Orphan Train History

Charles Loring Brace (June 19, 1826 – August 11, 1890)

Charles Loring Brace is considered the father of the foster care movement and the Orphan Train movement of the late 19th century. Brace was raised Calvinist and served as a minister for some years until he reached the age of 26. At that time, he realized that he wanted to fulfill his humanitarian efforts on the frontlines instead of from the pulpit. In 1853, Brace formed the Children’s Aid Society which gave orphaned and abandoned children the chance to enter into a stable family environment where they could then become productive members of society.

The main plan of the Childen’s Aid Society (CAS) was to place these children into homes of loving families, far from the troubles of city slums. As part of Brace’s emigration plan, these children were placed on trains and moved across the country to rural, farm areas where they could be adopted by parents who could not have children of their own, older couples who could no longer have children, and many other family types.

By 1910, the CAS estimated that nearly 87 percent of children placed with rural families were doing well and far better off than they were in the slums and on city streets. Aside from occasional cases of abuse, it was agreed that children were better off in these new environments, receiving proper food, clothing and shelter.

The Orphan Train Movement

and the Orleans County Genealogical Society

Known as the “Greatest American Migration,” orphaned and abandoned children were taken out of New York City via “baby trains”, later called “Orphan Trains” for a 75 year period, c. 1854-1929.  It is believed that as many as 300,000 children were relocated this way.  Our society held an educational reenactment in April 2004 onboard moving locomotives.  500 people attended and due to continued interest in what has become known as America’s First Social Service we continue to present educational programs on this subject.

If you wish to arrange for a speaker or want to learn more about the topic, contact Holly Canham.

Past Orphan Train Reenactments