Monthly Archives: January 2012

Orphan Trains

Orphan Trains

From 1854 until 1929, Orphan Trains carried abandoned and orphaned children from the Northeastern United States to the Midwest and West as well as Canada.

Between 1841 and 1860, over 4 million people immigrated to the US.  New York City was a main port of entry for immigrants, but it could not house or provide jobs for the huge influx of people coming from the rest of the world.

Port cities were overcrowded, tenements rose, labor was cheap, jobs were few, and food was scarce.  Many men were killed in accidents at work or at sea, leaving their wives to fend for their children as best they could.  Mothers died young, overworked and living in unsanitary conditions.  Families fell apart.

Orphanages were filled as soon as they were built, and soon became warehouses for children.   Many children lived on the streets.  The Children’s Aid Society and The New York Foundling Hospital made it their mission to help these children.

Over a quarter of a million children migrated from the New York area alone to other states by way of the Orphan Trains.  The children were not told that they were going on the Orphan Train until the night before they left.

When the children arrived at their destination, they lined up to be inspected and chosen by people who showed up because of flyers posted that the Orphan Train was coming.

Baby Trains only delivered babies requested ahead of time.

A number was assigned to each child, and only non-identifying information was given—any ties with the child’s past were severed.  Some children were lucky with their placement; some were not.  Some siblings got to stay together; some did not.

Welfare and Child Protection Laws did not exist. Children were property and had no rights. Orphan and Baby Trains helped form today’s child protection laws.

There are approximately two million Orphan and Baby Train descendants.  Drover is the story of one of those children, Anson Holley, a four-year old orphan from the streets of New York delivered to St. Louis, inspected, and adopted by the Miller family.

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