Baltimore Manual Labor School

A Free Boarding School for Indigent Boys

More than a century before UMBC situated itself on Hilltop Circle another educational institution formed here; its mission was to advance the reformation of a poor lot of "indigent boys" from Baltimore.

The Baltimore Manual Labor School for indigent boys, also known as the Arbutus Farm School, was established in 1841. The school emerged from of a larger social movement developing in urban Victorian society at the time. Amidst the energetic fervor of the Second Great Awakening, white, middle-class Americans began actively participating in a reform movement to change the lives of the poor, inner-city population. Industrialization in the early nineteenth century brought extreme population growth to urban centers. In Baltimore, the population grew six fold between the years of 1820 and 1860. Specialized private and federal institutions formed to battle a rise in young people living in poverty. They began working to relocate children from what they saw as unpromising home environments to more positive atmospheres.

The school provided a, “Free Boarding School for indigent boys, mostly sons of poor widows who are unable to feed, clothe, and train their boys during the years that they should be acquiring an education, to enable each to attain a position of self support.” The School opened its doors in 1841 with fifteen “destitute and orphaned boy[s].” By 1843, the Baltimore Manual Labor School had taken into its care a total of forty-two children.

By applying the boys to a rigorous program centered primarily on physical labor, the school intended to mold the character of these young men, while at the same time supplying them with applicable work skills, effectively generating productive members of society. In 1893, directors of the Baltimore Manual Labor School wrote:

“the best occupation we can train our boys up to, is that of a farmer. It is perhaps almost the only calling which is not overcrowded, and the one most likely to produce an honorable and independent livelihood for the boys who have no capital, but health and energy.”

The types of farm work included tending to the orchards, vegetable gardens, green houses and livestock. The boys attended educational classes including writing, reading and math. They also attended the Catonsville Methodist Church on Sundays and engaged in daily religious exercises. However, education and religion took a backseat to manual labor which required of a six hour daily shift from each child, even for young boys. The school admitted boys as young as five.

In 1922, Spring Grove Hospital purchased the land following a devastating fire in 1916. The Stabler family owned the property and helped to run the school. Family patriarch Edmund Stabler held the position of superintendent from 1884 to 1904. Interestingly, the hospital used the farmland for a patient agricultural rehabilitation program. The state incorporated this and adjacent tracts of land in the early 1960’s in order to create UMBC. The Stabler home was used by Dr. Albin O. Kuhn, UMBC’s first Chancellor, during the construction of the campus and the Albin O. Kuhn Library now occupies the site where the home stood.



University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250