Charles Loring Brace and the Orphan Trains

Children's Aid Society

Rodzina Brodski is one of thousands of orphaned children who were sent West to find homes from 1845 to 1929. She is the heroine of my novel Rodzina. Here’s some of the factual background behind the orphan trains.

RodzinaThis article about the Children’s Aid Society recounts the history of Charles Loring Brace, the man who faced head-on the heavy immigration to the United States after the 1840 famine in Europe. With so many orphaned and abandoned children in New York City, Brace saw the need to establish an organization to get them off the streets. He was the mover behind the orphan trains, seeking to find homes for the children.

“Critical of congregate institutions such as orphanages and almshouses, Brace thought that the rigid discipline of those institutions sapped a child’s self-reliant spirit, and that charity only encouraged children to remain dependent. Alternatively, the Children’s Aid Society opened low-cost lodging houses for boys and girls, set up reading rooms and “fresh air” camps for their benefit, and established industrial schools to prepare them for employment and self-sufficiency.”

The photo above, which shows the CAS training children for office jobs, is one of a number available on Harvard University’s website depicting the Children’s Aid Society in its early years. The organization still exists today. It is considered to be one of the top children’s charities in the country.