The orphan train era
March 16, 2007 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Orphan trains. From 1853 to 1929 an ambitious relocation adoption program run by the Children's Aid Society, founded by Charles Loring Brace, sent kids from urban slums and orphanages out to live on Midwestern farms, with mixed results. Some became state governors, others suffered abuse or servitude. Even though we use the name Orphan Train, few of these children were true orphans. Some were half-orphans, having lost one parent to disease or accident. Some had both parents but had run away do to abuse or neglect. By 1910, CAS had "placed out" over 106,000 children and the program ran for another 19 years. Also, similar programs were run by the New York Foundling Home (called Baby Trains), New York Juvenile Asylum, and the Boston Home for Little Wanderers. In all, at least, 200,000 children found themselves moved from the city to small towns and farms across the Nation.
posted by Brian B. (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is the first FPP in a while that I've really spent time reading through the links in depth. What a fascinating post. I especially was interested in the personal stories in the "with mixed results" link. Thanks!
posted by serazin at 9:18 PM on March 16, 2007

I gather most of these "orphans" were white kids. Interesting.
posted by davy at 9:20 PM on March 16, 2007

From times of antiquity until the modern day, childhood is truly hell for many on this planet.

That, more than anything else, is the worst indictment of human kind that I can think of.

When I think about true children, say 10 and younger, being homeless and scavenging for food, it makes my brain feel like one hemisphere has rotated 20 degrees and separated from the other.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:11 PM on March 16, 2007

The orphans would be considered white by modern Americans, but at the time many of them were Irish Catholic and were considered to not be white by many New Yorkers, hence the need for the trains.

What is really interesting is what happened to one group of Catholic babies that were sent to Arizona to be adopted by willing Catholics. The babies started out in New York as "black" Irish, but when they were adopted by Catholic Mexicans suddenly they were seen as white. If you are interested in this interesting case you should read The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction by Linda Gordon. It contains some very interesting arguments about the nature of people's perceptions of race.
posted by wobumingbai at 3:00 AM on March 17, 2007

Wow, great post. Thanks.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:37 AM on March 17, 2007

I love the stories of each former orphan. There are all touching in their own way. I'd really like to see the American Experience episode on this too.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:41 AM on March 17, 2007

I think it's kind of weird that this thread's not getting much attention. (well, at least few comments, probably a lot of non-commenting readers but still...) Certain historical posts do well here (music, nostalgia, nazi's) but maybe this is just too sad and unfamiliar for folks? I'm not sure.

I posted something pretty similar not long ago that got a similar response.
posted by serazin at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2007

Thanks for the link serazin. I think that posts which depict the recent past for its class divisions are very disturbing to some. Anyway, they seem immune to the snarkiness that modern culture generates. It's good to get everything archived with the bare details anyway.
posted by Brian B. at 12:54 PM on March 17, 2007

Fascinating, poignant post. I'd heard about the Orphan Trains before, but this contained the most interesting details and first hand experiences I'd ever come across. Great job, and thank you.
posted by annieb at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2007

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