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The Foundation’s history dates back to 1888 when Augusta P. Wiggins undertook the care of a few children who were orphaned or not being well cared for at home. Wiggins managed to get a dozen or so Saratogians interested in her project, and in 1891 the institution was incorporated electing Methodist minister Rev. Bostwick Hawley (1814-1910) president. For the Home's first 16 years orphaned children were cared for in different locations throughout the city.

In November 1904, the Hawley Home moved to its own building on Ludlow Street eventually housing 34 children from Saratoga and Warren counties. The home continued to operate for 61 years until August 1965, when increasingly complex state regulations forced its closure.

Since that time, its endowment—enhanced by various estates and wills—has allowed a board of directors to continue Hawley’s tradition of assisting children through grants to organizations that serve the neediest youth in our community and to students who need assistance with college expenses.

Photo: Riding in the carriage is Rev. Hawley and a resident of the Hawley Home, circa mid 1890s. From the Saratoga Room Collection at the Saratoga Springs Library.

Hawley Foundation observes a century of caring for children
By Jill Wing
The Saratogian
December 5, 2004 - C1


Richard Elwell was 9 when, on Aug. 1, 1937, his mother took him and his three younger siblings -- brothers 8 and 6, and a sister, 2 -- to stay at the Hawley Home for Children at 64 Ludlow St.

Elwell, 76, of Niskayuna, remembers the day clearly.

'My parents had separated and my mother couldn't take care of us,' he recalled. 'So she took us to the Hawley Home to stay until she could. My mother held our sister in her lap and we three boys sat in chairs facing this very businesslike woman behind the desk. She explained the rules of our new lives.'

That stern woman was the home's director, Margaret Helen Dickson. She would have a huge impact on the Elwell children.

The Hawley Home was not an orphanage, rather a refuge for kids whose families were struggling to make ends meet. Typically, kids only stayed at the home for a few weeks, until their families found firm financial footing, according to Elwell. But he and his brothers and sister stayed for nearly five years. They were never alone. Their extended family included about 30 kids, living there at any given time.

Their situation was typical of many kids there, whose single moms needed jobs to keep the family together.

'My mother got a job in Cooperstown,' he said. 'She didn't have a car, so she could only visit us three or four times a year. Boy, did we miss her.'

Elwell recalled Dickson driving him and his siblings to Schenectady to catch a bus to Cooperstown. With their mother so far away, Elwell said Dickson was even more important in their lives.

Elwell's recollections of life at the Hawley Home are fond. He's grateful for the care and consideration he and his siblings received there.

'It was a wonderful place,' he said.

In 1997, Elwell spoke at a memorial service for Dickson, who died on March 8 of that year.

'The whole place revolved around Miss Dickson. She had a staff of five to help her: a matron for the boys and another one for the girls, a dietician, cook and janitor. Every single child had a daily chore, such as setting tables, sweeping a floor or folding laundry. My first one (chore) was putting away all the silverware in the pantry after each meal,' he said.

'We lived a surprisingly normal life for an institution, three meals a day and a roof over our heads. The food was pretty basic and you cleaned your plate,' Elwell continued. 'To this day I really hate liver as a result of those episodes. Our medical and dental care was rudimentary; you didn't get any unless you were sick or had a toothache.'

Youngsters at the Hawley Home participated in the same activities kids who had families did. They attended school and church, and Elwell was also a busy Boy Scout.

His mother paid the Hawley Home $3 a week for each child.

'I realized much later that must have taken just about everything she earned in 1937,' Elwell said.

'Since nobody's family had any money, we were always looking for a chance to earn some. We shoveled snow, mowed lawns, delivered papers, sold racing programs, ran errands and did anything else we could find. It took a lot to earn a nickel in 1938,' Elwell said.

Christmas at the home was usually a simple and joyous occasion.

'Every child got a cardboard box decorated with crepe paper. On Christmas we'd all troop into the big meeting room, where there was this great big Christmas tree. Each of us had a box with our name on it and in this box were gifts. The gifts came from families, if they had a family, otherwise they were charitable donations. A lot of people were struggling from the Depression. Nobody had money. You'd get a pair of socks and an orange. Sometimes a toy, like a ball. It wasn't a lot, but it was always exciting,' Elwell said.

Finally, in November 1943, the Elwell children were able to leave Hawley Home. Their mother was hired as home economics teacher in the Schuylerville School District. Elwell became an engineer at General Electric.

Ruth Stevens, 86, of Marvin Place, worked at the Hawley Home from 1939 to 1943. She cooked for the children one day a week and recalls the 30 young charges that ate three meals a day seated at the dining table.

'The kids were well fed and taken care of. It was a wonderful place,' she said.

Stevens married in 1943 and had three children of her own. When her family needed help, the Hawley Foundation was there. Her oldest son went to school to become a pharmacist with a scholarship from the organization.

Hundreds of children passed through the Hawley House on Ludlow Street between 1904 and 1965, when it was closed because it didn't have the resources to meet modern child-care standards set by the state. The institutional-looking red brick building is currently an apartment house.

But the Hawley Foundation, one of the earliest local charitable organizations, has quietly gone about its business of caring for children in Saratoga County since 1888. The foundation was born in the mind of social worker Augusta P. Wiggins, who saw a need to assist children whose families could not care for them. With the help of donations, Wiggins was able to open the first children's home in 1891, in a single room abode on Mitchell Street.

Dr. Bostwick Hawley, who was also a reverend, answered the call to help and devoted more than 20 years of his life to the Saratoga Home for Children, as it was called in the 1890s. With the need growing, Hawley, with the help of an energetic board of managers, built and opened the Hawley Home for Children on Ludlow Street in 1904.

Hawley left the foundation an endowment when he died. The foundation continues to build on its liquidation from when it closed in 1965, enabling it to continue its work, largely behind the scenes. With additional endowments from wills and private contributions, the foundation assists other nonprofits that shares its dedication to the health, wealth and education of children in Saratoga County. It annually awards grants to programs that help local children and awards scholarships to deserving students.

Scott Johnson, the foundation's vice president, was one such student. Now an attorney, Johnson's parents divorced when he was in junior high school. He applied for a Hawley scholarship in 1973 and subsequently attended SUNY Stonybrook and Syracuse University.

'I was lucky enough to receive scholarships from a variety of institutions,' he said.

Johnson has been involved with the Hawley Foundation partly as a way to pay it back for helping him when he needed it, and because it is an organization he wanted to become a part of.

Johnson, the foundation's incoming president, plans to create more public awareness of the organization's purpose and functions.

'The Hawley Foundation has had a very low profile for a charitable organization -- one of Saratoga's best-kept secrets,' he said.

While a fund-raising blitz isn't in its future, Johnson said the organization will be in contact with select people in the community, such as law offices and institutions with financial planning departments. The purpose would be to offer incentives for clients to leave endowments to the foundation.

One of the reasons for the foundation's desire to stay off the very public radar is 'to protect the privacy of its recipients. That's a big issue when it comes to college scholarships,' Johnson, who himself was once a student in need, can attest.

He is also concerned that just the word 'scholarship' might intimidate students who would like to apply.

'We're considering calling it an incentive program,' he said, in hopes that more eligible students will apply for college assistance from the foundation.

This year, the foundation celebrates 100 years of community service aimed at children and families in Saratoga County.

In 2003, the organization provided assistance to the Saratoga Task Force on Child Abuse, Domestic Violence Services, the Saratoga County YMCA, the Children's Museum at Saratoga, the Saratoga County Children's Committee, the Area Center for Teens, Franklin Community Center and Give a Child a Christmas.



The Hawley Foundation for Children is a private foundation governed by a Board of Directors.

© 2006-2020 The Hawley Foundation



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