Foundling Left at Smithsonian Castle Door




Date: June 1, 1863


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Mary Henry, daughter of the first Smithsonian Secretary, Joseph Henry, reported in her diary for June 1, 1863, that they "had found an addition to the family in the shape of an infant which had been left at the door of the Institution." The infant's parents were never located, but the event occurred during the Civil War, creating major disruption in the City of Washington. The Henry family kept the baby boy for a few weeks in their quarters in the East Wing of the Smithsonian Castle, but then took him to an orphanage. He would occasionally visit the Henrys over the course of the next two years, but then is not mentioned again. The Henrys had recently lost their only son, William, to what was probably typhoid, but did not keep the foundling.


  • Henry, Mary Anna 1834-1903
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Henry, William Alexander 1831-1862
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Photograph of east wing of Smithsonian Castle, early 1860s. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 82-3288.
  • The Smithsonian "Torch," December 1966, p. 3.
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7001, The Papers of Joseph Henry, Mary Henry Diary for 1863

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • June 1, 1863
  • Civil War, 1861-1865


  • Orphans
  • Foundlings
  • History


  • United States
  • Washington (D.C.)

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