Country Excursions

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"Summer resort of the Children's Aid Society on Staten Island," 1874. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

As cities threatened to erode the moral and physical health of working-class children, Progressives idealized the country as the perfect antidote. Social welfare organizations developed programs to restore urban children’s health and vitality through sojourns into rural America. The New York City Fresh Air Fund was established in 1877 to provide impoverished children with a week-long stay in a rural location, where they would help with farm work. The Fund sought to provide urban children with a meaningful interruption from tenement life, rather than a short day trip. By 1897, fresh air programs existed in many large cities, including Chicago’s Fresh Air Association of Lake Geneva, which transported Chicago children by train north to Wisconsin.

Other organizations, like New York City's Children’s Aid Society, offered children a brief respite from city life. Inner city children would take day trips to Staten Island, or picnic upstate along the Hudson River during the summer to escape the heat. The Newsboys Home Club organized a camp on Staten Island, which dues-paying boys could attend for a week.