Learn more about the ‘Orphan Train Movement’ during a Friday presentation

February 26, 2019

“Orphan Train Movement” is not a phrase heard often, especially in the West. But there was a time in U.S. history when it most certainly was very active and affected the welfare of hundreds of thousands of children.

Learn more about this forerunner of the foster care system when Lori Vicker speaks Friday at the Mohave County Library in Lake Havasu City at 1:30 p.m. The presentation is free to attend. The event will be of particular interest to descendants whose family members were part of the Orphan Train Movement from 1854 to 1929.

Vicker, a retired teacher and adjunct professor, has been lecturing about the subject since 2009. While there are no known living survivors of the Orphan Train Movement, Vicker said she’s met many of their relatives.

“There are lots of descendants who are really curious about how their relatives came to be abandoned as children and how the Orphan Trains worked,” Vicker said.

From the mid-1850s to 1929, an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children were placed throughout the U.S. during the Orphan Train Movement. When the movement began, an estimated 30,000 abandoned children lived on the streets of New York City.

The mass relocation effort was a supervised program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern seaboard cities to foster homes in rural areas of the Midwest. The children were transported to their new homes on trains which were labeled “orphan trains.” The movement gave the children a fighting chance to grow up.

“Each child who rode the train to their new home was given a suitcase, three sets of clothing and a Bible,” Vicker said.

Once the children were settled in, a relocation agent would visit the child months later to ensure the children were being taken care of properly and provided a good home.

“It really is a mission story,” Vicker said. “Before families took in the children, many of these babies lived at orphanages or the New York Foundling Hospital. Back in those days, having a child out of wedlock was a disgrace. I can’t imagine how hard it was for some of those parents to give up their children.”

She noted that there is a National Orphan Train museum in Concordia, Kansas.