Jefferson County

Orphan Trains
By Russ Wielt

          In 1852, over 175,000 immigrants arrived in America. In 1854, the number
          rose to over 250,000 with the port of New York being the main arrival point.

          New York City became a "boiling pot" of chaotic living conditions with
          widespread disease, crime, break down of family life, and innocent children

          The NYC chief of police estimated 10,000 children in the city in 1853
          were uncared for.

          Charles Loring Brace, a young minister, saw a dire need and felt a strong
          desire to help. He turned from a well to do, secure lifestyle to that of
          a poorly paid social worker by becoming the first secretary to the newly
          formed Children's Aid Society, CAS.

          In 1854, the organized CAS group went west. Forty children of workable
          age were sent to Michigan. The placing was successful, thus the Free Home
          Placing Out began and did not stop until the late 1920's or early '30's.

          Western agents visited towns asking volunteers to form local communities
          to screen perspective homes for the soon to arrive children.

          Back in NYC children chosen for the trip would be placed in the care
          of an agent, or agents, who saw to their needs. Stopping at designated
          towns along the way people met the group and agent, to choose a child.
          A contract was signed and a child placed. [Copies of contracts may be 
          obtained from the OTHSA, Inc., by members.]

          Agents followed up on the placements with visits. In the event the placing
          was not a good choice, the Society removed the child and placed he/she

          In 1865, The New York Foundling Asylum was founded by the Sisters of
          Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul with 5 dollars and an empty building.

          In the beginning, a basket placed in the entryway received unwanted
          infants with no questions asked. A nun, on duty nearby would quickly 
          retrieved the child and take it to be cared for.

          Sister Teresa Vincent and Sister Irene Fitzgerald were in charge of
          the new child saving mission which in later years became the New York 
          Foundling Hospital.

          In 1872, "Baby Trains" were sent out with infants and small children
          to be placed with families who agreed to raise them in the Catholic faith.

          The Foundling used an indenture form when placing children. This gave
          them legal authority to remove the child from a household at anytime 
          (otherwise the child was released from the indenture at age 18). Many 
          families looked upon this document as a form of adoption and did not 
          proceed with legal adoption.

          The Foundling sent large groups of children west in leased railroad
          cars with agents and nurses to care for them until their destination was

          Tags sewn onto the child's clothing gave a name, birth date and a name
          of the pre-selected family who had been sent a matching card. A number
          was assigned to each child.

          When the train arrived, a match was made, papers signed and the child

          The New England Home for Little Wanderers in Boston also sent children
          west to be placed. They placed children as early as 1865 but stopped the
          practice in 1903.

          Other societies such as The Chicago Home Society and the Minnesota Home
          Society also placed children in other states.

          Between 1854 and 1929 an estimated 150,000 orphaned, abandoned, homeless
          children and poor families were placed out in what we today know as the
          Orphan Trains Era.

          This period of mass relocation of children in the U.S. is widely recognized
          as the beginning of documented foster care in America.

          Submitted Aug 5, 1999


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