Train Orphans

 For many of us, trains are a means to get home safe and sound after a long day’s work, however, for history buffs like myself, there is much more than to this locomotive that many of us have grown accustomed to.

Back in the early 1900’s, Charles Loring Brace, a minister and an early social worker, launched an experiment called Operation: Train Movement, this operation aimed to find homes for many of the orphaned children of New York.

Brace, is not only well-known for his efforts in 19th century child rescue but also for founding the New York Children’s Aid Society way back in 1853, in which he promoted the ideal that the best way to help the homeless children, estimated to be at around 30,000 at that time, was to send them aboard trains and let them live out the rest of their lives in the country’s vast rural areas.

 However, according to Christina Baker Klein,  many children were already transported, estimated to be nearly around quarter of a million  with the help of trains in America’s rural areas way before this movement even started, these children, ranging from ages six to 18, all shared a common existence: homelessness and being neglected, they lived out most of their existence in the streets and slums of New York City with very little or no hope for a brighter future; however Brace believed all these could be changed when these children were to be adopted by morally upright families in the rural areas of America. Also, these trains were not only limited to the Southern and Western states of America, some even went as far as Canada and even Mexico but most of these trains in this movement ended up in Florida during the 1900’s, where most of the organizers of the movement relied upon wealthy and influential to local families to take up the children. Many babies were also bound in these trains but were placed in the care of churches and other similar religious organizations

However, because of The Great Fire, many of these children, around 400, who arrived in Jacksonville did not receive much help from the people who resided there. Girls were less valued compared to boys during this time as many believed that girls would find it hard to adjust into society compared to that of boys yet boys were the ones who caused more troubles compared to girls where they spent most of their time on the streets as petty thieves and pick pockets.

But also because of this movement that the Children’s Home Society was created in November of 1902 here in Florida which started out with nothing but a staff of two which then evolved and branched out all across the United States, yet no one knows what’s become of these children who came by trains as no records were kept of these children and where they ended up. Another seemingly dark twist of this tale is about the creator of this movement, Brace, he was seen more of a child stealer rather than a savior of these children as he wanted to move the children of poor Catholics at that time and place these children in the care of Anglo-Protestant families thus stirring the emotions of secular groups and making the Catholic Church build several orphanages at an alarming pace, however, another great thing about this movement was that it spurred the creation of foster care in America.

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