Orphan Trains to Missouri
by Michael D. Patrick and Evelyn Goodrich Trickel
This non-fiction book is about the hundreds of thousands of orphaned children who were sent by train from New York City to the rural Midwest in the 1800s.
(I read the most random books, don't I?)
This caught my eye at the library and I just had to get it. I love history and learning about the past. I read this quick, 100 page book in one day.
From 1830 to 1860, due to crop failures (including the Irish potato famine in the 1840s), poverty, high rent, heavy taxes, religious oppression, political upheaval and war, thirty-five million people left their countries to come to the United States in hopes of a better life. But because there were more workers than jobs, many people could not support their children. An estimated 30,000 children were abandoned on the streets of New York City in 1854 alone.
In 1854, Charles Loring Brace and some other well-to-do New York City men founded the Children's Aid Society and put together a plan to transport abandoned children to the Midwest. It is estimated that 150,000 to 400,000 children were sent out on orphan trains, with as many as 100,000 going to Missouri.
The story is amazing. There are pictures of many of the children, sleeping in alleys in New York City, on the train as they head to adoptive families, and with their new families. The pain of what these children endured, the separation from their parents and siblings, the train ride itself, the humiliation of some children who are not chosen by families at the adoption "events" is heart wrenching. Most of the children were chosen by families because they needed help on their farms. Even children as young as 3 years old could help feed farm animals.
After googling orphan trains, I did read that many of the children were sexually and physically abused and treated like slaves and that some children were taken from their families without consent because of a parent's temporary illness and inability to care for them. But considering the vast number of children transported, the orphan trains were a success. According to the book, the Children's Aid Society did their best in placing the children and following up to be sure they were being cared for properly, placing them in new homes if they weren't.
The authors did an outstanding job of researching for this book. Their passion to find the facts and truth were evident throughout. They interviewed adults who were orphan-train children. They found letters from families to the organization, original information tags attached to children as they boarded the train, and notices that were posted in towns and published in newspapers announcing the arrival of the children. Very well done.
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