Our library book club recently read Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train. The title refers to a program developed by the Children’s Aid Society (with a similar program developed later by the New York Foundling Hospital) that transported orphaned and homeless children from the big cities in the East to new lives in the West. Some found loving families, but others weren’t so lucky, meeting with abuse often in the form of unscrupulous adults who saw fit to use them as unpaid labor. The orphan trains ran from 1853 until 1929.
While the back of the book provides a lot of information about the orphan train riders, one of the members of the book club was curious about the aid workers’ side of the story. Were there any primary sources available from them?
The Children’s Aid Society still exists today. They understand that people are curious about their history, and they give a phone number (212-949-4847) and an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for people to contact to learn more about the orphan train program. They also provide access to the Victor Remer Historical Archives of the Children’s Aid Society. A guide to the archives can be found online here. While you’ll need to be at the library of the New-York Historical Society to view most of the materials yourself (which include journals and memoirs of Children’s Aid Society agents and correspondence with children who were placed out), some of the material has been digitized and can be viewed here.
We also found a book about the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, Stephen O’Connor’s Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, which is available through CLEVNET.
If you’re ever in Concordia, Kansas, and want to know more about the orphan train movement, you can visit the National Orphan Train Complex. (For more information, their website is located at http://orphantraindepot.org/.)