“My Dear Good Sister, please accept this little outcast son of mine trusting with God’s help that I will be able to sustain him in your institution. I would not part with my baby were it in any way possible to make a respectable living with him, but I cannot . . . his name is Joseph Cavalier.”

Dear Madam, knowing my little infant will get better care in your Institution than I am able to give it, I for the present leave it in your charge. . . . Born Monday 7 a.m., she has not been christened, I call her Mary. Yours ever truly, a Poor Mother.”

These notes, records from the New York Foundling Hospital that are part of the collections of the New-York Historical Society, are heartbreaking glimpses into a growing social problem of the 19th century city: infant abandonment.

Unwanted babies were often left by poor unmarried mothers on stoops and streets, then brought to the City Hall Park almshouse or the almshouse on Blackwell’s Island. Their odds of surviving weren’t good.

But in October 1869, three nuns decided to take action. They renovated a red-brick brownstone at 17 East 12th Street and opened what they called the Foundling Asylum.

One sister placed an empty wicker cradle on the front step, and that very night, a bundled baby was left inside it, a note pinned to her chest saying her name was Sarah.

By the end of 1869, they took in 81 infants.

The next year, as they took in more babies, they moved into a larger facility on Washington Square, then in the 1870s to a block-long building at Lexington Avenue and 68th Street.

The Asylum pioneered adoption and participated in the “orphan trains” that sent thousands of homeless kids to families across the rural U.S.

Long renamed the Foundling Hospital, it’s now on Sixth Avenue and 17th Street, overseeing thousands of kids in foster care as well as running a pediatric center for kids with special needs and a maternity center.

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