Orphan Train Rider

Orphan Train Rider
Oliver Nordmark - Age 15 - Esbon KS

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


A well-to-do Connecticut minister, Rev. Charles Loring Brace was born in Hartford in 1826. After completing his education, he felt a calling toward missionary work as opposed to church ministry. Brace did not believe in “survival of the fittest” but felt instead, that there was much society could do to improve the lives of the very poorest classes. After working in NYC’s Blackwell’s Island Prison, he was convinced that the adult poor were a hopeless cause and from that time forward, devoted his efforts to saving the children of poverty in the city.

Brace established the Children’s Aid Society in 1853. His first efforts included lodging houses for the thousands of newsboys who lived on the streets, as well as industrial schools, a farm school and even a summer home on Long Island. But his most ambitious endeavor, and the one for which he will forever be known, was “placing out."

Rev. Brace strongly believed that the best place for a child to grow up was in the home of a Christian farmer. With an idealized view of what life was like in the West, and the realization that the growing number of homeless children in the city would one day translate into a serious crime problem, Brace began his “placing out” program in 1854 with a group of boys traveling to Michigan. The effort was a success and began what would be a seventy-five year movement on the part of the Children’s Aid Society to save more than 100,000 urban children living in poverty.

Upon his death in 1890, Brace’s sons, Robert and Charles took over their father’s work through the Children’s Aid Society until their retirements in 1931 and 1927 respectively. The brothers established many new in-city programs to help the poor, including the foster home programs, but they continued to support their father’s work of relocation.

The Children’s Aid Society is still in operation today and still helping children both in urban and rural settings. They were instrumental in helping my father and his siblings during the Great Depression….but I’m getting ahead of myself!

Check back next week for the story of Sister Irene Fitzgibbon of the Sisters of Charity followed by an examination of just exactly HOW the placing out process worked……


Yaya' s Changing World said...

You have a lot of information, here. I did not realize that the first group was all boys, nor that they were placed in Michigan. I do so enjoy reading about this movement and learn something new, each time I read. Thank you for sharing this information.

Yaya's Changing World

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I am guessing that Reverend Brace thought that life out west on the farms would be more pure and virtuous, huh? It's kind of the way we stereotype "small town goodness" and "family values." But unfortunately, people are people no matter where they are -- good and bad, whether in the city or on the farm. I guess it was the luck of the draw for the poor kids on the train.

Word Designer said...

Pretty-much the luck of the draw. But a good many of the children would have died, I think, if they had continued living on the streets.

Word Designer

Donna said...

Yes, it was pot luck, but at least a chance at a better life. Many went on to accomplish great things while others struggled throughout their lives. A good first effort..too bad we haven't progressed any further than we have with foster care :(

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I was reading our daily tabloid news back home when this particular article caught my attention... I felt so bless and my heart rejoice knowing that some how long time ago there are people giving what they can just to help not only the person(people) to improve their lives and future but also to help the government... how I wish and pray that the orphan train can reach also some third world country... More Blessing I pray for all the supporters and the management of the orphan train...