In the mid-1800s, New York and other eastern cities were swarming with homeless street children. Although some were orphans, many others were children of recent European immigrants who were unable to provide for them in a family setting.
In 1853, Reverend Charles Loring Brace founded the first of many orphanages and social agencies to help provide for these children. Noting the need for laborers and the desire for more children in other parts of the country, Brace's Children's Aid Society began a practice of "placing out" these children to families in over forty states. The children, accompanied by agents from the charitable associations, traveled to their new surroundings on what would come to be called the "orphan trains."
This controversial practice continued until 1929, when the last train—with its cargo of homeless children—left New York for Missouri.
This anthology includes several of the orphans' letters, agents' first-hand accounts of the "placing out" system, ads for finding homes for the children, a transcription of the indenture papers of one child, many photos by social photographer Jacob A. Riis, and more.
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