The Orphan Trains
The story of this ambitious and finally controversial effort to rescue poor and homeless children begins in the 1850s, when thousands of children roamed the streets of New York in search of money, food and shelter—prey to disease and crime. Many sold matches, rags, or newspapers to survive. For protection against street violence, they banded together and formed gangs. Police, faced with a growing problem, were known to arrest vagrant children—some as young as five—locking them up with adult criminals.
In 1853, a young minister, Charles Loring Brace, founded the Children's Aid Society to arrange the trips, raise the money, and obtain the legal permissions needed for relocation. Between 1854 and 1929, more than 100,000 children were sent, via orphan trains, to new homes in rural America. Recognizing the need for labor in the expanding farm country, Brace believed that farmers would welcome homeless children, take them into their homes and treat them as their own. His program would turn out to be a forerunner of modern foster care.
As The Orphan Trains so poignantly reveals, even those for whom the journey ultimately was a triumph found the transition from one life to another almost always painful and confusing. Brace himself grappled with the dilemma: "When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go." Hear the remarkable stories of the Orphan Train children.
—From PBS Documentary notes
The Orphan Trains (American Experience)
1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 30
Cargill Auditorium, Entrance 14, WITCC • 2627 Stone Ave, Sioux City, IA 51106
Join guest presenter Margot Chesebro for this special film screening