Harriet Ware, 1799-1849, a 19th-century reformer of strong religious convictions, founded the Providence Children’s Friend Society, an organization still operating over 100 years later to serve impoverished Rhode Islanders.
Upon her arrival in Hopkinton, RI, she shocked to see overcrowded and dilapidated homes, overflowing with unwanted, malnourished, filthy, shoeless children, many of whom worked 14-hour days in one of the many local cotton mills. Miss Ware then sought donations from churches and contributions from the community to offer assistance and makeshift accommodations for children in need.
A group of women on the East Side of Providence, concerned with the plight of neglected children in the India Point neighborhood, offered to support Harriet if she would open a school in that district. More than a school, her efforts took on all the aspects of a school, a church, and a family counseling service. She arrived in India Point in 1832 and set to work. With the backing of prominent families, including Mrs. Lucy Wayland, wife of the President of Brown University, Harriet’s efforts led to the creation of the Children’s Friend Society in 1835 and the purchase in 1836 of the first in a series of homes to serve as residences for abused or neglected children. She also arranged the placement of children in foster care homes, perhaps the first instance of this strategy in the country. The first orphanage that was purchased by the Society was on Tobey Street near the Bell Street Chapel.
In 1845 Harriet developed cancer and died two years later in 1847. A lengthy memorial to her services was authored by President Wayland; it includes many of her letters filled with details of her work. That work continues today as the Children’s Friend and Services of Providence.