Thursday, September 8, 2011

Orphan Train Museum

Over the Labor Day weekend, my hubby and I took a road trip to Concordia, Kansas, where we visited the Orphan Train Museum.


I was drawn to the museum because the book Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) was one of my daughter Allison's favorite books.  We read it aloud at bedtime, alternating chapters, when she was in third or fourth grade.  To this day, I sometimes find myself saying, like Anne, "Tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes in it yet." 


The fictional Anne Shirley was also an orphan sent to live with a farm couple who almost sent her back because they had requested a boy orphan, not a girl.  As the story unfolds, Anne gradually develops a strong bond with her new foster family.  Her placement, despite some early trials and a less-than-affectionate foster mother, had a happy ending.


Anne Shirley could have been any of thousands of orphans similarly situated. Between 1854 and 1929, over 250,000 orphaned and abandoned children were sent from orphanages or foundling homes to new foster homes , many to farm families in the Midwest.


Charles Loring Brace who founded the Children's Aid Society in 1853 to help homeless children in New York City was one of the founders of the Orphan Trail movement, which is sometimes considered the beginning of foster care in America.  Anna Laura Hill and Clara Comstock were the adult supervisors or "agents" who rode the trains from New York to the Midwest with the orphans.  Another major contributor to Orphan Train numbers was the New York Foundling Hospital, a Catholic hospital which took abandoned and orphaned infants and prearranged placements with families throughout the country. 


Many of the young riders had been placed in orphanages by their fathers after their mothers died in childbirth.  Many were the orphaned or abandoned children of immigrant parents with no extended family in America.  


The Children's Aid Society visited the foster homes only once a year.  Some of the placements were happy ones and led to adoptions or long-term foster placements.  A few of the orphans were able to maintain contact with siblings placed in the same communities. Others were able to track down siblings in later life. 


But some of the orphans were treated like unpaid and overworked farm hands, and ran away from their foster homes.   Other children were sent back to the orphanage by their foster parents.  Not all placements had happily ever after endings.


The Orphan Train Complex includes a sculpture garden, museum, and a research center.



LeAnn aka pasqueflower


  1. Wow, this is so interesting, and the musumn sounds great. I had never heard of it before but will definitely visit when I go back out west next year

  2. Wow.. I'm sure there were happy endings and a lot of sad ones. Children were treated a lot differently back then even by their actual families. One of my great great great grammas was married off at 13 to a neighbor boy she had never met because her widowed mom had remarried and the new husband didn't want to deal with her 3 daughters (they were all married off) She was treated as a farm hand (as was her husband) until she and her husband ran off when he was 19 and she was 16 (they had 2 babies by a newborn) because his folks put her back out in the field a day after the baby was born! Crazy!

  3. I LOVED those books growing up:) That saying makes me smile. What a fun little trip down memory lane! P.S. I got the purse and it is ADORABLE! Thanks again!!

  4. What an interesting bit of history! Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a great post. Would be a great place to visit.