A Brief History of the Camden Home for Children & SPCC

Friendless Child Stock Photo

In Service to Youth

The Camden Home for Friendless Children, situated on Haddon Avenue above Mount Vernon, stands as an emblem of compassionate care for destitute and friendless children. Its inception, formalized through a charter granted by the State Legislature on April 6, 1865, brought together individuals committed to a noble cause. The charter incorporated notable figures such as Matthew Newkirk, Elijah G. Cattell, James H. Stevens, George W.N. Custis, J. Earl Atkinson, Joseph C. De La Cour, Joseph D. Reinboth, Robert B. Potts, Jesse W. Starr, and others under the name “The Camden Home for Friendless Children.”

The roots of this institution delve into a pivotal meeting at the First Presbyterian Church on 5th Street in Camden during the autumn of 1864. Inspired by the dedicated efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Earl J. Atkinson, alongside other civic-minded citizens, the initiative aimed to establish an Orphan's Home. This home was to provide care for children left fatherless due to the ravages of the Civil War. By February 1865, the project was operational, with a residence at 522 Federal Street serving as its initial location. The first child was admitted on May 8, 1865, marking the formal commencement of the Camden Home for Friendless Children.

As the institution burgeoned, additional adjacent houses were renovated to accommodate the increasing number of children in need. In 1873, the Camden Home for Children transitioned to a four-story facility at 915 Haddon Avenue, where it continued its dedicated service until 1960. Throughout its extensive history, the Camden Home for Friendless Children faced and triumphed over challenges, including wartime adversities and economic downturns. The institution’s financial sustenance primarily came from generous donors rather than seeking public financial support.

By 1957, the organization found itself caring for approximately 157 children, including those placed in foster homes. The pressing demand necessitated the acquisition of 8.5 acres at Kaighn & Vesper Avenues for a new, modern facility. The fundraising campaign initiated in 1957/58, spearheaded by figures like Cecil Bentley and Bryant W. Langston, aimed to raise $486,000. The new campus, designed in consultation with Child Welfare experts, embraced a “cottage plan” to offer a homely atmosphere for the children.

The Camden Home for Children steadfastly upheld its commitment to sheltering, caring for, and preparing adolescents for adulthood. The organization maintained an inclusive policy, welcoming children in need without regard to race, creed, or color. As societal needs evolved, the institution adapted and embraced change. In 1960, it relocated to Kaighn Avenue, marking a new era with enhanced facilities capable of accommodating up to 75 children.

In 1979, after 114 years of dedicated service, the residential facility faced closure due to state under-funding. However, the organization persisted under the name The Camden Home for Children & SPCC (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Dr. John (Jack) Breakstone, at the helm of the board, advocated for the organization’s continued role in serving youth.

The subsequent years witnessed The Camden Home for Children evolving its mission. Despite the closure of the residential facility in 1979, it continued as a nonprofit foundation, championing the cause of youth agencies in New Jersey. Dr. John Breakstone, along with David A. Stedman, sought to secure funds for the organization’s continued impact. The facility, although sold to the Camden Board of Education for a symbolic dollar, remained a symbolic representation of the organization’s resilience and commitment.

The foundation, under Dr. Breakstone’s leadership, shifted its focus to supporting other agencies and institutions. It began offering grants to those providing services for children in crisis, primarily in Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington counties. Executive Director John Powell spearheaded efforts to expand the organization’s assistance to the “aging out” population, catering to individuals aged 19 through 22 transitioning to independence.

The Camden Home for Children, throughout its extensive history, continued its unwavering commitment to assisting youth in need. Through periods of change and adaptation, the organization demonstrated its dedication to remaining a valuable resource for the community. The ongoing reevaluation of its role ensured that it stayed true to its mission, cementing its legacy as a cornerstone of support for those facing crises and challenges in the intricate journey of youth development.


  • Bergbauer, Thomas (2008, September 14). Camden Home for Children was a haven for 114 years. Courier Post, p3C.
  • Lieberman, Gail (1979, November 29) Children’s Home shuts doors. Courier-Post. Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County.
  • Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. 1886


One response to “A Brief History of the Camden Home for Children & SPCC”

  1. This orphanage was no haven for children, instead it was a barbaric use of children, sent off to work farms, be raped and killed, others ended up indentured servants after slavery was abolished. Mean, mean women handled the small children, feeding them bread and milk, breaking the only doll they had and laughing about it. These were sick, sick people in charge of children, children who often times had family members and should never have been accepted into an orphanage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.