Orphan Train History

Charles Loring Brace & The Orphan Train Movement

It was all the idea of one man.


Rev. Charles Loring Brace

Rev. Charles Loring Brace was the descendant of a prominent Hartford, Connecticut family and attended Yale University and Union Theological Seminary.

At age 26 the Methodist minister decided to use his ministry to fight the poverty he saw everywhere around him in the slums of 1850’s New York City — starting with a way to tangibly aid the city’s estimated 40,000 homeless children.

The young visionary created an organization called the Children’s Aid Society to raise funds to educate and shelter these children; the Society thrives today providing vital services to children and their families.

However, Brace felt that institutional care stunted and destroyed children. He believed the answers to transforming New York’s orphans and street children into self-reliant members of society were gainful work, education and a wholesome family atmosphere.

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 and serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm. They would not be indentured. In fact, older children placed by Brace and the Children’s Aid Society were to be paid for their labor.

Some of the children struggled in their new surroundings, while many others went on to lead simple, normal lives, raising families and working towards the American dream. By the last placement in 1929, the Orphan Train movement had sent out nearly 250,000 children for adoption.

Orphan_train_flyerThe last generation of Orphan Train riders is still living in towns across the United States. They keep in touch with each other through the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America and the Children’s Aid Society. It is estimated that some 4 million Americans alive today are descended from Orphan Train riders.

~ Orphan Train Successes Include ~

•  John Brady — a governor of Alaska

•  Andrew Burke — a governor of North Dakota

•  James Richards — a Congressman from Ohio

•  Thomas Jefferson Cunningham —
Mayor of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

•  Henry Jost — Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri & Congressman from Missouri

•  Eden Ahbez — songwriter, author of the Nat King Cole classic “Nature Boy”


For more information about the historic Orphan Train movement see:

* Orphan Trains by Stephen O’Connor, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001.

* Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York by Renée Wendinger, Legendary Publications, 2010.

* Orphan Train:  A Novel by Christina Baker Kline, William Morrow, 2012.


Orphan Train. Fairfield, Iowa. August, 2012. First Dress Rehearsal

“Gentlemen, it costs one hundred forty dollars a year to maintain a criminal in our city jail, but only twenty dollars to send a child on a train West. As practical men of commerce, you tell me the better bargain.” — Orphan Train, Act 1, Scene 4


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