Orphan Trains were a system of transporting orphans from the coastal cities of the United States to the Midwest United States for adoption. Orphan Trains ran between 1854 and 1929, relocating an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children. When the orphan train movement began, it was estimated that 30,000 abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City.

Two charity institutions, The Children's Aid Society (established by Charles Loring Brace) and The New York Foundling Hospital, determined to help these children. The aid institutions developed a program that placed homeless city children into homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains which were eventually labeled “orphan trains.” This period of mass relocation of children in the United States is widely recognized as the beginning of documented foster care in America.

History[edit | edit source]

Brace believed that institutional care stunted and destroyed children; in his view, only work, education and a strong family life could help them develop into self-reliant citizens. Brace knew that American pioneers could use help settling the American West, so he arranged to send the orphaned children to pioneer families who needed them.

The children were encouraged to break completely with the past and would typically arrive in a town where local community leaders had assembled interested townspeople. The townspeople would then inspect the children and choose the ones they wanted. After a brief trial period, the children became indentured to their host families.

Between 1854 and 1929, more than 200,000 children rode the “Orphan Train” to new lives. The Orphan Train Heritage Society maintains an archive of riders' stories. The National Orphan Train Museum in Concordia maintains records and also houses a research facility.

Controversy of the Orphan Train Movement[edit | edit source]

The program was controversial; some abolitionists viewed it as a form of slavery, while some pro-slavery advocates saw it part of the abolitionist movement, since the labor provided by the children made slaves unnecessary.

Research[edit | edit source]

The National Orphan Train Museum and Research Center is located in Concordia. The Museum and Research Center is dedicated to the preservation of the stories and artifacts of those who were part of the Orphan Train Movement from 1854-1929. The research center is located at the restored Union Pacific Railroad Depot in Concordia and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

References[edit | edit source]

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