The Cincinnati House of Refuge was founded in 1850 as a shelter for juvenile delinquents. Its main purpose was to remove the children from their "corrupting environment" and teach them the "habits of industry & obedience to the law." The records of the Cincinnati House of Refuge consist of 5 volumes and includes the Record of Commitments (1869-1882, 1891-1902), an index, financial records and payroll records. The Record of Commitments includes the names of individuals committed to the House of Refuge, their nationality, a description of their offenses or the reason for admittance, information on their parents, and their age.
The House of Refuge was officially established in 1850. A state act authorized the city of Cincinnati to establish a "House of Correction" and a "House of Refuge" (sometimes referred to as a House of Reformation). The main difference between the two was that the former was for the "confinement and punishment" of boys over 16, and girls over 14, while the latter was for "confinement and reform" of boys under 16 and girls under 14 (House of Refuge, The charter, rules and regulations for the government of the House of refuge and its inmates, and the by-laws of the Board of directors, 1850, p. 6). Children came into the House due to homelessness, petty larceny, and "incorrigibility."
During their time in the House, children were expected to work, go to school, and attend religious services. White and African-American children were segregated, particularly while sick, during certain activities, and among some residential arrangements (Annual Report of the City Departments of the City of Cincinnati, 1913, p. 348, plan inserts). Over time, some children left the House via placement with foster families, returning to their parents, or aging/marrying out of the system.
By 1912, there was widespread recognition of the decrepit conditions of the original House of Refuge. In the 1912 City of Cincinnati Annual Reports, the House of Refuge Superintendent's Report noted that "...the old House of Refuge is one of the worst examples in the country of the congregate institution for children," and also noted the reduction of harsh disciplinary methods (Annual Report of the City Departments of the City of Cincinnati, 1912, p. 277, 283). Among the problems included the House's challenge in dealing with "dependent children" (e.g. orphaned children, children with parents unable to care for them) and "delinquent children." Caring for delinquent children had been its original chartered purpose, and by 1912 the House started to find other agencies and methods to provide care for the dependents. The 1912 report noted that due to the obsolescence of the building, plans were in effect to abandon the old building and establish separate farms for the boys and girls classified as delinquents (p. 278). The farms had been established with partial residency by 1914 (Annual Report of the City Departments of the City of Cincinnati, 1914, p. 497). The old buildings were vacated by 1916 and torn down in the next decade (Giglierano, The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati, p. 259).