Kids in the Collection

Prison, Work, and Play

  • Image of children and mothers of Tothill Fields Prison in London, 1862

    Youngest inhabitants of Tothill Fields Prison in London, 1862

    Infants born in prison spent their first years with their mothers.

  • Photograph of future HLS professor Paul Freund as a child in costume as a baker

    Future HLS professor Paul Freund in costume as a baker

    Collections of faculty papers sometimes include glimpses of their childhood and family.

  • Photograph of refugee children, displaced by the Russian Revolution, in refugee camp in Turkey.

    Papers of HLS alum include photos of work with American Red Cross

    Images of refugee children, displaced by the Russian Revolution, show their lives in refugee camps in Turkey.

While most of the material in Historical & Special Collections is rooted in the world of adults, children do make appearances, sometimes in unexpected ways. Even the businesslike manuscript collections of Harvard Law School Faculty that are primarily comprised of memos and professional correspondence offer fascinating and delightful glimpses of the creator’s youth and family life.

Exploring the lives of children through the collection, however, is not always a light-hearted romp. A darker side of childhood can be seen in the photographs and art work of children in refugee camps, chilling trial broadsides, and sobering reports of the inner workings of a Massachusetts state reform school. While some of these items represent the evolution of child welfare, others are a sad reminder of the struggles children still face today in refugee camps and juvenile detention centers.

The work of the Harvard Law School community to address the concerns of children can be found in the collection as well. HLS students have volunteered their time to support children in local communities and individual faculty members have advocated for children.

The exhibit draws on a variety of media: manuscripts, printed works, photographs, and children’s art work, dating from the late-eighteenth century through the twentieth century.

This exhibit was curated by Jane Kelly and Mary Person and was on view in the Caspersen Room, Harvard Law School Library, April - July 2017.

Image of exterior of State Reform School at Westborough Massachusetts, 1852-53The State Reform School at Westborough, MA—considered to be the first state juvenile reform school in the country—opened in 1848 and soon grew to house an increasingly large population of boys, from ages seven to nineteen. The school was enlarged in 1852 and by 1857 over 600 boys lived and worked there. They were provided with basic education and religious studies and worked on the school’s farm. Boys also made shoes, sewed clothes and bedding for the community, cooked, baked, cleaned, and hauled coal from the Westborough train station, among other duties.  Detailed annual reports of the trustees provide a glimpse into daily life and work at the school.

Image credit: State Reform School at Westborough, Mass. Enlarged 1852-53. Charles E. H. Bonwill, artist; L.H. Bradford & Co. lithographer.


Cover of Harvard Law School Child Care Center informational pamphlet, 1981

Harvard Law Record announcement of craft sale to benefit Child Care CenterThe Harvard Law Wives Club first established a child care center in fall 1971 to provide childcare services to the Harvard Law School community. In the early years, members of the Law Wives volunteered their time taking care of children and conducted an annual Crafts Market to fundraise for the center. For twenty-eight years, the HLS Child Care Center provided affordable day care for the children of students, staff, and faculty.

The HLS Child Care Center operated out of 23 Everett Street rent-free until 1999 when the building was needed to address space issues on campus and provide offices for HLS programs and student groups. Today, 23 Everett Street houses the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau; the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law and Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics; and the Center for Law, Economics, and Business.

Activities at the Child Care Center, and news of its closing, are well-documented in the HLS student newspaper, the Record. Select coverage can be explored online:

Legal Heirs Get Day-Care (May 6, 1971)
Child Care for Harvard Tots, Handle with (Day) Care (October 28, 1983)
HLS Gives Child Care Center Until Next June to Vacate (April 25, 1997)
Bye-Bye, HLS Child Care Center (February 19, 1999)

Image credits: The Harvard Law School Child Care Center informational pamphlet, 1981; HLS Ephemera Collection
Harvard Law Record. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Law School Record Corp., vol. 53, no. 9 (December 3, 1971). Page 11 (seq. 11).



Several of the items featured in Kids in the Collection: Prison, Work, and Play come from collections that have been digitized. You can view the material online from anywhere!

Charles Claflin Davis Papers

Photograph of Russian refugee children in a school room in either Constantinople or Smyrna, Turkey; Charles Claflin Davis Collection; 1920-1923
Kids in the Collection features three photographs of Russian refugee children from the Charles Claflin Davis Papers. Davis, who graduated from HLS in 1910, served as Director of the South Eastern Base of the American Red Cross from 1920-1922 covering Constantinople, Smyrna and Lemnos. Images of refugee children in Turkey, who were displaced by the upheaval of the Russian Revolution, show their lives in refugee camps and the day-to-day activities that took place there. To thank Davis for his work on behalf of refugees, a series of scrapbooks with notes of thanks from the children were compiled. Today, the scrapbooks, photographs, and papers are preserved in both the physical collection and online. 

Image CreditRussian refugee children in a school room, 1920-1923; Gelatin silver print, 11.7 x 16.6 cm; Charles Claflin Davis Papers, 1917-1923; HOLLIS olvwork438386.


Leo Alexander Papers

“I Love You Daddy” drawing, by Gustave Alexander; Leo Alexander Papers, 1883-2001, Box 7, Folder 5Of all the surprising items found in modern manuscript collections, those related to an individual’s childhood and family can be the most endearing. In this collection, Alexander’s annual school reports from Austria-Hungary are preserved alongside letters that his children sent to him when he served in the United States Army during World War II.

Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist, neurologist, and educator, served in the US Army Medical Corps in WWII. He was born in Austria-Hungary in 1905 and immigrated to the US in 1933. After serving in WWII, he acted as the US Medical Consultant to Secretary of War and US Chief Counsel for War Crimes during the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial.

Image Credit“I Love You Daddy” drawing; By Gustave Alexander; Leo Alexander Papers, 1883-2001; Box 7, Folder 5



Indenture; printed form filled out in manuscript dated October 19, 1761; records the terms of apprenticeship of Eli WoodThis printed form—filled out in manuscript and dated October 19, 1761—records the terms of apprenticeship of Eli Wood, “a poor child of nine years of age in May last.” He was to be apprenticed to farmer Ithamar Wright of Brookfield, Massachusetts under whom he would learn the art of husbandry (farming) until age twenty one. According to the terms of the apprenticeship, Eli was expected to behave morally and lawfully at all times, and not “haunt Alehouses, Taverns, or Playhouses, but in all Things behave himself as a faithful Apprentice ought to towards his said Master.” For his part, Wright agreed that Eli would be educated in reading, writing, and arithmetic in addition to husbandry, and that he would provide Eli with “good & sufficient meat, drink, washing, lodging, clothing in his sickness & health”.  

Image creditThis indenture witnesseth ..., [Place of publication unknown, ca. 1760], Legal forms Collection, HOLLIS 990083414300203941.