The Five Points House of Industry in New York City was established in 1851. Originally the group was formed by the New York Ladies’ Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1850 in response to the rampant crime and prostitution in the area. The society appointed Lewis M. Pease as the first head missionary and he soon set off on a reign of moral reform.
Pease believed that many women in the area became prostitutes out of necessity. The area largely lacked adequate employment opportunities and as a result many women fell into prostitution as means to provide for themselves and their children. He held the opinion that if women were given better job opportunities they would live more meaningful lives and have a better future in general. Rather than emphasize the importance of moral reform through preaching, he took a much more proactive approach and created job training programs and utilized job placement for the most destitute women.
Unfortunately, many of the women who ran the society had different views. They continued to place an emphasis on converting people to Methodism, arguing that moral reform should be aimed at the core of the person rather than the lack of employment. They believed that if you reformed the ladies in poverty they would seek out outside job opportunities in an attempt to better themselves. Because of these differences in opinion, Pease left the society to form what would late become the Five Points House of Industry.
The goals of this new institution were as follows:
– To assist the destitute to support themselves, by providing for them employment, protection, and instruction.
– To provide partial or entire support to children and others incapable of self-support.
– To imbue the objects of its care with the pure principles of Christianity without bias from the distinctive peculiarities of any individual sect.
The first official House of Industry mission building was built in 1856. Over many of the coming years the location of the building changed several times. As the mission grew in size and occupancy increased they embraced the growing need to expand. The original tenement building was demolished and a two story mission was built in its place. Five years later, the mission was again replaced, this time with a five story building. This mission house remained open until 1895 when it was declared unsafe. The next year, the five story building was demolished and an eight story building was opened at the same location.
The Five Points House of Industry utilized several methods to help its tenants. Among these were a farm school, a woman’s working house, a free medicine dispensary, public bathrooms, a boarding house, and a children’s school. The children’s school became one of the most successful aspects of the House of Industry. Missionaries taught the children a multitude of job skills, the English language, and also a set of core values including cleanliness, order, self control, and discipline.
Pease and other leaders of the house believed that it was their duty to provide for and save children who were in destitute conditions. These children had no control over their situation and were destined to remain in their cycle of poverty if they could not be rescued. Pease and his followers believed that by creating a more successful youth they could prevent future generations from following the steps of their parents an ultimately prevent a problem from starting.