This year the theme for the Illinois Society Children of the American Revolution will be All Aboard the Orphan Train. We will be learning about the brave boys and girls that travelled on the Orphan Train and how this movement affected the lives of its riders and the rest of American society. The Orphan Train movement began in the 1800’s when immigrants flooded to America in search of a better life. This wave of immigration overwhelmed some of the cities on the East Coast, especially New York City. By 1850, there were an estimated 30,000 homeless, abandoned or orphaned children in New York City alone.
The Children’s Aid Society, the Children’s Village and the New York Foundling Hospital were among several institutions that sought to alleviate the suffering of these children. These institutions gathered groups of children and shipped them along the railways to rural areas, first in the Midwest and eventually across the US and even into Canada. The first “train” took the children to Michigan in 1854 and the last train took them into Texas in 1929.
There were hundreds of Orphan Train stops throughout Illinois along the rail routes. It is estimated that at least 10,000 children were placed in families in Illinois. Advertisements would be circulated announcing the arrival of the train and the need for homes for the children. The children would travel by train to the rural towns where they would be lined up for inspection by prospective parents. Those who were chosen for would begin their new lives and have to leave behind their past and often their siblings. Some were adopted. Others were to be fed, clothed and educated until they reached their majority.
The hope for these children was that they would find loving homes and a chance to not only survive childhood but have the opportunity to flourish. For some children, this was indeed the case. Other orphan train children were not as lucky. Many were overworked and some were abused. Child labor laws began to be passed in the later 1800’s and the foster care system changed to seek to keep families together. The last orphan train left the station in 1929.
I.S.C.A.R. will raise funds to purchase a bronze memorial bench statue that will sit on the grounds of the Amboy Railroad Depot Museum in Amboy, Illinois. It will feature two children each holding a toy and waiting for a new home. It will be mounted on a cement pad and will feature a small presentation plaque and a standing informational plaque with information about the Orphan Train Movement in Illinois.