A Life of Service: Remembering the Tombs Angel, a Heroine of the Gilded Age

by John F. Werner & Robert C. Meade, Jr.

Rebecca Salome Foster
Portrait of Rebecca Salome Foster. From the family’s scrapbook about Mrs. Foster created by her sister Lila, courtesy of Jeremy Ann Brown.

I resolved that If I could save but one woman, my life would have been well lived.

Mrs. Rebecca Salome Foster

A. Introduction

Lately, notice has finally been taken of the scandalous paucity of monuments in the public parks, squares and buildings of our country and of New York City that pay tribute to women deserving of recognition. Until recently, for example, in all of Central Park there were no statues honoring real women, only several commemorating fictional ones, and there were only five statues in honor of historical women in the parks and public squares throughout the whole of New York City.[1] It is remarkable indeed, then, that almost 120 years ago, in 1904, a tribute in marble and bronze was erected in an important public building in lower Manhattan in honor of Rebecca Salome Foster for her many years of devoted, selfless attention to the inmates of the original Tombs Prison, their families, and other poor and unfortunate souls, many of them immigrants, action that earned her during her life the sobriquet the “Tombs Angel.” Her story, as we shall see, had been, as was her monument, largely forgotten. This is an injustice that this article hopes to correct.

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