I visited the Women’s Prison Association, a nonprofit that works with criminal justice involved women, last week while on a reporting trip in New York. The WPA runs an alternative to incarceration program for women called JusticeHome. As I arrived, I was amazed to discover that the WPA’s offices are located in an historical row house called the Isaac T. Hopper Home, built in the late 1830s and retaining much of its original charm. The house now serves as a transitional women’s shelter. Fun fact: Some scenes from the Coen Brothers’ film “Inside Llewlyn Davis” were filmed at the house.
Here, a photo story on Hopper House I completed as part of the final project for my digital journalism course at Northeastern.
The Women’s Prison Association’s headquarters are inside the Isaac T. Hopper Home transitional women’s shelter located at 110 Second Avenue in New York’s East Village neighborhood. The building became a shelter for women in 1874 when the WPA purchased it. Hopper, a Quaker abolitionist and prison reformer, founded in 1845 the Female Department of the Prison Association of New York, which eventually became the WPA.
The ornate front door at Hopper Home described as “Italianate style paneled double wooden doors and a transom set within a rope molded enframement, with paneled reveals,” according to the New York City Landmarks and Preservation Commission, which designated the building a landmark in 2009. The portico was restored earlier this year via a grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building “is considered the world’s oldest halfway house for girls and women released from prison,” the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote in a 2009 report.
The actual entrance to the shelter, however, sits level with the sidewalk, practically hidden under the stairs that lead to the original entrance.
A view into WPA Executive Director Georgia Lerner’s office on the main floor of Hopper Home. The main floor houses the WPA’s administrative offices; upstairs, the home has five large bedrooms to allow a total of 38 women to stay at one time.
An oil painting of Abigail Hopper Gibbons, Isaac Hopper’s daughter, hanging in Lerner’s office. Gibbons led the WPA in the 1840s. “In 1853, the Female Department separated from the Prison Association and Gibbons obtained a New York State charter for her group, now known as the Women’s Prison Association,” according to a history on the WPA website.
Part of the original deed to Hopper Home.
Detail on door trim work maintains, though wear and tear are evident. “Direct services have always been our priority in times of financial hardship. We are currently seeking funding to rehab much of Hopper Home,” said Diana McHugh, manager of creative strategy at the WPA.
A diary kept by Abigail Hopper Gibbons offers a glimpse into life in the shelter in 1847 when the shelter was located at 4th Street near 8th Avenue.
The diary has details about the women’s behavior inside the shelter. “I desire to bear testimony to the good conduct of the inmates generally during my sojourn among them. They were ever ready and willing to comply with my wishes in all respects, industrious beyond my requirings and obliging and kind to each other,” Hopper wrote.
Another diary from 1874 details the exact inhabitants of the shelter. Many of them were Irish widows. “The women would be taught to sew and do housework,” said Lerner of the women’s time in the shelter.
The ornate handrail on the stairs still stands. This staircase leads from the main floor to the second floor.
On the upper-most level a view of a Hopper Home dorm room.
Hopper Home, second from right, was formerly one of four row houses built by the Mead family between 1837 and 1838 on Second Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets, according to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is the only one of the four remaining.
Hopper Home circa 1930. The building is a grand Greek Revival style row house. “The house is characterized by its machine-pressed red brickwork laid in stretcher bond; high stoop and areaway with wrought-iron fence,” the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote in the 2009 report distinguishing it a landmark. Photo supplied by the WPA.