He remembers the trip vividly. Smith said. It was December and it was cold. We looked out the windows and saw things we had never seen before -- cows, horses, chickens. When the train arrived in a small Iowa farming town called Clarinda, a large group of farmers gathered at the station to greet the children. According to a local news report, 5-year-old Arthur climbed up onto a man's lap and asked, ''Are you going to be my daddy?
View all New York Times newsletters. At the reunion Thursday night, Mr. Smith traded quips with Fred Swedenburg, 81, who was 6 in when he and his brother Howard Hurd, 78, left New York by train, headed for Nebraska. The two boys had been removed from their Victor, N.
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Hurd's first memories were of the hard wooden seats on the train, which deposited the boys in separate homes, about 20 miles apart in two Nebraska towns, Clarks and Stromsburg. Both men credit the Children's Aid Society with saving their lives. Hurd asked. Between them, they now have 16 children, 41 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Although many of the train riders were orphaned or severely neglected by their parents, the Orphan Train Movement has often been criticized for removing children from homes simply because they were children of poor, mostly immigrant, families, considered ''the dangerous classes'' by turn-of-the-century social reformers.
Although the reformers argued that children would be better served by the fresh air and wholesome hard work of rural America than the city's squalor, the movement's critics charged that the children were often placed on farms where they were treated as slave laborers. The orphan trains did not find a permanent home for William E.
Oser, whose father died of ''paralysis'' when he was 11 months old, he said, and whose mother died of tuberculosis 12 months later. He and his sister Marge were sent by train to Michigan in , but were returned to orphanages in New York two years later after social workers found that they were being abused by their adoptive parents. Nevertheless, trains came to define Mr. Oser's life. After leaving the orphanage, he got a job on the railroad, where he stayed for 42 years. He ultimately become a general supervisor at Grand Central Terminal and retired at The last orphan train left for Texas in The youngest known living train rider, Bill B.
Woodruff, 73, is one of just 22 who joined Thursday's New York reunion, along with about spouses and children.
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They continue to tell their stories, they said, because they believe that this part of America's past has been left out of the history books. He believed that this would be a good opportunity for children in need to be adopted by farmers and land-owners. Brace thought that the children would be welcomed and considered as part of the families.
Soon, everything was set in motion. On October 1, , after a very long trip in terrible conditions, a group of 45 children led by E. The first try had many flaws. Later, he took with him another boy that he met at a railroad station. The boy claimed to be an orphan, but Smith never checked if this were true or not. In Dowagiac, Smith gathered the local folks and presented the children as if they were some kind of product. He told the people that the children were handy to complete all sorts of tasks around the farm and in the house.
Nevertheless, after a week, Smith managed to give away almost all of the children for adoption. Townsend received them in his orphanage and tried to find suitable families for them. Now they were ready to do things on a bigger scale. In September , they started sending children farther across the Midwest. Of course, this kind of undertaking demanded a lot of money. In order to get the funds, Brace wrote many articles in various newspapers and gave speeches in which he explained the importance of his work.
Most of the money came from rich benefactors. By , Augusta Gibbs paid for the trips of 1, orphans. The railroads also helped by giving discounts for the journeys of the children and their caretakers. The term orphan train was avoided because less than half of the children were truly orphans. Many of the children that were sent had two living parents but were taken on the trains because they were mistreated, left on the street, or given away by their parents because of poverty. Some of the older boys and girls got on board just because of the free ticket.
According to these rules, the family was obliged to raise the children as their own.
They needed to give proper food and clothing to the children, and pay for their basic education. Those who were already older than 21 needed to be paid for their work. Although the children were considered as adopted, no legal document specified that. The orphan train program was organized with the best of intentions for the children, but not all went perfectly.
In fact, the system had many flaws, and some children were abused or treated like slaves, or like objects on sale at an auction house. Places for babies were easiest to find. Most people preferred to adopt a baby. But placement for those older than 14 was difficult. People believed that it was too late for those children to change and that they could have a lot of bad habits and bad tempers. Children who were physically or mentally challenged were not quickly adopted. Another issue appeared with siblings. Although they were sent on the trains together, families were given the right to choose only one child and separate them.
In some cases, some families placed orders for specific children, demanding a certain age, gender, eye color, etc. Probably the worst element of the whole program were the exhibitions of children in local playhouses.