History of the Orphan Train Riders of New York (Midwest)Immigration
In 1853 the United States began evaluation of railroad routes to the Pacific, sending mapping announcements to Europe and the rest of the world.
Praises went forth, inviting people to come to American and obtain "free land." As a result, the United States received a large number of immigrants.
Steamship agents and railroad companies attracted the rest with descriptions of "the land of opportunity." Port cities became overcrowded, with
assorted jobs filled by cheap labor. New York City had the largest influx of immigrants. Many made long overland journeys, but countless others stayed
in the city. A host of urban ills, including poverty, disease, alcoholism, job competition, and lack of resources led to instability and desperation.
Sometimes families were left with little choice but to abandon their children to the city streets.
The New York Children's Aid Society
The Children's Aid Society was under the auspices of the Brace Farm School, the Industrial Schools, and Newsboys Lodging Homes. Charles Loring
Brace and friends founded the Children's Aid Society in 1853-54. Brace saw orphaned, half-orphaned, and runaway children become waifs of the city.
Envisioning new lives for these destitute youngsters, Brace devised a plan to send them away from overpopulated city streets to find family homes in
the West. He believed the West had "many spare places at the table of life" and a wholesome atmosphere in which to raise children. This excellent
plan was not totally satisfactory for all children. Some went to good homes, but others were instead mistreated. Upon arrival, children were grouped
upon stages, on station platforms, in town halls, or on wooden boxes, and prospective parents were asked to choose a child by personal viewing.
Thus the phrase put up for adoption became known. Boys may have had their muscles examined as potential farm laborers. Similarly, teeth, stature,
and visible medical issues were considered.
The New York Foundling Hospital
In 1869 Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbons and the Sisters of Charity founded the New York Foundling Hospital. Crime seemed to follow poverty, and the
most monstrous crime of all was infanticide. The Sisters were child savers, too, but reserved safekeeping to infants and young children. The
Foundling Hospital's children usually aged between one and six years, rode on trains affectionately called "baby trains," "mercy trains," or "baby
specials." This organization sent nearly as many children west as did the Children's Aid Society. The New York Foundling Hospital and the Children's
Aid Society were two of the largest East Coast agencies placing children in the West.
The New York Foundling Hospital commissioned prospective parents to apply for a child in advance. Clergy and city officials announced the need for
family homes to local parishes and citizens. Prospective parents could specify the age, gender, hair and eye color they sought in a child. The New York
Foundling Hospital carried an indenture system formulating a contract requiring parents needed to clothe, educate, and provide financially for the child
until the age of eighteen. The form essentially guaranteed room and board in exchange for labor. A child could be sent back to New York if placement
proved unsatisfactory. The expectation was that the contract could be dismissed in favor of adoption.
Seventy Five Years of Orphan Trains
As of 1854 and 1929 over 250,000 children from the urban East Coast, predominantly New York, were placed on what became known as "orphan
trains." This one-way trip in most cases was designed to relocate homeless, neglected, and abandoned children to all points west across America.
The transfer was the first emigration plan the largest mass migration of children ever to take place on American soil formulated this countries earliest
child welfare system. The humble beginnings for these children dispensed outstanding citizens that shaped American character and culture.
Orphan train riders Marie Lenzmeier of Wahpeton, ND, Mary Buscher of Breckenridge, MN, and Carmella Keaveny of Tintah, MN discovered they were
orphans from New York, and had traveled across the United States in the early 1900's to find new family homes. The women considered, "how many
more like us in the world can we find?
Seven riders gathered in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1960. One of the women placed an enthusiastic phone call to the New York Foundling Hospital
revealing their recent get-together. A Sister of Charity at the Foundling announced that none of their children had ever established a reunion of orphans,
and voiced profound happiness on the unique and exciting idea.
The women elected to place an ad in several newspapers throughout the Midwest inviting others like themselves to a meeting at the Metropolitan
building in Wahpeton. Nine individuals arrived to become acquainted and exchange life stories on July 1, 1961. The group was unanimous in
establishing successive meetings.
Letters began to arrive from nearly every state in the United States expressing a connection to life as a foundling from New York in search of forming an
extended family with others like themselves. A meeting of riders was held on June 16, 1962 in Wahpeton, ND reaching thirty-five members across
The dream established by the originators of the first Orphan Train Riders of New York reunion was the first of its kind in the entire United States
appointing Minnesota as the first state to carry on precedence. And so the meeting continued, attendance grew, and a familiar family unit took shape
Orphan Train Riders of New York, continues the dream of its founders and contributors exclusively as an orphan train organization whose primary
objective is to support and educate others about a phenomenal part of American History. Annual gatherings are attended by riders, descendants
across-the-board of New York orphan train riders, friends, and a broad spectrum of interested individual's. A fifty year milestone of gatherings
transpires on October 2, 2010.
A conservative number of four million descendants originate from riders of the orphan trains. As of 2010, approximately 100 Riders survive in the
United States. cRenee Wendinger
|ORPHAN TRAIN RIDERS OF NEW YORK (MIDWEST)
Orphan Train Riders of New York
supports, educates, and
preserves the historical epoch
of the orphan trains to groups of all ages
Copyright June 2010 Susan Lehner - All rights reserved. Website owned exclusively by Susan Lehner .
When reviewing any of this information you see that it is incorrect or more can be added please contact
me so I can make the correction. Also, when viewing the pictures, you will notice many names are
missing, so if you can identify any of these - please let me know and I will make the additions.
|Please join us for our annual Orphan Train Rider Celebration
October 11, 2014
Little Falls, MN
St Francis Center
Contact Susan Lehner at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like
to attend our celebration.