Sarah Jane Clark needed help.
Her husband had abandoned her. She was sick. And she was raising an 18-month-old son.
In September 1868, Sarah found friends at the “Home of the Friendless.” She also found peace and comfort inside the small house on Green Street that offered hope to women in trouble.
The good work continues today: The Heritage Home for Women at 1519 Union St. is celebrating its 140th anniversary this week. An open house will be held Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the home, with several souvenirs from the past on display.
“We have 36 women, the average age is from 92 to 95,” said Jean Mastriani, a member of the home’s board of directors. “We have an activities director that does a great deal with them. Many of the musical groups in the community are so benevolent. They perform for us, and the ladies love that, with the sing-alongs.”
The Schenectady County Historical Society is running its own salute. An exhibit about the longtime residence, researched and designed by society library intern Mandi Beecroft, opened Sunday and will run through Nov. 7.
“People will see original photographs and documentation about the founding of the home after the Civil War,” said Katherine Chansky, the society’s librarian. “They’ll be reading about people who made major contributions to this as a charity when it started and particularly the rebuilding of the home, the creation of a new home on Union Street.”
Schenectady began to discuss a home for women in 1813. “The idea or plan had its birth in the spirit of Christian charity and the desire to extend a helping hand to the aged and homeless,” wrote Joel Henry Monroe in the book “Schenectady Ancient and Modern.”
Prosperous women of the time wanted to help their less-fortunate sisters. In 1817, the benevolent society cared for 35 sick and indigent women and 28 children.
The group’s first home was founded by Dr. Andrew Truax and Urania Sheldon Nott, among others, and was situated at 35 Green St. In 1873, a larger house — with room for 11 women — was purchased at 33 Green St. In 1901, the name of the place was changed to the “Old Ladies’ Home.” In 1909, the friends moved to a larger building at 1519 Union, where each resident had a private room with a sink. Additions were built in both 1915 and 1936 into 1937.
Regulations were part of the routine on Union Street. In the 1914-15 annual report, 17 rules were listed. Among them were no intoxicating liquors (unless prescribed by a doctor), mandatory morning prayers, no telephone calls without permission and lights out at 10.
The “Old Ladies’” designation was dropped in 1968, in favor of Heritage Home for Women.
Mastriani stressed the home is not a nursing facility, although nursing personnel are on staff.
“It’s an adult residential home,” she said. “It’s for women who can no longer live on their own or else they have no one and they want the sociability of the home.”