We Rode the Orphan Trains

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They were “throw away” kids, living in the streets or in orphanages and foster homes. Then Charles Loring Brace, a young minister working with the poor in New York City, started the Children’s Aid Society and devised a plan to give homeless children a chance to find families to call their own.

Thus began an extraordinary migration of American children. Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 children, mostly from New York and other cities ...

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They were “throw away” kids, living in the streets or in orphanages and foster homes. Then Charles Loring Brace, a young minister working with the poor in New York City, started the Children’s Aid Society and devised a plan to give homeless children a chance to find families to call their own.

Thus began an extraordinary migration of American children. Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 children, mostly from New York and other cities of the eastern United States, ventured forth to other states on a journey of hope.

Andrea Warren has shared the stories of some of these orphan train riders here, including those of Betty, who found a fairy tale life in a grand hotel; Nettie Evans and her twin, Nellie, who were rescued from their first abusive placement and taken in by a new, kindhearted family who gave them the love they had hoped for; brothers Howard and Fred, who remained close even though they were adopted into different families; and Edith, who longed to know the secrets of her past.

Listen to these and other child orphans as they share their memories of transition and adventure, disappointment and loneliness, but ultimately of the joy of belonging to their own new families.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is powerful nonfiction for classroom and personal reading and for discussion." School Library Journal, Starred

"As fascinating as the original and a worthy sequel." Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Warren (Orphan Train Rider) here interviews eight orphan train riders concerning their childhood experiences during "the largest children's migration in history" between 1854 and 1929 as part of a "placing out" program run by the Children's Aid Society of New York City. The stories reflect the diversity of the train itself, from Nettie, who discusses how she and her identical twin, Nellie, escaped their first sadistic adoptive mother to find a loving home with an older couple, to Art Smith, whose daydreams of an actress mother were shattered when he discovered he was a baby "left in a basket in Gimbel's Department Store." Many of the profiles include well-chosen details that will tug at readers' heartstrings, such as Sister Justina, who celebrated the wrong birth date for 57 years, or little Ruth, who initially refused to take her arms off the dinner table after years of protecting her food from grabby, hungry orphans. Black-and-white photographs effectively highlight the stories. Though some of the accounts focus too much on adult discoveries, ultimately the anecdotes about these brave and lonely children will keep readers traveling on this train. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
Interviews of eight orphan train riders reveal their childhood experiences when they were part of the "placing out" program run by the Children's Aid Society of New York City between 1854 and 1929. "The anecdotes about these brave and lonely children will keep readers traveling on this train," wrote PW. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From The Critics
Lorraine was abandoned at birth and placed in an orphanage until she was four. Twins Nellie and Nettie and their older brother Leon were abused and neglected and placed in an orphanage when the twins were five, and Leon, nine. Arthur was abandoned in Gimbels department store as an infant. As the United States became more urbanized and immigration increased, the new nation exploded with abused, neglected, and abandoned children. Organizations like the Children's Aid Society found their solution with orphan trains. Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated two hundred thousand children were sent from urban slums in the East to live with families in the West. To reformers, it seemed like the perfect solution. The children were removed from families who could not or would not take care of them. Then they were sent away from slums, poverty, and crime to be raised with wholesome families in Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, and Kentucky. In some cases, the orphan train was the answer to a small child's dream. Other times, the new homes were miserable. Nellie and Nettie were sent originally to a childless couple in Kansas. The husband was kind, but the wife abused them, whipping them with a buggy whip. The Children's Aid Society removed them and found a home with caring adults. "With the Durrahs, we were loved accepted and appreciated. We just blossomed," Nettie reported. Fred and Howard were abused and neglected brothers sent to Nebraska in 1925. Although she tried, their escort was not able to keep the boys together. Each felt the loss of his brother but enjoyed growing up with new loving families. During World War II, each man separately enlisted in the armed services and was required tofind a copy of his birth certificate. They were stunned to find that their parents were alive. Both met their birth parents but found them cold and uncaring. Howard said, "They were folks you wouldn't want to know. It would have been a terrible place to grow up." In We Rode the Orphan Trains, Andrea Warren skillfully weaves together historical facts about the Western migration with first-hand accounts. For some, riding the orphan train was a great adventure. For others, it was terrifying. In each case, Warren masterfully preserves the rider's voice and the details that make it possible for young readers to relate to the now-elderly adults who were sent West many decades ago. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 144 pages,
— Michelle Wehrwein Albion
Children's Literature
In 1853, a minister and reformer named Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society of New York City to deal with the growing number of abandoned and orphaned children there. He believed the children would fare better if they could be placed in suitable homes than if they continued to live on the city streets or in the city's orphanages. Therefore, he developed a program to take children, by train, to the communities in the west where they could be adopted and/or raised by good farm families. Between 1854 and 1929, approximately two hundred thousand American children traveled west to find families. These children had lost one or, in some cases, both parents to death, or they had been abandoned. The stories in this book are their stories. In this follow-up to Warren's acclaimed Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's Tale, we learn about the experiences of nine more orphan train riders and one of the Children's Aid Society's most dedicated workers. Not every tale is positive—one child spends a year in an abusive home before being removed and placed elsewhere—but combined, they attest to the resiliency of childhood and the importance of loving homes, be they with biological families or adoptive. Warren's research is thorough, and the book is engaging. Included are more than fifty black-and-white photos but unfortunately, not a map. Readers interested in learning more will appreciate the "Recommended Reading" section, complete with references to books and tips about searching for orphan train information on the World Wide Web. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, $18.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Heidi Green
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of orphaned or abandoned children in the eastern United States, particularly in New York City, were in need of homes. Charitable societies, such as the Children's Aid Society of New York, cared for the children and prepared them to go West in search of families. The trains these children rode became known as orphan trains. In her well-researched book, Warren provides a history of the children's welfare and orphan train movement and the personal recollections of still-living adult riders of the trains. She also researched historical archives, particularly those of the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America and the Children's Aid Society, for her information. The riders' recollections provide the reader with a sense of the insecurity, adventure, fear, and emotions of the experience. Many children were taken into nice homes, but some riders were not. The book is filled with black-and-white photographs, many from the collections of the riders themselves. The author also includes reproductions of posters advertising the arrival of the orphan trains. These physical reminders illustrate the orphan showings that many riders recollect. Although useful as history curriculum support, this title also relays the resilience, determination, triumph, and the value of family expressed by the orphan train riders. Index. Photos. Biblio. VOYA CODES:4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses;Will appeal with pushing;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 132p, $18. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer:Sarah Hudson—VOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Warren's story of nine-year-old Lee Nailling in Orphan Train Rider (Houghton, 1996) opened a window onto a disturbing period of American history in which children were both victims and heroes. In this follow-up volume, she relates the personal histories of eight men and women-now senior citizens-who were orphaned or abandoned as children and later traveled across the country in trains to meet strangers who would become their new family members. An introductory chapter describes the appalling numbers of homeless children in 19th-century America's large eastern cities and explains how poverty and disease as well as high rates of alcohol and drug addiction contributed to a problem that continued into the 20th century. The personal histories, based on interviews that Warren conducted with her subjects, are rich and compelling and so full of dramatic twists and turns that they could have been conceived by Charles Dickens. Hunger, fear, and isolation are the most common recollections of the men and women who speak from these pages. Fortunately these stories all have happy endings, testimony to the resilience of children and the kindness of strangers. The author also includes information about early social activists such as Charles Loring Brace, who established New York City's Children's Aid Society in 1853. These remarkable stories have enormous human-interest appeal and will provoke serious discussion about just how much life has really changed for children from the last century until today.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From 1854 to 1930, more than 200,000 orphaned or abandoned boys and girls were cleaned up, dressed in new clothes, and turned over to the custody of the agents of the Children's Aid Society. These groups of children traveled on "orphan trains" and arrived at the towns of the Midwest and South with the expectation that they would be placed in loving homes. In this companion volume to the award winning Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story (1996), Warren smoothly recounts seven more stories gathered from interviews and archival research. After a short introduction, she describes the hardship of the neglected and abused children and then the simple plan of finding homes in the West for "homeless children." Warren begins with the account of Clara Comstock, a former schoolteacher who as an agent made more than 72 trips on the orphan trains. The subjects, now in their late 70s to 90s, look back to their common experiences. Often no one told them why they were going on a train or what was happening; some had happy endings; still others fared not so well. Each chapter has a similar format: one train rider's story-earliest memories, the departure and train ride, being trouped out in front of strangers, being chosen, what happened their first day of placement, what happened to their siblings, visits from the agents, and the search for their origins. Generously illustrated with black-and-white photographs of people and places as well as reproductions of original source material. As fascinating as the original and a worthy sequel. (index, sources) (Nonfiction. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618432356
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/23/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 231,711
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 940L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Warren's books about children are the result of her passion for history and her interest in young readers. She has been a professional writer for twenty years and works from her home office in the Kansas City area. Her first book for Houghton Mifflin, Orphan Train Rider, won the 1996 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for nonfiction.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Homes for Homeless Children 3
Chapter 2 Agent Clara Comstock's Mission 23
Chapter 3 Twins Who Just Wanted to Be Loved: Nettie and Nellie Crook, Riders to Kansas, 1911 32
Chapter 4 Blessed by Six Parents: Sister Justina Bieganek, Rider to Minnesota, 1913 44
Chapter 5 A Lonely Little Girl: Ruth Hickok, Rider to Iowa, 1917 56
Chapter 6 The Baby in the Basket: Art Smith, Rider to Iowa, 1922 67
Chapter 7 A Case of Scandalous Neglect: Howard Hurd and Fred Swedenburg, Riders to Nebraska, 1925 80
Chapter 8 A Place Called Home: Bill Oser, Rider to Michigan, 1925 96
Chapter 9 The Cutest Child in Kentucky: Betty Murray, Rider to Kentucky, 1930 109
Chapter 10 Into the Future 122
Recommended Reading 125
Sources Used in This Book 127
Index 129
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2009

    Good Book

    This was a very interesting book. My family is always looking for information on the subject after learning that my grandfather and his brother were on the trains and lived at the New York home. Nice pictures giving us a better idea of where he lived and the conditions there.

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