The Anchorage grew out of the work of Elmira Police Matron Esther Wilkins who argued for the need for a place to house the unfortunate young women who often wound up in her custody after being arrested for drunkenness, prostitution, petty theft, or other crimes. In 1888, a group of church women formed the Women’s Council for the Uplifting of Women to raise funds for the establishing of a reform school for troubled women and girls. Their vision was realized in the Anchorage, which was opened in the spring of 1890 with Mrs. Helen L. Bullock as director. Bullock was a temperance reformer and the founder of the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. She had a reputation for leadership and unimpeachable moral character which would make her an example to the girls in her care.
|Helen L. Bullock, founder & director|
In its early years, the Anchorage was basically a softer alternative to women’s prison for young women in their teens and twenties. Early inmates were brought in, mostly by the police, on charges ranging from public drunkenness to prostitution, licentious behavior to petty theft. Several other girls were dropped off by their families after they became pregnant out of wedlock. By 1893, the Anchorage changed its mission from being an alternative to prison and to become a dumping ground for unwed mothers and unmanageable daughters.
|The Anchorage, 905 College Avenue, Elmira|
Girls between the ages of 11 and 25 were brought from over the Twin Tiers. Some of their stories are downright tragic. Many came from broken homes where parents were dead, drunken, or abusive. Over 20 of them had been raped, 10 by family members. Often times the resulting children were adopted or sent to the Southern Tier Orphan’s Home while the mothers moved on with their lives.
According to a 1900 fundraising brochure, the Anchorage had a 90% success rate when it came to rehabilitating these troubled girls. They offered the stable home which many of the girls had been denied, including positive female role models, private bedrooms, and three square meals a day. Girls were instructed in English, botany, music, French, Latin, gardening, and a variety of housework including, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and poultry raising. Most former inmates went on to marry or work as domestic servants, but not everyone was happy to be there. Over a dozen girls ran away, sometimes rather dramatically. In 1907, Agnes jumped out of an upper floor window and broke her leg trying to escape. That same year, Grace more sensibly made a rope out of her bed linens to climb her way to freedom.
|Brochure for the Anchorage, 1900|