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

B. The Life and Work of Rebecca Salome Foster

6. Funding the Work

Mrs. Foster personally carried out all her labors in the Tombs and environs, in the courts and in her investigations throughout the city and elsewhere, and all her work finding homes and employment and providing financial and other assistance.

She accepted no compensation for her work.[106]  She never took any money from the judges.  Judge Jerome said that

[l]ots of times I have tried to give her money for some particular case – where she had made expenditures to take care of the family while the man was in jail. She would say: “No, I cannot take any money from any of the judges. I know the judges who are here now would not think I was coming to them with the hope of getting some, but there might come judges here who would not feel that way about it. They would get to look upon me as a nuisance …”[107]

Some of the funds she expended came from her own resources. In time, however, as her program expanded, word of her work spread and she sought out funds and was able to raise them. She raised monies from members of Calvary Church,[108] including the “Friends at Court,” a group that was established at the instance of the Rev. Mr. Satterlee specifically to help her.[109] This group started with six members. In its later years the group raised as much as $3,000 annually, equivalent to almost $100,000 today, to support Mrs. Foster’s work;[110] in 1901, the group’s goal was $3,600. By 1902 there were about 200 regular subscribers.[111] She also sometimes received support from prominent and well-to-do families, and well-known philanthropists. Among those who reportedly aided her were Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, De Peysters, Van Rensselaers, Burdens, and Astors.[112]

Public gatherings of various sorts, including some attended by Mrs. Foster, were also held to raise money to provide support for her work.[113] At one such gathering in a private home in 1899, for example, a former Assistant District Attorney spoke in favor of Mrs. Foster’s work. The District Attorney himself had been scheduled to attend and address the group, but when other responsibilities prevented him from doing so, Bishop Satterlee spoke in his place. The meeting concluded with a presentation by Mrs. Foster describing her efforts.[114]

In early 1901, the Friends at Court reported to the parishioners of Calvary that, in the preceding year, Mrs. Foster had made 1,171 visits; helped 419 prisoners and 81 prisoners’ families; sent 83 persons to their homes in various parts of this country; paid traveling expenses to Germany of two girls, to Italy of a woman and child, to Ireland of two girls, and to France and Bermuda of one each. She had distributed 230 pairs of new shoes. Among other things, she had paid out $463.98 for the traveling expenses of former prisoners; $736.21 for food; $281.00 for rents; $181.90 for ice in prisons; $152.38 for lodgings; and $60.75 for coal and wood.[115]

In November of 1896, Mrs. Foster reported to the relevant committee at Calvary Church that she had made 420 visits to prisons and courts during the summer of that year alone. During that summer, she informed the group, “I have helped, more or less, 187 women and 71 men; sent back to their homes 13 women and girls and 7 boys; and provided lawyers for 133 women and 84 men; [and] I have given, during the summer, to women and girls, 213 garments and 87 pairs of shoes and 127 hats, also clothing to 13 men …”[116] The gifts of parishioners, she advised the committee, “have made it possible to do much that else would have been impossible.”[117]

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