Cover image for Orphan trains : the story of Charles Loring Brace and the children he saved and failed
Orphan trains : the story of Charles Loring Brace and the children he saved and failed
O'Connor, Stephen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Physical Description:
xxi, 362 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV985 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV985 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV985 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV985 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV985 .O36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A powerful blend of history, biography, and adventure, ORPHAN TRAINS fills a grievous gap in the American story. Tracing the evolution of the Children's Aid Society, this dramatic narrative tells the fascinating tale of one of the most famous -- and sometimes infamous -- child welfare programs: the orphan trains, which spirited away some 250,000 abandoned children into the homes of rural families in the Midwest.
In mid-nineteenth-century New York, vagrant children, whether orphans or runaways, filled the streets. The city's solution for years had been to sweep these children into prisons or almshouses. But a young minister named Charles Loring Brace took a different tack. With the creation of the Children's Aid Society in 1853, he provided homeless youngsters with shelter, education, and, for many, a new family out west. The family matching process was haphazard, to say the least: at town meetings, farming families took their pick of the orphan train riders. Some youngsters, such as James Brady, who became governor of Alaska, found loving homes, while others, such as Charley Miller, who shot two boys on a train in Wyoming, saw no end to their misery. Complete with extraordinary photographs and deeply moving stories, Orphan Trains gives invaluable insights into a creative genius whose pioneering, if controversial, efforts inform child rescue work today.

Author Notes

Stephen O'Connor is the author of "Will My Name Be Shouted Out?," his account of his years teaching creative writing in a New York inner-city school. Katha Pollitt called it "a wonderful, heartbreaking, enraging book." His is also the author of "Rescue," a collection of short fiction. O'Connor, an adjunct professor of creative writing at Lehman College, also teaches at the New School & Rutgers University. He resides in New York City.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

From 1854 to 1929, an estimated 250,000 children were "emigrated" out of "vice-ridden" urban areas and put up for grabs in the West, where labor was in short supply. Brace (1826-1890) educated himself for the ministry, but under the influence of Darwin and progressive European experiments like the Rauhe Haus, a children's settlement house, he set about saving lives. Rather than work with adults ("saving" prostitutes or banning rum), Brace chose to save their children. As organizer of the Children's Aid Society (CAS), he devised a series of projects to help street kids help themselves: lodging houses, industrial schools and, finally, the infamous "orphan trains." As haphazard and casual as Brace's adoption system may have been, it was the only solution to child abuse and neglect in America at the time. O'Connor intercuts his narrative with the life stories of a few orphan train successes and failures, as if to emphasize that there's no clear verdict on the CAS and what they did. While the book is organized as a biography of Brace, O'Connor digresses compellingly, drawing readers into accounts of rancher warfare, protestant philosophy and Horatio Alger's pedophilia. With a fast-forward to modern times, he reveals that there's nothing new about the crises in what we now call the foster care system. (Feb.) Forecast: From the typeface to the footnotes, this effort is too scholarly for general interest audiences, although it's bound to be required reading for anyone in the social work field. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

O'Connor joins Marilyn Irvin Holt (The Orphan Trains; CH, Dec'92) and Miriam Langsam (Children West, 1964) in retelling the story of how New England-born Rev. Charles Loring Brace came to New York City, founded the Children's Aid Society (CAS), and between 1853 and 1929 placed out some 150,000 to 250,000 children in Protestant farm homes in the Midwest. O'Connor (Lehman College) expands on Holt's and Langsam's work, providing a fuller portrait of Brace's charitable interests and intellectual pursuits and devoting three insightful chapters to case studies of individual children. His discussion of Loring Brace, Charles's son and successor to the CAS, breaks new ground, but the author's assessment is, ultimately, uneven and presentist. He condemns the elder Brace for his racist and sexist outlooks and for deliberately misrepresenting the CAS's failure to meet its goals. At the same time, O'Connor writes in a hagiographic tone about Brace, which leads him to downplay Brace's anti-Catholicism and his resistance to reform. One difficulty in accepting O'Connor's conclusions is that the book is poorly researched and footnoted, with the result that many statements are unsupported with evidence, and the historical context for understanding Brace and the CAS is often missing or inaccurate. College libraries. E. W. Carp Pacific Lutheran University

Booklist Review

Multitudes of street urchins constantly abused or neglected as they struggle for survival--these are images we associate today with urban centers in Third World nations. Yet in the nineteenth century, such horrors were commonplace in most large American and European cities. In mid-nineteenth-century New York, many of these children wound up in prisons or workhouses. Charles Loring Brace strove mightily to save some of these children by providing them with sustenance and then sending them westward by train to families. O'Connor is an author and former New York public school teacher. In this riveting and often heartbreaking account of Brace's successes and failures, he describes the process of adoption, the assumptions behind this massive effort, and the lessons we have learned, or should have learned. Many of the personal accounts of the children and their ultimate fates are both moving and disturbing. This is a very valuable and informative work that must compel us to ponder how we approach seemingly intractable social ills. --Jay Freeman



Prologue: Working for Human HappinessOn the morning of October 1, 1854, forty-five children sat on the front benches of a meetinghouse in Dowagiac, Michigan. Most were between ten and twelve years old, though at least one was six and a few were young teenagers. During the week the meetinghouse served as a school, but on that day, a Sunday, it was a Presbyterian church, and more than usually crowded, not only because the children had taken so many seats, but because the regular parishioners had been augmented by less devout neighbors curious to see the orphans. For the last couple of weeks notices had been running in the newspapers, and bills had been posted at the general store, the tavern, and the railroad station asking families to take in homeless boys and girls from New York City. The children had arrived on the train from Detroit at three that morning and had huddled together on the station platform until sunup. They had spent the previous night on a steamer crossing Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York, and not a one of them had avoided being soiled by seasickness -- their own or their fellow passengers -- or by the excreta of the animals traveling on the deck above. The night before, they had slept on the floor of an absolutely dark freight car, amid a crowd of German and Irish immigrants heading west from Albany. During their first night out from New York City, on a riverboat traveling up the Hudson, they had slept in proper berths, with blankets and mattresses -- but only because the boats captain, after hearing the tales they told of their lives, had taken pity on them.The childrens days of hard travel were clearly evident in their pallor and the subtle deflation of their features. Their clothes -- which had been new when they left New York -- were stained and ripped and emitted a distinct animal rankness. Their expressions were wary, as if they had been caught doing something wrong and were wondering whether they were going to be punished. In some of the younger children this wariness verged on fear, but most of the older boys and girls had known too much disappointment and loneliness to be afraid of what was about to happen to them, or at least to reveal that fear, even to themselves. Some of them cast glances -- challenging, or ingratiating -- back at the men and women seated behind them; some looked down at their shoes, while others stared straight ahead at the young man beside the altar, whose enthusiasm, accent, and fluid gestures marked him as a city preacher. His name was E. P. Smith, and he was telling the audience about the organization he represented: the Childrens Aid Society, which had been founded only one and a half years earlier by a young minister named Charles Loring Brace.Brace, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, had come to New York in 1848 to study theology and had been horrified both by the hordes of vagrant children -- beggars, bootblacks, flower sellers, and prostitutes -- who crowded the citys streets and by th Excerpted from Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed by Stephen O'Connor All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prologue: Working for Human Happinessp. xiii
Part I Want Testimony: John Brady and Harry Morrisp. 3
1 The Good Fatherp. 5
2 Flood of Humanityp. 32
Part II Doing Testimony: John Jacksonp. 67
3 City Missionaryp. 71
4 Draining the City, Saving the Childrenp. 83
5 Journey to Dowagiacp. 94
6 A Voice Among the Newsboysp. 116
7 Happy Circlep. 148
8 Almost a Miraclep. 177
Part III Redoing Testimony: Lotte Sternp. 205
9 Invisible Childrenp. 209
10 Neglect of the Poorp. 233
11 The Trials of Charley Millerp. 258
12 The Death and Life of Charles Loring Bracep. 284
Conclusion: Legacyp. 310
Notesp. 331
Bibliographyp. 336
Indexp. 350