The Orphan Train Movement

An ambitious and controversial social experiment that is now recognized as the beginning of the foster care system in the United States, the Orphan Train Movement placed more than 120,000 orphaned children with families across the country between 1853 and the early 1900s.

Charles Loring Brace conceptualized the “emigration plan” to resettle poor and orphaned children living in New York City with farm families in the West to deter them from a life of crime and poverty. Children were placed on “Orphan Trains” that stopped at more than 45 states across the country, as well as Canada and Mexico.

Although it had its pitfalls, Orphan Trains and other Children's Aid initiatives led to a host of child welfare reforms, including child labor laws, adoption, and the establishment of foster care services.

To learn more about the Orphan Train program, please contact the Children’s Aid archives department: or call 212-949-4847.

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