Where do the Children Come From

Where do the Children Come From?

Western Pennsylvania Orphans


Pennsylvania furnished four hundred thousand men in the war for the suppression of the rebellion. Of these probably fifty thousand were either killed or died in the service. They left large numbers of orphan children in destitute circumstances. It was for time care of such children that the orphan school system was established, and, during the earlier years of its history, no others were admitted into the schools. Persons who have not kept themselves informed respecting the changes made by the Legislature in the laws governing the system, not unfrequently ask where the children come from who now fill the schools fifteen years alter the close of the war. They inquire: "How can there he so many orphans of soldiers when their fathers died so long ago Is not the system being perverted from its original purpose? " These questions should be answered. The act of 1867 organizing the system of soldiers' orphan schools provided only for the children of soldiers who had been killed or had died in the service, and limited the admissions into school to those horn before the 1st day of January, 1866. If no subsequent laws had been passed changing these conditions, the number of children would have become so small that, in all probability, the schools would have closed before the present time.

But in addition to the fifty thousand soldiers who lost their lives during the war, at least one hundred thousand came home disabled, sick, or with the seeds of disease deeply rooted in their systems. Many of them from the first, broken and crippled, could not earn a livelihood for their families, and others, a little more fortunate, were able to work for some years, but finally succumbed to wounds which broke out afresh, or were laid imp with disease which advancing years left them less strength to resist. In every city and town, in almost every school district throughout the whole Commonwealth there are numbers of these human wrecks, sad witnesses of the horrors of war. In many eases they are the fathers of children-children worse off oftentimes than those whose fathers were killed in battle, and having an equal claim upon the bounty of the State. Influenced by these benevolent and patriotic considerations, the Legislatures of 1874, 1875, 1876, and 1878, by a series of acts, finally opened the door fully for the admission into the orphan schools of all children in destitute circumstances, without regard to age whose fathers either lost their lives in the army or were disabled or contracted disease while in the service to such an extent as to prevent them from earning a livelihood for their families or themselves.

More formally, the children now admitted under existing laws into the soldiers' orphan schools belong to three classes, as follows

1. Those whose fathers were either killed or died of disease while in the army. Of this class, probably not more than one hundred remain in all the schools. [in 1880] 

2. Those whose fathers have died since the close of the war of wounds or disease contracted while in the service. This class probably constitutes two thirds of all the children now in the schools. They are orphans, too, made so by the war ; and while they make up the bulk of the children in them, the soldiers' orphan schools are not misnamed, as some have alleged.

3. Those whose fathers are living, but are so disabled by wounds or disease contracted while in the army, that they are unable to support t their families. 

In all cases the children must be under sixteen years of age and in "destitute circumstances." 

The question is now answered as to where the children come from, and it is easy to see that there will be children of classes two and three eligible to admission to the soldiers' orphan schools under existing laws, for a good many years in the future. There are applications now on file for the admission of children one and two years of age.

Annual Report of the Superintendent of Soldiers' Orphans of Pennsylvania for the Year 1880, pages 2-3.


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Copyright 2001 Teri A. Brown, Walter Brown and Associates.  All rights reserved.

Revised: September 08, 2001.