The Orphan Trains
Articles, Blog

The Orphan Trains

August 15, 2019

(Light guitar music) – [Voiceover] In the 1800s,
the railroads faced a problem. Farm labor shortages
along their newly expanded westward lines
threatened profitability. Not surprisingly, in 1853
they jumped at the chance to support a New York
City minister’s idea, an early version of foster
care that would find homes for the city’s orphans
on farms in the Midwest. (dramatic jazz music) – They were told, “Your
parents are not your parents. “Your past is not your past. “Your life begins
when you are chosen.” (dramatic jazz music) The orphan trains began
because a Methodist minister in New York City named
Charles Loring Brace looked around the
streets of New York and saw that there
were 30,000 children living on the streets. They were getting run
over, dying of starvation and exposure, going to
jail, becoming criminals, they were becoming prostitutes. What we think of as
Dickensian London is really what is was
like then for poor people. Immigrants were pouring in,
the Industrial Revolution was replacing jobs for
poor people with machines. The Civil War was raging and
creating vulnerable war widows. So there are many
reasons that there were all these children
on the streets. And Brace had this idea. It was sort of a
glorified Fresh Air Fund. He thought, “If I can get
children off the streets, “and send them to
farms in the Midwest “where labor is needed, maybe
we can save their lives. “And maybe we can clean up
the streets of New York.” (upbeat jazz music) He worked with the
train companies to send children on
trains to the Midwest, and the trains each held
between 10 and 30 children. And over the course
of the next 75 years, over 250,000 children
were sent to the Midwest. (train engine chugging) There were two ways that people got children from
the orphan trains. The Foundling
Hospital, which got into the act a little bit later, would put notices in
newspapers around the Midwest, and people would
write in and say, “I’d like a blond,
curly-haired, blue-eyed, “7-year-old boy with
a sweet disposition.” And so they would look
around and find that child and put him on a train. And then that person would
be waiting on the other end. (pensive jazz music) The Children’s Aid
Society had the children line up by height
at a train platform or at a city hall
or a grange hall. Then farmers, or whoever came, would often, not
unlike a slave auction, have them run in place,
check their teeth, check their muscles,
have them do even sit-ups or push-ups to make
sure they were strong. Because they wanted workers. The farmers would take
them off the stage and then fill out certificates taking ownership of the child. (pensive jazz music) Contracts were signed
between the people who took the train riders
in, and the organization, the Children’s Aid Society
or the Foundling Hospital, and it says, “Shall be
indentured until the age of 21.” These children were
2 to 14 years old. Twenty-one is quite a long time to be working for someone else. The people who took
in the train riders were required to
send them to school, four months of schooling a year. To feed and clothe them,
there was some language about treating them as
you would one of your own. However, they were labor. For some of them, it was
actually a form of slavery. Many of them had no choice but do what they
were told to do. (sad violin music) There were volunteers
in communities who were supposed to
check in on the children. That was rather
spotty as a process. For one thing, they
were volunteers, and because children
were property, even if someone went out
to check on a situation, it was much more likely that
the adults would be believed than that the child
would be believed. Furthermore, there was
a great disincentive to take children out of homes, because it was so hard then
to know what to do with them. And so they would
often leave children in situations that were not
really the best for them. (sad violin music) It was an imperfect
system, and what it meant is that it was absolutely
a roulette wheel. And the children had no choice
about where they were going, and the people who took
in the train riders were as varied as human nature. There were very good
people, very kind people who took in train riders,
and there were also people who weren’t so good and kind. Even if the people who
took them in were kind, they often treated them as a
little bit less than family. One of the reasons that
we don’t know much, that most people
don’t know much, about the orphan trains is that the train riders
themselves didn’t realize that they were part of
this large movement. A quarter of a million
children go on these trains, and most of them
think that their train was the only one that went. So you can see why
they didn’t organize more quickly or reach
out to each other. (slow jazz music) I was so lucky when
I began this book, there were 150
living train riders. Today there are probably
between 10 and 20. It was such a gift, I had access to living train riders
and could interview them. (slow jazz music) One of the most significant
was a woman named Pat Thiessen. Even at the age of 93, she
felt the loss and the sorrow. She said, “They
were good people, “but they were not my people.” As one train rider said to me, “You know, we have been through “so much turmoil
and so much trauma.” Every child who rode
the orphan train had been through
something terrible. Otherwise, they wouldn’t
have been there, because the trains
were the last resort. (dramatic jazz horn bellow) Prairie Mosaic is funded by the Minnesota Arts and
Cultural Heritage Fund with money from the vote
of the people of Minnesota on November 4th, 2008. The North Dakota
Council on the Arts, and by the Members
of Prairie Public.


  • Reply Joe DeFilippo December 12, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Orphan Train-New song!

  • Reply cookbookdude December 12, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    The Louisiana Orphan Train Society, Inc. wrote a book titled "From Cradle to Grave: Journey of the Louisiana Orphan Train Riders." It's very educational. It has 89 biographies of orphans who came to Louisiana from New York City. See more at A portion of the proceeds go to help the Louisiana Orphan Train Society, Inc and their museum.

  • Reply AndЯew March 26, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Just think about all the trauma they had to go through at such a young age

  • Reply Nancy Oswald May 2, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Great historic clip. I loved your book. It was a great way to explore and learn about the Orphan Train. Great portrayal. And lucky you to get to visit with some of the train riders. I knew a little about the Orphan Train, but had no idea it extended to 1929.

  • Reply Linda Downs August 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Many people have no idea of their real family background. What a loss! Today Children's Protective Services are doing the same, in higher numbers, with nearly the same results. Is this really better for the children? I think not nearly as much as we are led to believe.

  • Reply SuperBike Racer November 23, 2017 at 4:55 am

    I can only imagine how many of these children were adopted for exploitation, whether being overworked or sexually abused, and bet some completely disappeared.

  • Reply Georgie March 13, 2018 at 4:03 am

    Our "white privilege " ugh

  • Reply Amina Hussain April 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    In a horrorbook called "somebody come and play" the orphan train is mentioned…..but was called slavetrains….cause some of the kids actually were treated as slaves…….A ghostgirl in the story "Nicole" and her sister were on that slavetrain and Nicole was killed by a Foreman or something and came back as an evil ghostgirl ….but all she actually does is searching for her sister….and she Thinks the girl cassie is her sister….A very good book that should have become a film…would be a nice horrorfilm….Have read it 4 times i Think…

  • Reply Lesley Allinson August 4, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    They seemed to use them as slaves

  • Reply Neesee B August 15, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    My GG Grandmother I was told on the Mo Train. Born in 1844 and found with a family in 1860 Knob Noster Mo

  • Reply ckswat77 zz September 29, 2018 at 8:16 am

    My Grandmother and her brother were put on an orphan train from PA to Buffalo, NY. Horrific! She and my Great Uncle Pete went through hell in the orphanage and after being taken in to be slaves. I thank God for her. She was an inspiration to me and my family. I thank God she turned a bad situation into being happy and thankful to God for the joys in her life, not the ugly, bad stuff. She and my greatuncle Pete we’re awesome. I miss them daily and can’t wait to see them again in Heaven.

  • Reply Felicity Ray Self October 19, 2018 at 4:10 am

    I hate this author. I read her book and she basically paints anyone who can live off the land, who owns guns can hunt and fish and survive without the Gooberment as being a vile and evil and untrustworthy person. She's totally biased and judgemental. I literally found myself repulsed by her judge attitude towards the type of person my own family is. We are not what she depicted in the book.. not even close to it. She disgusts me with her pious judgemental attitude.

  • Reply Felicity Ray Self October 19, 2018 at 4:23 am

    This author paints any conservative or anti big Gooberment person as someone who is A) Bible believing B) Not trusting in the Gooberment. C). Owning a gun to hunt and D). Being able to hunt, fish live off the land independently and build their own home with their own two hands, as being abusive, backwards, child expoiting, child molester monsters. Her portrayal of the EVIL foster mom in the story is, of course one of a pro gun conservative person who is pro life. She's very much a biased one sided, judgemental author and I wouldn't read anything else by her if you paid me to. Good thing I discovered this and let others know about her. Do what you will with the information. I myself don't own a gun and don't vote for anyone. But I'm definitely anti- Gooberment as they come and I totally BELIEVE the people who can survive off grid should he both admired as well as left the hell alone by Big Brother. my dad was a survival man and I still admire him deeply. This author has turned to stereotypes instead of characters. It's pathetic.

  • Reply How Dew You Dew? October 25, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    These orphans actually came from cities across the world, millions of them were dealt as slave labor for the elite after the reset in mid 1800s when all these cities were devoid of life. One can find 1000s of photos from that era of empty cites full of mud. All of this of course not part of what we were taught…never to enter any part of discussed or written history. Another reset is in full swing as I write ..history will be rewritten as they go.

  • Reply TBJ L October 30, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    So sad. 🙁

  • Reply Furlock Furli November 16, 2018 at 7:24 am

    " Its mission is to help preserve and document the treasures of culture, history, and heritage that make Minnesota special, and to increase access to the natural and cultural resources we all share." (End of quote).

    Really? And no talking about mud floods? And no talking about elite knowing about the mud floods? And no talking about who survived the last mud flood and then took over all continents again? Really?

    Useless documentaries, only built to assure nobody will look closer.

  • Reply bdub November 20, 2018 at 1:20 am

    Find truth in the small details, 5:50, “they were good people, but they were not my people”. Where did “her” people go?

  • Reply Divine Nature Landscape Design December 4, 2018 at 12:01 am

    See (Mudd Flood)

  • Reply Del Bedinotti December 9, 2018 at 5:19 am

    The author's alleged story of why there were orphan trains is absolutely ridiculous. The real reason is written below by many other commentators.

  • Reply The RoliYogi December 19, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Where does all this orphans origin from? Why was there so many orphans? Did they import the children from Europe. There is a story in Europe that Gipsies stole children and sold them….

  • Reply Mini Smith December 21, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    Just slave labor and I can only imagine how many children were stolen from their mothers/parents.sad very sad.where there's money involved there's corruption.this lady is an idiot

  • Reply Flat Earth Ancap December 22, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    The boy in the middle at 3:49 has character and so do others. Disabling the glands of young bodies with high-protein foods and vaccines hasn't begun yet.

  • Reply Flat Earth Ancap December 22, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    "It was an imperfect system". That implies that there could be the perfect one 😀

  • Reply Jeff Beck January 13, 2019 at 12:40 am
    Orphans in Argentina in early 1900s

  • Reply Jeff Beck January 13, 2019 at 12:40 am

    Search channels ConspiraciesRUs, Mud Flood, Jon Levi, Martin Liedtke, etc

  • Reply Jeff Beck January 13, 2019 at 12:41 am

    Research Mud Flood

  • Reply T S January 14, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    More "White Privilege."

  • Reply jude czyz January 15, 2019 at 12:26 am

    look at 2:23

  • Reply 12Sisters 1bride January 23, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    These sound like clones and slavestock

  • Reply Merlyn Schutterle January 27, 2019 at 1:52 am

    Where was the loving god when these children needed him?

  • Reply "Pop"ular February 20, 2019 at 3:56 am

    Hi ,so slaves trains of the white children, amazing .

  • Reply The Clouds Have Eyes April 1, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Look up Mud Flood & Tartaria… history has been concealed & this lady hasn’t a clue. And riddle me this, in 1834 Thomas Davenport of Vermont developed the first real electric motor ('real' meaning the first electric motor just powerful enough to do a simple task)… Now go take a good hard look at the many astoundingly advanced, mind bogglingly intricate, precise, and massive Cathedrals built all across the world hundreds of years before we even invented the electric motor, had any modern machinery, diamond or carbide equipment for excavating & cutting stone… yet these cathedrals around the world, built as far back as the 1200’s remain impressive in the size, scope & complexity by todays standard, containing many features that are very difficult for us to recreate today… we are told history is linear, a straight line of increasing advancement… when hundreds of years before we had any machinery we were able to build jaw dropingly precise, complex and massive cathedrals with nothing more bronze tools, levers, pulleys and brute force… yet these cathedrals rival the design, scope, scale, complexity & precision of even todays standards.. And thousands of years before that people were building monolithic structures, using hard stone weighing thousands of tons each, and did so with such scale & precision we are still scratching our heads how they did it… But no history is linear, and we haven’t been fed a completely bullshit version of the past… more like pretty much everything we’ve been led to believe about the past is a blatant lie…. half the crap we are told today about the present even turns out to be a blatant lie… When the catholic inquisitions decimated entire cultures, new settlers to North American decimated the indian’s, past dictators enforce book burnings, communist countries control & limit information available, education becomes state run/ mandated with set doctrines that teaches must follow and adhere to, etc. etc. etc… it all has enabled it to be quite easy to completely rewrite the forgotten past.

  • Reply Nancy Howard April 2, 2019 at 3:20 am


  • Reply Teresa Gover May 10, 2019 at 5:08 am

    But how do you search for a family member that told his daughter (my grandmother) he was an orphan.

  • Reply KA17 May 17, 2019 at 2:51 am

    The first major shift in family dynamics happened at the close of the civil war when millions of children were left orphans after the deaths of over 500K white men. The public was outraged over children in rags begging on the streets so orphanages were opened in every state, in multiple cities to get these children out of the public view. The foster care system was also implemented around the same time. Most orphanages continued operation through the mid sixties when states began to realize that the cost of these orphanages was too expensive and foster care was a better financial solution for them.

  • Reply ALAN LAWRENCE May 24, 2019 at 11:15 am

    They were slaves. Full stop.

  • Reply Francis Judge May 24, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    perhaps it will happen again someday—after the reset

  • Reply Savannah Shay TV June 13, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    my great grandma, who just passed at 96, stated that a couple of them from our family ended up on the train because there was disease and a lot of parents died and left the kids without care. this is fascinating to find out where my own family tree took root

  • Reply Keith Busch June 23, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    1953 was before the civil war ha ha ha.

  • Reply Sean Mehmood June 23, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    Sounds like these kids were slaves

  • Reply LucrativeDynasty July 2, 2019 at 9:32 am

    This is human trafficking quit the bs please

  • Reply Peculiar Girl July 24, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    My grandpa was adopted from a train in MO to pick fruit

  • Reply rickyracerr1 July 25, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    This woman is a liar. Part of the Matrix of indoctrination to keep us from knowing the truth about our history as well as our present. Talking Heads, teachers put in place to indoctrinate us. Truth exists but lies have to be invented. The powers that control spoon-feed us what they want us to hear not what the truth is. Do your own research.

  • Reply Jasmine Hall July 28, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    it kind of like the story Anne of Green Gables

  • Reply anthony j July 28, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    This was a plan. They cant hide this forever. They came from Ireland, Italy and all over. This was going on ALL OVER THE WORLD at the same time to populate the newly inherited cities.

  • Reply John Smith August 11, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    ? what's all this talk about mud floods?

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