The Orphan Train Movement, 1854 - 1929

By | March 10, 2017

The Orphan Train Movement was a satisfactory welfare program that moved many orphaned and homeless children from the populous Eastern cities to foster homes widely located in rural areas of the Midwest in the United States.

Charles Loring Brace started this movement in 1853. He was a minister, upset by the predicament of more than 30,000 homeless children living among the streets in the city. He founded the Children’s Aid Society to support the children and devised a plan to extract the children from the streets and then send them, through train, to be adopted by families living on farms in rural areas.

These uncared-for children came largely from big cities on the east coast like New York and Boston. Predominantly, these children were poor and several had trouble with the law. Among others, a few children were separated from their siblings during these moves and some were never reunited.

Upon launching the orphan train movement, roughly 30,000 abandoned children were living meagerly on the streets of New York City. From 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 homeless children were settled by what is now called as the Orphan Train Movement. The name was derived from the trains that transported these children across the 47 states and Canada.

Often accompanied by Catholic nuns on the train or by adults, these children may or may not leave the train at each stop, depending on the people who came to the station to see if they chose them or not. Though in a few cases, the match could have been made ahead of time, then the couple would just show a number to the chaperones and match the number to the child who was wearing the same number. Screening of homes and homeowners were done to see that they were capable to take care of the children.

Few of the transported children via the Orphan Train had a hard time adjusting to their new homes. For children who were oblivious to places other than New York City streets, Indiana or Nebraska farms were a shocking change. Despite these challenges, several children who were aided by the Orphan Train program thrived in their new lives and had successful careers. While others went on to be governors, congressmen or district attorneys, and some hold other powerful positions.

The Controversy

The Orphan Train Movement definitely helped improve the lives of the poor children who would have completely lived in destitution, even so, still it was pestered by critics.

Eventually, some of the Orphan Train children were adopted. Many were taken in and raised by the family as if they had been adopted, whether the actual adoption paperwork had been or had not been completed. A few were “indentured,” meaning that their labor was sold to waiting farmers.

The Orphan Train movement furnished homes for many children during a very difficult time. The critics felt that seizing children from the lives that they were accustomed to then taking them somewhere unfamiliar was very traumatic and unfair. Others considered it promotion of slavery due to children being put to work when they are taken by the family with farms.

Do you think that the Orphan Train Program was a successful one? How do you think it compares to the foster care system that exists in America today?

H/T Kidskonnect