire Yaffa.

Historical note

The New York Foundling Hospital was established in New York City in 1869 by the Catholic Sisters of Charity as a hospital for abandoned babies. From the beginning the Foundling's first goal was to help mothers keep their children rather than abandoning them to institutional care. Over the decades this goal led to numerous services to families and children. By 1959 the Foundling ceased officially to operate as a hospital, although it did not drop "hospital" from its name until much later. Over the next three decades the organization began to move away from large, centralized programs in favor of numerous smaller programs designed for specific needs, often partnering with local community organizations to offer services to families and children within their own communities.

This collection focuses primarily on two such programs: the Temporary Shelter and the Crisis Nursery. The Temporary Shelter was established in 1972 as part of the Foundling's Center for Parent and Child Development. The shelter was a residence where mothers could live together with their children for up to 30 days while receiving parenting classes and other services and referrals. The Crisis Nursery was opened in 1982 as a temporary childcare facility for children under the age of 5, and at risk of abuse, to stay for up to 3 days without their parents. Later, while the Crisis Nursery continued to operate the Temporary Shelter was discontinued in favor of other programs within the Foundling's Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS).

The primary instigator of these programs was Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, the medical director at the Center for Parent and Child Development. Dr. Fontana was a leading expert in the field of Child Abuse and Child Maltreatment. He wrote numerous articles and books on the topic, including the influential book The Maltreated Child in 1964. He was also the chairman of the Mayor's Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect of the City of New York, and the Medical Editor of the journal Missing/Abused.

Additional programs represented in this collection include the skilled nursing facility at 590 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, the St. Agatha Home, Project Basement, Bronx Community Services, Pathway, Seton Day Care Center, Mother's Social Service, Blaine Hall, and the Puerto Rico Head Start programs.

--The Medical Center for Pediatrics and Rehabilitative care, also called the "Skilled Nursing Facility," provided therapy and services to disabled children and their families.

--The St. Agatha Home was an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity which merged with the Foundling in 1977. In the 1980's St. Agatha operated small group homes for mentally or physically disabled children, and also both on and off-campus group homes for other children and adolescents such as runaways and those in juvenile detention.

--Project Basement was a community services center in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of New York City offering among other things, after school programs, child abuse prevention, domestic violence intervention, help with housing and immigration problems and a food pantry.

--Bronx Community Services was a similar community services center in the Bronx centered around foster care services and child abuse prevention services.

--The Pathway Center for Family Rehabilitation began as a program to provide rehabilitation, vocational training, and other services to drug addicted mothers and their children.

--The Seton Day Care Center was created in 1968 to provide daycare to working mothers as a way to enable mothers and their children to stay together.

--Mother's Social Service, unofficially referred to as the "unwed mothers" or the "teen mothers" program, provided services to pregnant teenagers and new mothers.

--Blaine Hall was an evaluation and treatment center for severely abused children.

--The Foundling's Puerto Rico programs were begun in the 1960's and 1970's in an effort to both find foster families for Puerto Rican children and to provide services to those families even if they moved to Puerto Rico. These programs expanded in 1984 via federal funding to establish Head Start programs. The Foundling opened Head Start programs and family services in four cities in Puerto Rico.

Scope and Contents

The Claire Yaffa New York Foundling Hospital Photograph Collection contains approximately 1000 photographic prints, 600 contact sheets and 100 mounted prints of clients and staff at the New York Foundling Hospital, as well as some related documents. It spans the years 1979 - 2012, with the majority of the photographs taken in the 1980's and 1990's. All photos were taken by Claire Yaffa. Most mounted or matted prints are signed. The majority of the photographs are gelatin silver prints. However, there is one folder of 8 x 10 and smaller color prints and one folder of color contact sheets.

The bulk of the photographs are portraits of young children, mothers with their children, or staff and volunteers with children. Sub-series I.1 "Identified Programs" contains only photographs where the program portrayed has been clearly identified. These include centralized programs such as the Skilled Nursing Facility in Manhattan (also called the The Medical Center for Pediatrics and Rehabilitative care), the St. Agatha Home, Mother's Social Services, the Crisis Nursery, and the Temporary Shelter, as well as community based programs such as Project Basement, Pathway, and the Bronx Community Center. In addition there are photos of the Head Start programs in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico photographs are unique in including shots of exteriors and interiors of client's homes and shots of neighborhoods in Puerto Rico in addition to portraits and photos of program activities.

Series I.2 "Unidentified Programs" includes photographs that were not labeled as to program. However it appears that the majority of the portraits of children and of mothers with their children were taken at the Temporary Shelter program or the Crisis Nursery. It appears that the majority of photographs of older children and adolescents were taken in group homes or activities under the administration of St. Agatha Home.

Some of the photographs in this collection were displayed in an exhibit at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in 1987 entitled "Reaching Out." Copies of the monograph of the same name are included in the collection. Also included are signed posters, color prints and contact sheets, mounted black and white prints, correspondence and notes related to this exhibit.

Contact sheets are included of Puerto Rico and of other, unidentified programs. As the contact sheets contain numerous photos for which there is no print, these provide a more comprehensive documentation of the New York Foundling.

Two boxes of documents contain correspondence to Claire Yaffa, notes, biographical information on Claire Yaffa and Vincent J. Fontana, writing drafts of both Yaffa and Fontana, photocopied articles relating to child abuse or the Foundling, publications of the Foundling, photograph and interview releases, and type-written transcripts of interviews with mothers at the Temporary Shelter.

One copy of the book The Foundling: The Story of The New York Foundling Hospital is also included.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Claire Yaffa New York Foundling Hospital Photographs, PR 299, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Claire Yaffa, 2012.

Collection processed by

Twila Rios

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:47:38 -0400.
Language: Description is in English

Processing Information

Processed by Twila Rios, 2013.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024