Ephemeral New York recently dug up this great vintage photos showing Blackwell's Island "inmates" eating in gender-separated mess halls around 1896.
It could not have been easy to be an inmate—as it was called in the 19th century—on Blackwell’s Island. The thin strip of land in the East River, bought by the city in 1828, was were New York brought its undesirables: criminals biding their time in the Penitentiary, sick people sent to the Hospital for Incurables, Lunatic Asylum, or the Small-Pox Hospital, the homeless and disorderly sentenced to the Workhouse.
Check out the photos at the Museum of The City of New York for more info.
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