Author (Your Name)

Brian Sweeney, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. African-American Studies Program


Jason Opal

Second Advisor

Robert Weisbrot


In 1831, Mathew Carey, a well-known Philadelphia economist, wrote a city official describing the situation of black children in the city. He called for the creation of an orphanage to aid these children and described the motives for this action as not only the “humanity and benevolence” of Philadelphians, but also “personal interest”, as this class could otherwise turn “lawless”. Unknown to Carey, the Association for the Care of Coloured Orphans had been established in 1822 by a group of benevolent Quaker women dedicated to aiding this destitute class in an effort to promote compensatory justice for generations of oppression under slavery. The founders of the association were not concerned with personal interest, and operated under “a system of silence” for years. Marked by a political, controversial, and sometimes violent debate over the abolition movement and the rights of freed African Americans, the 1830s proved a tumultuous time for the Association for the Care of Coloured Orphans. Despite these challenges, the female Friends who ran the organization held firm to their mission of caring for black orphans despite little support from the state and monetary donations from only a limited number of Philadelphians; progress was measured by the “humble indicator” of differences made in the lives of individual children. Unlike the Association for the Care of Coloured Orphans, the Orphan Society of Philadelphia, established in 1814, saw “extensive liberality” from all corners of Philadelphia. Their asylum, which did not admit black orphans, was heralded as one of the most benevolent institutions in the city. A comparison of these two orphanages illuminates entirely different motivations, mindsets, and frameworks through which the history of humanitarianism and benevolence can be explored.


African Americans, Association for the Care of Coloured Orphans (Cheyney, Pa.), History