Skip to main content

Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey Records

 Collection — Box: All Boxes
Identifier: SCI-1900-001

Scope and Content note

The collection consists of the records of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey from 1808-2010. Records include minutes, correspondence, printed material, scrapbooks, photographs, journals, registers, reports and ephemera related to the day-to-day operation of the Institute. Minutes for the Board of Managers date from 1854 and include entries for meetings involving Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Pierpont Morgan, who were both members. Also included are the minutes of the meetings of the Young Men’s Education and Missionary Society (SCI’s predecessor), dating from 1834-1843. Correspondence and reports related to SCI’s former Presidents, Superintendents and Directors are included in the collection. Of particular note are the records of Rev. Archibald R. Mansfield, first Superintendent of the Institute, as well as Rev. Harold H. Kelley, who was Director of SCI during World War II. Also included are the records of SCI’s Chaplains and Staff, including the journals of Rev. Benjamin C. C. Parker, Chaplain at the first Floating Church of Our Saviour, as well as the records of “Mother” Janet Roper, founder of the Missing Seamen Bureau. Records relating to activities at 25 South Street, SCI’s headquarters from 1913-1967, detail services provided to seafarers such as SCI’s knitting program and Maritime Education department. Additionally, correspondence, printed material and ephemera detail the waterfront labor struggles at the turn of the 20th century as well as the 1930s and 40s. Many scarce publications and pamphlets related to maritime labor and leftist politics are included here, some with few or no catalog entries in the WorldCat consortium database. Photographs and scrapbooks contain thousands of images related to maritime life and culture. Additionally, the development of the Port of New York and the downtown area of Manhattan are well represented. Other materials include newspaper clippings that date to the late 20th century as well as complete runs of SCI’s publication The Lookout.


  • 1818-2011


Access Note

Materials dated within the last 25 years are restricted. Some pre-1985 materials in Series 1, 7, 9, 10, and 14 are restricted due to the sensitivity of content.

Historical Note

The first meeting of the Young Men’s Church Missionary Society, an auxiliary to the City Mission Society and a predecessor of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey, was held on March 6, 1834. Prominent members of the Society included Pierre E. F. McDonald, J. Rutsen Van Rensselaer, Hamilton Fish and Thomas P. Cummings. The Society was initially involved in sponsoring missionaries to Africa, rural New York State and the Tennessee frontier, but in March of 1842, the board, in a resolution led by Charles Tomes, resolved to appoint a task force towards the development of a maritime mission in the Port of New York. The newly formed “Sailor’s Mission” set its focus on the welfare of seafarers of all kinds, who in mid-nineteenth century Manhattan were faced with pitfalls such as liquor, prostitutes, high interest loans easily obtained from boarding house keepers, and crimps.

The Society hired Rev. Benjamin C. C. Parker as its first seamen’s chaplain on July 3, 1843, a position he would hold until his death in 1859. Parker held his first services above a grog shop until February 1844, when construction on the Society’s Floating Church of Our Saviour was completed. The Floating Church was towed and consecrated at the foot of Pike Street where it remained in use until 1866. The Society, having officially changed its name to the Protestant Episcopal Church Missionary Society for Seamen in 1844, commissioned the construction of two more floating chapels: the Floating Church of the Holy Comforter, docked at the foot of Dey Street on the Hudson River (then called the North River) with the Rev. Daniel Van Mater Johnson serving as chaplain, and the second Floating Church of Our Saviour in 1870. During this time the Society continued to expand inland as well, establishing the Sailor’s Home, an outpost that provided affordable lodging, a Seamen’s Bank for Savings and a free library and reading room. Similar outposts were established along the North and East Rivers, in addition to the mission at Coenties Slip, which had been in operation since 1852. Services at Coenties Slip were conducted outdoors by the Rev. E. F. Remington, later replaced by the Rev. Robert J. Walker and the Rev. Isaac Maguire. The congregation there consisted of seamen in port, truckmen, longshoremen and the “canallers” who would dock at the slip for months at a time, living on board their vessels along with their families.

In 1896, the Society appointed the Rev. Archibald R. Mansfield chaplain of the second Floating Church of Our Saviour and the East River Station. Mansfield quickly took a leading role in lobbying for legal reform for seamen’s rights through the Society’s committee on legislation and the Joint Conference of Seamen’s Societies. The White Bill passed in the Senate and the House in late 1898, with President McKinley signing it into law on December 21, establishing a variety of rights for seamen from the abolishment of flogging and corporal punishment to the right to collect half of their pay immediately upon reaching port.

In 1906, the Society changed its name to the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York (SCI). Mansfield, having been appointed Superintendent of the Institute, consolidated all of its stations and operations under one headquarters at One State Street in 1910. Also in that year the first issue of “The Lookout”, SCI’s institutional publication, appeared in print. On April 15, 1912, the cornerstone of SCI’s new headquarters was laid at 25 South Street, property purchased by the building committee in 1906. 25 South Street officially opened on May 28, 1913, with twelve stories capable of housing 580 seamen in its dormitory style rooms. The headquarters also housed a shipping bureau, a restaurant, a postal service and a chapel, all for the benefit of the seamen in the Port of New York.

The new building at 25 South Street would also serve as the central location for SCI’s involvement in the war effort during World War I. British apprentices, some as young as 14 and who had stayed at the Institute, were forced to leave in August 1914 to find positions in the army overseas. In 1916, the Institute appointed Capt. Robert Huntington principal of the recently established Navigation and Marine Engineering School with classes conducted on the newly constructed “ship’s bridge” on the roof of 25 South Street. Over the course of World War I, the school would train more than 15,000 men. On June 3, 1918, German submarines torpedoed nine ships in American coastal waters. Over the course of the coming days, SCI, having converted its auditorium into an improvised dormitory lined with cots, provided lodging to most of the surviving crews from the sunken vessels. In 1919 shortly after the War’s end, House Mother Janet Roper and the Religious and Social Work Department established the Missing Seamen Bureau, which circulated a weekly bulletin that printed the names of seamen who had people searching for them through 25 South Street. Seamen from all over the world would respond to the bulletin and be put back in touch with family members or friends who were trying to communicate with them.

During the postwar years of the 1920s, the shipping industry fell into a sustained period of decline, leaving thousands of seamen stranded in New York port without any income. SCI responded by converting the 39th Street Ferry House into a temporary relief headquarters capable of sheltering 500 men a night. Despite this effort, approximately 27,000 out-of-work seamen were denied lodging in 1922 because SCI’s facilities had reached capacity. The market crash of 1929 thinned economic opportunity for seamen even more severely. In 1931 it was reported that 8,000 to 12,000 merchant seamen visited the Institute daily, most of them seeking shelter, food and the services of the Institute’s Employment Bureau. During this time the Institute came under scrutiny from several seamen’s union groups as well as many individuals demanding free services at the Institute’s headquarters. The tension erupted in 1932 when 25 unemployed members of the Marine Workers Industrial Union stormed the lobby at 25 South Street, inciting a melee in which several shots were fired, but with no injuries sustained. In 1934, Mansfield died of a heart attack. It was reported that some 2,000 seamen attended his funeral service. In his absence, the Rev. Harold H. Kelley took over as superintendent, and it was he who would see the Institute through the years of the Second World War.

SCI beganlodging the crews of the first torpedoed ships of World War II in October 1939, just weeks after Britain and France had declared war on Germany. Kelley commandeered large rooms within 25 South Street for the establishment of the British Merchant Navy Club, the Belgian Seamen’s Home and the Home for Netherland Seamen, all of which provided a temporary home for merchant seamen from overseas. The Merchant Marine School (formerly the Navigation and Marine Engineering School) trained approximately 25,000 men for service. The practice of sending comfort bags to seamen at war, a service begun by Augusta Morris de Peyster and the Seamen’s Benefit Society at SCI in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, reached an all-time high by 1942; some 2,000 volunteers offered their services at SCI’s knitting room with the aid of dozens of women’s auxiliaries of churches from around the country.

The Rev. Dr. Raymond S. Hall took over as director of SCI in 1948 and began a push to redesign the nature of the Institute’s presence in the Port of New York. In 1961, under the leadership of newly appointed director the Rev. John M. Mulligan, SCI’s Port Newark Station opened to address the shift in the shipping industry away from downtown Manhattan and towards New Jersey. The Station, later rechristened the Seamen’s Church Institute Mariners Center Newark, included a soccer field, snack bar, lounge and gymnasium. Also during this time, SCI’s board began to research the task of relocating the Institute’s headquarters, which by that time would have required an estimated $3,000,000 in renovations to remain operational. In 1968, SCI officially relocated to a twenty-three story building at 15 State Street that offered 295 rooms for seamen.

The 1970s were highlighted by a major financial reorganization of the Institute headed by the Rev. Dr. James R. Whittemore, who took on the role of director in 1977. Whittemore saw the Institute through the shipping industry’s tough economic years of the mid-1980s, which saw investors abandoning ships as a result of plunging freight rates. In 1978, the Institute formally changed its name to the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey. Many other changes would follow over the next two decades. On May 29, 1980, SCI’s first female chaplain, Victoria B. M. Sanborn, was ordained at Trinity Church. SCI opened the Center for Seafarers’ Rights (CSR) in early 1982 to address the increasing number of cases involving worker’s abuse and violation of worker’s rights that were being communicated to chaplains by seafarers during ship visits and at the Institute itself. In 1985, SCI sold its headquarters at 15 State Street and moved into smaller, temporary offices at 50 Broadway. Five years later, construction was complete at 241 Water Street on the Institute’s new headquarters adjacent to the South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan. The new headquarters was home to the Institute’s Christmas-At-Sea knitting program and its Maritime Education program, which included classroom instruction and simulator training exercises housed on the building’s third floor. Simulators were subsequently built in Paducah, Kentucky and Houston, Texas that provide instruction in inland river navigation. The Rev. Jean R. Smith took over as SCI’s first female Executive Director in 2002, a position she would hold until 2007 when the Rev. David M. Rider succeeded her. In 2011, SCI announced the sale of its headquarters at 241 Water Street and its planned relocation to the renovated 18,000 square foot International Seafarers’ Center in Port Newark, New Jersey.


85.25 Linear Feet (85.25 linear feet and 69 oversized items)

Language of Materials


Protestant Episcopal Church Missionary Society for Seamen in the City and Port of New York – Annual Report 1‐10 1845‐1854

Print finding aid created by Johnathan Thayer, Associate Archivist 2011. Machine readable finding aid created by Carmen Cowick, Spring 2014

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Special Collections and Archives Repository

Queens College Library, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us