model train set on track

Orphan Trains

e*Train Issue: Mar 2002   |   Posted in:

by Michael Rotolo

Between the years 1850’s and 1929 over 350,000 children would be shipped out of New York on what would be know as ” Orphan Trains”.

This will be one of the least remembered of American migrations to the West. The trains would make their stops along the way so prospective parents could look over the youngsters and decide weather to take in any of them.

On Saturday April 29,2000 a reunion of the Orphan Train “Riders” was held in Colorado. Only 6 people attended. To date there are less than 1,000 of the “rider” estimated to be still alive.

The Trains were an idea of Methodist minister Charles Loring Brace, a founder of the Children’s Aid Society of New York. This was a means of moving children out of the alleys and squalor of a city over-run by immigrants and the industrial revolution. To move the children West too wholesome farms family life.

Tom Noel, a University of Colorado historian said, ” It was a major event in migration to the west, which revolved around the railroad. The Orphan train was a sweet second chance for many, a Dickensian nightmare for others.

A book written by Janet Liebl, called “ties That Blind, The Orphan Train Story in Minnesota”, tells of research indicates that the number of children, who rode the Orphan Trains, equals the number of slaves brought into the United States.

Before the Orphan Train, there were incidents of 600 children begging for food in an orphanage. Of the 6 people who attended this re-union, many stories were told of their lives. There were children who were taken in by families who would send them back within a few months, just to have those children taken in by another family. Some families would make them work on the farms till harvest time, then send them on their way. They were rejected because of differences among children already living in the homes.

In the 1870’s the nuns of New York’s Founding Hospital were finding up to 1,000 babies a year on their doorstep.

In our hobby of railroading were finding out new ways each day the railroad plays a big part in history. Well, this is one part I didn’t know about.

FEATURE FILM: Orphan Train (1979)–A social worker in 1850s New York must overcome many obstacles as she tries to move a group of orphan children to the West by train. Moving family drama stars Jill Eikenberry, Kevin Dobson and Linda Manz; look for an early turn by Glenn Close. 138 min. Director: William A. Graham Cast: Glenn Close, Kevin Dobson, Jill Eikenberry, Linda Manz Rated: NR Color.


The following is a “partial” list of “New York area” institutions that had provided “orphans” to be sent west to new homes on the Orphan Trains. If you have an ancestor who spent time in one of these “homes”, and ended up in Kansas, it is likely that they are an Orphan Train Rider.

Angel Guardian Home
Association for Befriending Children & Young Girls
Association for Benefit of Colored Orphans
Baby Fold
Baptist Children’s Home of Long Island
Bedford Maternity, Inc.
Bellevue Hospital
Bensonhurst Maternity
Berachah Orphanage
Berkshire Farm for Boys
Berwind Maternity Clinic
Beth Israel Hospital
Bethany Samaritan Society
Bethleham Lutheran Children’s Home
Booth Memorial Hospital
Borough Park Maternity Hospital
Brace Memorial Newsboys House
Bronx Maternity Hospital
Brooklyn Benevolent Society
Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum
Brooklyn Home for Children
Brooklyn Hospital
Brooklyn Industrial School
Brooklyn Maternity Hospital
Brooklyn Nursery & Infants Hospital
Brookwood Child Care
Catholic Child Care Society
Catholic Committee for Refugees
Catholic Guardian Society
Catholic Home Bureau
Child Welfare League of America
Children’s Aid Society
Children’s Haven
Children’s Village, Inc.
Church Mission of Help
Colored Orphan Asylum
Convent of Mercy
Dana House
Door of Hope
Duval Collage for Infant Children
Edenwald School for Boys
Erlanger Home
Euphrasian Residence
Family Reception Center
Fellowship House for Boys
Ferguson House
Five Points House of Industry
Florence Crittendon League
Goodhue Home
Grace Hospital
Graham Windham Services
Greer-Woodycrest Children’s Services
Guardian Angel Home
Guild of the Infant Savior
Hale House for Infants, Inc.
Half-Orphan Asylum
Harman Home for Children
Heartsease Home
Hebrew Orphan Asylum
Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society
Holy Angels’ School
Home for Destitute Children
Home for Destitute Children of Seamen
Home for Friendless Women and Children
Hopewell Society of Brooklyn
House of the Good Shepherd
House of Mercy
House of Refuge
Howard Mission & Home for Little Wanderers
Infant Asylum
Infants’ Home of Brooklyn
Institution of Mercy
Jewish Board of Guardians
Jewish Protectory & Aid Society
Kallman Home for Children
Little Flower Children’s Services
Maternity Center Association
McCloskey School & Home
McMahon Memorial Shelter
Mercy Orphanage
Messiah Home for Children
Methodist Child Welfare Society
Misericordia Hospital
Mission of the Immaculate Virgin
Morrisania City Hospital
Mother Theodore’s Memorial Girls’ Home
Mothers & Babies Hospital
Mount Sinai Hospital
New York Foundling Hospital
New York Home for Friendless Boys
New York House of Refuge
New York Juvenile Asylum
New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Ninth St. Day Nursery & Orphans’ Home
Orphan Asylum Society of the City of Brooklyn
Orphan House
Ottilie Home for Children

These are examples of the types of “indenture/adoption” forms that the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital used when they placed children.

Children’s Aid Society
United Charities Building
105 East 22nd STREET, NEW YORK
I, the undersigned,_____ hereby agree to provide for_____ now of the age of_____ years, until the said boy shall reach the age of 18 years, according to the following terms and conditions, and with the full understanding that the Society reserves the right to remove the child previous to legal adoption if at any time the circumstances of the home become such as in the judgment of the agent are injurious to the physical, mental or moral well-being of the child.

The terms and conditions for the retention of the boy in my family being as follows: — To care for him in sickness and health, to send him to school during the entire free school year until he reaches the age of 14 years, and thereafter during the winter months at least, until he reaches the age of 16 years; also to have him attend Church and Sunday School when convenient, and to retain him as a member of my family until he reaches the age of 17 years, and thereafter for the final year, until he is 18 years old, to pay the boy monthly wages in addition to his maintenance, the amount thereof to be previously determined after consultation with the Society’s local agent and his approval. In case he proves unsatisfactory, I agree to notify the society and pending his removal, to keep him a reasonable length of time after such notice has been given. I agree, moreover, to use my best endeavor than and at all times, to detain him, should he try to leave me, until the Society can take steps for his removal. I agree to keep him at all times as well supplied with clothing as he was when I received him.

I agree to write to the Society at least once a year, and should I change my address I will notify the Society. Witness,_____Date,_____


No. 175 East 68th Street,
New York City.


No. 26

Mr. John Doe
Any State

We take pleasure in notifying you that the little ___girl___ which you so kindly ordered will arrive at __Anytown, Rock Is. Train__ on __Thurs. January 30____ on train due to arrive at __5:15 A.M.__, and ask that you kindly be at Railway Station to receive child, 30 minutes before train is due, and avoid any possibility of missing connection, as train will not wait should you not be there.

The name of child, date of birth, and name and address of party to whom child is assigned will be found sewn in the Coat of boy and in the hem of Dress of girl.

This receipt must be signed in ink by both husband and wife, and is to be given up in exchange for child who will have corresponding number.

Yours very truly,


We beg to acknowledge receipt of the little orphan as numbered above and promise faithfully to raise said child in the Roman Catholic faith and to send h__ to school and give h__ all the advantages that we would give to a child of our own, and report to Sisters of Charity as to health and general condition when requested, notifying them of any change in address.

Signature of Husband_____
Signature of Wife_____
Street Address_____

The streets of New York were inhospitable to wandering children.