This Women’s History Month, we honor the women who founded Forestdale in 1854, as well as the women who have worked so tirelessly since then and still today to service 1,200 youth and their families annually. Forestdale would simply not exist without the foresight, dedication, and determination of women.
In the 1850s NYC was coping with a population swell brought on by immigration from Europe. The burgeoning city was not able to keep up, leading to overcrowded tenements and unsanitary conditions. To address this issue for the children living in NYC, women from several churches in Brooklyn banded together to provide material needs and religious education to children that had been orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise neglected by their parents and society. The Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children (on Butler Street in Brooklyn) was established in April 1854, with the goal of teaching poor children a trade so that they could gain employment later on. Thereafter its staff and Board of Managers was comprised entirely of women representing the different Christian denominations of Brooklyn (Brooklyn Historical Society, 2012). We do not know exactly who the founding women were, but we do know that some of the managers and staff (1869) were affiliated with several churches including St. Anne’s Church, Elm Place Congregational Church, Bedford Congregational Church, just to name a few. Over the course of decades, the school expanded its offerings, moved to Queens in 1941, changed its name to Forestdale (1980), and retired its residential program to focus on foster care and adoption services.
Now in 2018 women still provide foundational support to Forestdale’s work – in fact, our workforce remains steadfastly female at 83%. More specifically, in a child welfare system that can reflect the currents of racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression in our society, Forestdale has been a place for women’s voices, choices, and action to promote strong families, in their roles as staff and community leaders, helping professionals, and peer supporters. Forestdale is playing a small part in advancing toward this goal of gender equity, as a place for women to receive services they need, and to find community with other women.