A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ORPHAN TRAINS
Between 1840 and 1860 over 4 million immigrants poured into the United States, mostly through New York City. In 1907 alone, 1.2 million immigrants came from various European countries. It was estimated that approximately 30,000 children were living on the streets of NYC at any given time due to overcrowding, disease and poverty.
Reverend Charles Loring Brace, along with Sister Irene Fitzgibbon of the Sisters of Charity, both felt called by God to address the needs of these "Street Urchins" as they came to be called. Reverend Brace founded the Children's Aid Society which established lodging houses and industrial schools to house and educate these homeless children. Sister Irene formed the New York Foundling Home with the goal of saving the babies who fell victim to infanticide. Both organizations are still in operation today. Despite their best intentions, the orphanages soon became overcrowded, and both realized that something more had to be done.
Reverend Brace began what came to be known as the Orphan Trains which carried children of all ages to farming communities in the Midwest where they would be put on display for local farmers and merchants to select.
Sister Irene sent notices to Catholic parishes in the Midwest asking priests to search out willing families who could request a child from the Foundling Home. Once a match was made, the child would be tagged and sent to the family.
From 1854 through 1929 - a full 75 years - over 250,000 homeless and neglected children were sent by various Children's Agencies from Eastern US cities (mainly NYC) to farming communities in the Midwest, in hopes of finding stable homes. They were instructed not to talk about where they came from in an effort to better "fit in" with their new communities. It wasn't until the early 1960's that many came to realize that theirs was not the only train but, in fact, that they were part of an historic time now known as the ORPHAN TRAIN MOVEMENT.