Monday, May 20, 2019

Federation Farm

by Erin Doane, Curator

Federation Farm was a residential treatments center for children who were undernourished, anemic, or had been exposed to tuberculosis. The farmhouse, located on six acres of land on Hoffman Street in Elmira, opened its doors on April 14, 1917. Creation of the farm was spearheaded by two members of the Women’s Federation of Social Services, Mrs. John M. Connelly and Mrs. Thomas Fitzgerald. They were able to purchase the farm property with money from the sale of Red Cross seals and a donation from Mrs. J. Sloat Fassett.

Federation Farm
Tuberculosis was a major problem in the early 1900s. The disease mainly affects the lungs and is spread through the air from one person to another. Crowded living conditions and poor hygiene could increase rates of infection. The purpose of the Federation Farm was to help prevent the spread of the disease by removing children from poor conditions and building up their health. It was estimated that it would cost six times as much to treat and care for someone with tuberculosis as to prevent its onset through good nutrition and a healthy outdoor environment. Children between the ages of five and twelve in homes where there had been cases of tuberculosis were recommended for treatment at the farm with no cost to the families.

Children playing at Federation Farm
Federation Farm was seen as an ideal place for children to gain weight and build up their health. Situated on the outskirts of the city, there was plenty of open space and fresh air. Skinny, pale children would be kept at the farm fulltime from as little as a month to up to two years until they were robust and healthy. Physicians examined the children when they first arrived and continued treating them throughout their stay. Parents were allowed to visit on weekends but otherwise the children were under the full charge of the matron. Most of their time was spent outdoors, playing and helping in the garden or with the chickens. A teacher appointed by the Elmira City School District came daily to teach lessons on the porch.

A class on the porch
When the farm first opened in 1917, it could accommodate 12 children. Before any of them arrived, the public was invited to tour the home. It was reported that the children would enjoy the most modern conveniences including electric lights, a water heater, and a hot air furnace. The bedrooms on the first floor for the girls and second floor for the boys were all prettily decorated with blue checkered blankets on the beds. There were also sleeping porches. They were sure to benefit from the wholesome environment and five healthy meals a day.

Children helping in the garden
The Federation Farm operated entirely on donations – both money and materials. Toys, books, ice skates, canned fruit and vegetables, and even the beds that the children slept in were all donated. Proceeds from the sale of Christmas seals by the Red Cross went to keeping the farm operating and donations from private individuals and organizations were solicited to meet deficits.

The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs held
fundraisers to help support Federation
Farm throughout the 1920s
While many people contributed to keep the farm open, it perpetually struggled to find funding. It was close to shutting down in 1919 before New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith helped push the sale of Christmas Seals, its main source of revenue. In 1927, the Exchange Club in Elmira held an emergency vote and decided to finance the farm to keep it from closing due to lack of funds. Later that year, the Chemung County Board of Supervisors voted to take over management. With the county in control, tax dollars were then used to fund operations and maintenance. The farm became known as the Chemung County Preventorium and was placed under the same management as the Chemung County Sanatorium.

By 1940, the number of children being treated at the farm had dropped significantly. Over the years, hundreds of children had been treated there. In 1926 alone, 49 children had been in residence and 143 medical treatments and operations of various kinds were provided. In his statement to the Board of Supervisors in November of that year, Dr. Arthur W. Booth reported that only eight patients remained on the farm. With reluctance, he recommended that the Preventorium discontinue its activities and he submitted no budget for the next year. Parents took the last children home after a Christmas party on December 18, 1940. In 1943, the building was razed and the property became part of the federal housing project that was built to accommodate workers in the local wartime defense industries.


  1. This home must have brought peace of mind to many parents in the area to know you could send your sick child there to recover from TB and not be burdened with the expense. Thank goodness the Women's Federal of Social Services were able to do this for the community.