All the photos of orphans I found were a mixture of sadness and hope. The children appear stoic and brave, but I can imagine their little knees knocking with fear and apprehension, wondering if their time had come. Would a family step forth, holding out their hands, offering the child a home? Would the family treat them fairly, and perhaps even show them love? Or would the family only treat them as workers, employees to give orders to and to house, feed, and clothe? How bewildering it must have been for them.
A DVD available on Amazon contains several episodes of a fictionalized group of children. A recording artist wrote and sang a song about the orphan trains. In 1979, a made-for-TV movie titled “Orphan Train” that starred Jill Eikenberry, Kevin Dobson, and Glenn Close is on DVD. Today, numerous publishers offer fiction, some historical, some romance, centered on an orphan and his/her life.
An estimated 30,000 children were homeless in New York City in the 1850s. The children ranged in age from about six to 18 and shared a common grim existence. Homeless or neglected, they lived in New York City's streets and slums with little or no hope of a successful life. Charles Loring Brace, the founder of The Children's Aid Society, believed that there was a way to change the futures of these children. By removing youngsters from the poverty and debauchery of the city streets and placing them in morally upright farm families, he thought they would have a chance of escaping a lifetime of suffering.
He proposed that these children be sent by train to live and work on farms out west. They would be placed in homes for free, but they would serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm. The family should pay the older children for their labors, although they often did not.
The Orphan Train Movement lasted from 1853 to the early 1900s, originating from several northern and Midwestern states. The organization placed 120,000 children. This ambitious, unusual, and controversial social experiment is now recognized as the beginning of the foster care concept in the United States.
Some of the children struggled in their newfound surroundings, while many others went on to lead simple, very normal lives, raising their families and working towards the American dream. Although records weren't always well kept, some of the children placed in the West went on to great successes. There were two governors, one congressman, one sheriff, two district attorneys, three county commissioners as well as numerous bankers, lawyers, physicians, journalists, ministers, businessmen, and teachers.
I wrote a short Free Read for The Wild Rose Press titled “Wishes Do Come True.” It’s about a lonely young woman who had arrived in the west on an Orphan Train as a young child. Read about Anna Morrison and the man she loves, Ross Davis.
DOWNLOAD FREE from The Wild Rose Press:
(Or you may e-mail me and I will send it to you. celiayeary AT Yahoo DOT COM)