Orphan Trains - Stephen O'Connor

Orphan Trains

By Stephen O'Connor

  • Release Date: 2014-11-04
  • Genre: United States


The true story behind Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling novel is revealed in this “engaging and thoughtful history” of the Children’s Aid Society (Los Angeles Times).

A powerful blend of history, biography, and adventure, Orphan Trains fills a grievous gap in the American story. Tracing the evolution of the Children’s Aid Society, this dramatic narrative tells the fascinating tale of one of the most famous—and sometimes infamous—child welfare programs: the orphan trains, which spirited away some two hundred fifty thousand abandoned children into the homes of rural families in the Midwest. In mid-nineteenth-century New York, vagrant children, whether orphans or runaways, filled the streets. The city’s solution for years had been to sweep these children into prisons or almshouses. But a young minister named Charles Loring Brace took a different tack. With the creation of the Children’s Aid Society in 1853, he provided homeless youngsters with shelter, education, and, for many, a new family out west. The family matching process was haphazard, to say the least: at town meetings, farming families took their pick of the orphan train riders. Some children, such as James Brady, who became governor of Alaska, found loving homes, while others, such as Charley Miller, who shot two boys on a train in Wyoming, saw no end to their misery. Complete with extraordinary photographs and deeply moving stories, Orphan Trains gives invaluable insights into a creative genius whose pioneering, if controversial, efforts inform child rescue work today.

“An instructive and fascinating slice of social history . . . O’Connor, a creative-writing teacher, is at heart a storyteller.” —USA Today
“[An] engaging and thoughtful history . . . immensely readable book.” —Los Angeles Times
“A fascinating, important and revealing commentary . . . A meticulous and long-overdue look at a little-known chapter of history.” —New York Daily News

Stephen O’Connor is the author of Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, an account of his years teaching creative writing at an inner-city school in New York. Katha Pollitt called it a “wonderful, heartbreaking, enraging book.” He is also the author of Rescue, a collection of short fiction. An adjunct professor in creative writing at Lehman College, O’Connor also teaches at the New School.