Presentation on theme: "Where have all the children gone? The Orphan Train Solution Beverly Rowls 7 th Annual GEAR UP YAL Conference."— Presentation transcript:
Where have all the children gone? The Orphan Train Solution Beverly Rowls 7 th Annual GEAR UP YAL Conference
Orphan Trains – What’s That? Forced migration of over 200,000 children from the New York area to other states Started in 1854 and lasted until 1929 The ‘solution’ to homeless, orphaned, abandoned, abused, poor children The beginning of the foster care system in the United States An ignored event in U.S. history
An inquiry When is a ‘solution’ NOT a ‘solution’?
The Orphan Train Era – Who? The children: –In the 1850’s, due to massive immigration to the U.S., as many as 30,000 abandoned children lived on the streets of New York City –Infants, children, teens – homeless, hungry, unprotected, unwanted; no education, no medical care; no future –Many turned to crime in order to survive –Throw away children - all they had for protection was each other
The Orphan Train Era – Who? The adults –Parent(s) unemployed, ill, addicted, or abusive – unable to support their children No extended family available No welfare programs –The leaders Get those Street Rats off New York streets! –Put them in jails! –Put them in orphanages!
Reverend Charles Loring Brace Founder of the Children’s Aid Society (1853) –Worked with the impoverished children on the streets of New York –His solution: remove homeless children from the streets and send them to “Christian” farm families to learn how to become good citizens –Father of the Orphan Train Movement –Philosophy of the Society: self- help, gospel of work, importance of education
Improving the lives of the poor
Orphan Trains – What? The “Placing Out” system –Remove the children from New York to relieve the overcrowding and reduce crime –Place them with families in need of laborers Some found loving families to adopt them Some were used for slave labor Some became indentured servants Trains provided cheap transportation to the places where the children were needed Large numbers of children could be transported at one time
Transporting the children
Orphan Trains – Where? Stopped in over 47 states, Canada and Mexico States receiving the most children: Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan States receiving the least number of children: New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Alabama and Maine
The Orphan Trains – How? Children placed with good, Anglo-Protestant, rural families A “screening committee” was formed in every town Selected possible parents Being chosen might mean being checked like cattle –Feel muscles –Check teeth –Smile and perform Foster parents did not have to take siblings
Foster parent agreement Agree to take the child and child had to agree to go Child must be treated as a member of the family (food, clothes, training) Parents must provide the local education requirements Parents required to write annual status report to CAS
Positive results from the process Many would have died if they had stayed in New York Very little chance for improvement Very few could gain an education Many would have been imprisoned Much potential talent would have been lost
Negative results from the process Not all children were orphans Children could be removed from ‘unfit’ homes (alcoholic, abusive or Catholic) All ties with the past were lost Some children were physically or psychologically abused Stigma attached to being an orphan Many thought they were on the only Orphan Train Most felt that something was wrong with them because their mother gave them away
Problems for future generations Only non-identifying information given to the rider or their descendants Family research often resulted in dead-ends due to closed or missing records No family medical history Could not inherit property of ‘adopted’ family Those from the Baby Trains had no memories No birth certificate for obtaining a drivers license, marriage license, pass port or military requirements Riders often refused to share their story or discuss the past