Orphan Train - Wisconsin


Recommended Reading (or Viewing)
[ title links are to a source, usually Amazon ]


Orphan Trains and Their Precious Cargo: The Life's Work of Rev. H. D. Clarke - by Clark Kidder (Heritage Books, Inc., 2001) "By the mid-1800s, the street corners of New York City were home to several thousand homeless, abandoned and orphaned children. These poor unfortunates were often the sons and daughters of newly arrived immigrants, separated from their parents or relatives in the confusion and chaos of Ellis Island and forced by circumstance to fend for themselves. Although some found refuge in orphanages and sanitariums, these facilities were inadequate in number and often lacked the resources to provide for more than a handful at a time. Those that remained on the street frequently turned to theft and burglary, or even prostitution as a means of survival, thus compounding the city’s already rampant crime problem. Clearly a solution was needed for the good of both New York City and its orphan population.

Relief came with the establishment of the Children’s Aid Society in 1853 by one Charles Loring Brace. Brace was a theologian and a reformer who’s answer to New York’s orphan problem was a practice known simply as “placing out.” The society would gather likely orphans and send them west by train in groups of anywhere from six to one hundred individuals, stopping at predetermined destinations where it was known foster homes were available. The American West was at this time in critical need of laborers in both agriculture and industry, and many families were eager to provide a foster home to a child who was willing to work. Children would be periodically checked on by an agent of the society and were required to write the society at least twice a year describing their experiences. As with any foster care system, placing out could be a hit-or-miss affair¾many children would bounce from home to home and some were returned to New York as undesirables. There were many success stories however, with orphans finding supportive homes and loving foster families. Some were actually adopted into the families with which they were placed. All faced the challenge of a new life in unfamiliar surroundings, without the comfort of friends, and relatives left behind.

The orphan trains of the Children’s Aid Society ran until 1929. This text presents a brief history of the phenomena and the intriguing account of one of its agents the Rev. Mr. Herman Clarke. He entered the employ of the Society in 1900, and was a tireless devotee of the children entrusted to his care. His ministry was in Dodge Center, MN, and he was later placed in charge of Children’s Homes in Cincinnati, OH and Battle Creek, MI. Over the years he traveled thousands of miles on the rails with his orphan charges, and received as many as two-thousand letters a year from them. In the twilight of life, the reverend began to compile scrapbooks for his grandchildren detailing both the family’s genealogy and his years spent working with the society. Six out of the seven scrapbooks have been discovered by the author and they form the basis of this history which is told primarily in the words of Rev. Clarke and his orphans. The text is enriched by numerous photographs of orphans and their foster families, as well as facsimiles of advertisements published by the society, and a special section of orphan train poetry.

The Orphan Trains: Placing Out In America - by Marilyn Irvin Holt. "A great general history of placing out in America. From 1853 to about 1929, more than 200,000 children and several thousand adults were sent west on "orphan trains," leaving crowded urban areas on the East Coast behind. Holt's book focuses on the placing out system--from its creation to its demise--instituted by the Children's Aid Society of New York. Estimates of the number of destitute children living in the streets of New York in 1853 ranged from 10,000 to more than 30,000. Charles Loring Brace, who became secretary of The Children's Aid Society believed there was no better place for vagrant or outcast children than "the farmer's home." Placing out removed destitute children from the streets of New York City, placing them with families in the west. The system was intended to provide Christian homes and families for orphaned or abandoned children while fulfilling the demand for workers on farms in America's heartland. The author also discusses other charitable organizations that imitated Children's Aid Society initiatives. She uses oral histories, institutional records, and newspaper accounts to bring the orphan train era to life in this balanced account, highlighting both the positive and negative aspects of the placing out system. Her discussion of social and economic structures of the 19th century help readers view the topic in context. This is a "must read" for anyone conducting further research in the topic, or readers who are simply interested in this lost chapter of American history."
We Rode the Orphan Trains - by Andrea Warren. From Publishers Weekly: "Warren interviews eight orphan train riders concerning their childhood experiences during "the largest children's migration in history" between 1854 and 1929 as part of a "placing out" program run by the Children's Aid Society of New York City. The stories reflect the diversity of the train itself, from Nettie, who discusses how she and her identical twin, Nellie, escaped their first sadistic adoptive mother to find a loving home with an older couple, to Art Smith, whose daydreams of an actress mother were shattered when he discovered he was a baby "left in a basket in Gimbel's Department Store." Many of the profiles include well-chosen details that will tug at readers' heartstrings, such as Sister Justina, who celebrated the wrong birth date for 57 years, or little Ruth, who initially refused to take her arms off the dinner table after years of protecting her food from grabby, hungry orphans. Black-and-white photographs effectively highlight the stories. Though some of the accounts focus too much on adult discoveries, ultimately the anecdotes about these brave and lonely children will keep readers traveling on this train."
Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story - by Andrea Warren. "From 1854 to 1930, the orphan trains took homeless children from cities in the East to new homes in the West, the Midwest, and the South. In Warren's book, one man's memories of his childhood abandonment and adoption give a personal slant on the subject. Chapters telling the story of Lee Nailing, who took an orphan train west in 1926, alternate with chapters filling in background information about the trains and the experiences of other children who rode them to their destinies. Throughout the book, black-and-white photos show both the people and places in Nailing's story and the broader topic of the orphan train experience... a good resource on an intriguing subject."

Orphan Trains to Missouri, by Michael D. Patrick and Evelyn Goodrich Trickel. This book deals with Missouri's role in the orphan train era.

Table of Contents:
ONE Charles Loring Brace and the "Street Arabs"
TWO The Orphan-Train Plan
THREE The First Orphan Trains Problems and Changes
FOUR Missouri The Railroad Hub for Orphan Trains
FIVE New Missourians Separated from Their Families
SIX Brothers and Friends The Lawyers and the Jahnes
SEVEN The Weirs A Family United, Separated, and Reunited
EIGHT The Orphan-Train Legacy

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, by Stephen O'Connor. A powerful blend of history, biography, and adventure, ORPHAN TRAINS fills a grievous gap in the American story. Tracing the evolution of the Children's Aid Society, this dramatic narrative tells the fascinating tale of one of the most famous — and sometimes infamous — child welfare programs: the orphan trains, which spirited away some 250,000 abandoned children into the homes of rural families in the Midwest. In mid-nineteenth-century New York, vagrant children, whether orphans or runaways, filled the streets. The city's solution for years had been to sweep these children into prisons or almshouses. But a young minister named Charles Loring Brace took a different tack. With the creation of the Children's Aid Society in 1853, he provided homeless youngsters with shelter, education, and, for many, a new family out west. The family matching process was haphazard, to say the least: at town meetings, farming families took their pick of the orphan train riders. Some youngsters, such as James Brady, who became governor of Alaska, found loving homes, while others, such as Charley Miller, who shot two boys on a train in Wyoming, saw no end to their misery. Complete with extraordinary photographs and deeply moving stories, Orphan Trains gives invaluable insights into a creative genius whose pioneering, if controversial, efforts inform child rescue work today.
Orphan Train - Movie starring Jill Eichenberry, Kevin Dobson, and Glenn Close (1979).

"A great film for the whole family, Orphan Train is a wonderful story of the early life of the NY orphan train, taking homeless children out west to find new homes. You get to know the children, what obstacles they had to overcome and the joy of them finding a home. It is a story of Emma, an orphan herself, undertaking the job that her recently deceased uncle had started, and a story about the children themselves. The children actors and actresses have done a wonderful job portraying their counterparts. The ending is the best part. It always makes me cry happy tears."

An added value of the movie is to make today's children know how *lucky* they have it today. The movie also illustrates how the first photography worked, how some of the children risked abuse by uncaring families, and how rampant outright bigotry was in those days.



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this page last edited 06 Dec 2003