In the 1840s and 1850s a series of yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans brought forth a need for homes for destitute widows and children. During this period private and religious groups established a number of orphanages and asylums. In 1855 the Jewish community of New Orleans organized the “Jewish Orphans’ Home,” as a part of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, and on march 14, 1855, the state granted a charter to the institution. The original Home was on Chippewah Street, but in 1887 it moved to a new building at 5342 St. Charles Avenue.
The name of the organization has changed several times: from April 6, 1880 to February 28, 1905, it was “The Association for the Relief of Jewish Widows & Orphans,” from February 28, 1905, to February 4, 1924, “The Association for the Relief of Jewish Widows & Orphans of New Orleans,” and after February 4, 1924, the “Jewish Children’s Home.” While the legal name remains the Jewish Children’s Home, the organization has operated as the Jewish Children’s Home Service since April 1958.
A Charter amendment in 1890 limited admissions to “Abandoned Children” and a 1940 amendment provided for the care of children in their own homes and in foster homes. In 1904, the Isidore Newman Manual Training School was opened for the education and training of the children of the Home. After 1946, the Jewish Children’s Home ceased to offer institutional care in New Orleans and became a regional children’s service.
An important part of the history of the organization has been its association with the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, District #7. By an amendment to its Constitution in 1875, the Home agreed to extend its services to the region covered by District #7; the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. In return, the District Lodge of B’nai B’rith agreed to help finance the Home on a per capita membership basis. This formal contractual relationship with B’nai B’rith was continued, with some changes, until 1947, after which date contributions from B’nai B’rith were made on a voluntary basis. To help solicit funds in District #7 for the Jewish Children’s Home in New Orleans (as well as the Home for the Aged at Memphis and the Leo N. Levi Memorial Hospital), the Joint Institutions Appeal was established by the B’nai B’rith District Grand Lodge in April, 1942. This organization was dissolved on July 1, 1949.
The management and investment of the Trust Funds of the Home is in the hands of the Board of Trustees made up of the President, Treasurer, Chairman of the Finance Committee, and three Trustees who cannot be members of the Board of Directors.
In 1941, the Board of Directors, recognizing that the needs of the children of the region had changed greatly since the establishment of the Home, appointed a special committee to investigate the possibility of updating the services of the Home. At the suggestion of this Committee, the Board employed the child Welfare Leauge of America and the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds to make a detailed study of the Home and its functions and to offer appropriate recommendations. The results of this Study were published in June 1942, and using the guidelines set forth by the Study, the Home began a reorganization of its services.
On November 1, 1946, the Jewish Children’s Home ceased to provide institutional care in New Orleans and the organization became a center for regional child care service. The St. Charles Street property was sold to the Jewish Community Center in July 1948. From 1946 to 1951, the Home went through a period of change and transition. With the dissolution of the JIA, and without a formal commitment from B’nai B’rith, it was necessary for the Board to undertake its own fund raising. After a long period of negotiations with Bellefaire in Cleveland, the Board contracted with Bellefaire to provide institutional care, when needed, for District #7 children. Finally, in 1951, the Home emerged a s an autonomous child care service, with a regional Board of Directors, composed of 43 members, 30 of whom were nominated by Federations throughout the seven state area.
In recent years, the Service has sponsored several new projects. One, the New Orleans Group house, was organized in 1955 as a joint effort by the Jewish Children’s Home Service and the Institute of Mental Health of New Orleans. It was designed as a treatment center for emotionally disturbed pre-adolescent boys and was closed in June, 1959 upon completion of the demonstration period. And, in May, 1963, a Department of Planning and Education was instituted to offer additional consultation services to social agencies.