Experiences of Orphan Train Riders

Expand/Collapse Experiences of Orphan Train Riders


Between 1854 and 1929, nearly a quarter of a million children from the East Coast of the United States were resettled under what came to be known as the Orphan Train Movement. This collection of video segments from the West by Orphan Train documentary explores the origins of the movement and the experiences of the young riders through archival photographs, historical re-enactments, expert interviews and first-person accounts from Orphan Train riders.

  • The Orphan Train Movement | West by Orphan Train

    Between 1854 and 1929, nearly a quarter of a million children from the East Coast of the United States were resettled under what came to be known as the Orphan Train Movement. This collection of video segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary explores the origins of the movement and the experiences of the young riders through archival photographs, historical re-enactments, expert interviews and first-person accounts from Orphan Train riders.

    Grades: 4-12
  • The Orphan Train Movement in the Mid-1800s to Early 1900s | West by Orphan Train

    Between 1854 and 1929, nearly a quarter of a million orphaned children were resettled under what came to be known as the Orphan Train Movement. The goal of the movement was to get homeless and destitute children off the streets of New York and resettle them with families in the rural Midwest. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs and historical re-enactments.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Orphan Trains Bring Children to Midwestern Communities | West by Orphan Train

    A majority of the children who were resettled during the Orphan Train movement went to the Midwest. Some children were placed in homes on the Eastern Seaboard and others in the South and West. It is estimated that between six and ten thousand children were settled in Iowa, with many Midwestern states taking similar amounts. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photography, historical re-enactments, and an interview with Amanda Wahlmeier, former Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Poverty and Homelessness Lead to the Orphan Train Movement | West by Orphan Train

    Many of the immigrants coming to New York in the mid-1800s were poor and could not adequately care for their families. Many children ended up on the street with no home. In 1849, New York’s chief of police decided to bring attention to the street children as the city simply did not have the infrastructure and services to deal with thousands of homeless children. This resulted in children being placed in orphanages and some eventually becoming Orphan Train riders. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs and an interview with Renée Wendinger, historian, author and daughter of an Orphan Train rider.

    Grades: 4-12
  • The Origins of the Orphan Train Movement & the Children’s Aid Society | West by Orphan Train

    Charles Loring Brace decided early in his life that he wanted to work with the homeless children of New York. He witnessed firsthand the poverty impacting children in New York and knew he had to take action. In 1853 he founded the Children’s Aid Society and the first Orphan Train left New York in 1854 with a goal of placing children in homes. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs and interviews with Amanda Wahlmeier, former Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex; and Renée Wendinger, historian, author and daughter of an Orphan Train rider.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Mercy Trains Transport Orphaned Infants in the Late 1800s to Early 1900s | West by Orphan Train

    In 1869 a group of Roman Catholic nuns established the New York Foundling Hospital to help care for and place homeless infants. Following the example of the already established Children’s Aid Society, trains were used to transport children to new homes. These became known as Mercy Trains. People who wanted a child could request specific attributes of the children they wanted to adopt. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs and interviews with Amanda Wahlmeier, former Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex; and Renée Wendinger, historian, author and daughter of an Orphan Train rider.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Splitting up Siblings on the Orphan Trains | West by Orphan Train

    Since many families did not want to take more than one child, some brothers and sisters riding on the Orphan Trains during the late 1800s and early 1900s had to be separated. When this happened, the organizations placing the children tried to keep siblings in the same area. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs, historical re-enactments, a first-person account from Orphan Train rider Stanley Cornell, and an interview with Amanda Wahlmeier, former Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex.

    Grades: 4-12
  • An Orphan Train Rider Tells His Story | West by Orphan Train

    In this segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary, Orphan Train rider Stanley Cornell recounts the story of he and his brother’s experiences living in an orphanage and their eventual trip on an Orphan Train in the early 1900s. After being placed in six different homes, they were placed with a family in Texas who raised them.

    Grades: 4-7,9-12
  • An Orphan Train Rider Finds a Home | West by Orphan Train

    In this segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary, Mercy Train rider Bernadette Schaefer recalls her happy childhood after she was placed on a farm in Nebraska as a young child. Bernadette, was three months old when her then nineteen-year-old mother placed her at the New York Foundling Hospital. Eventually she was surrendered by her mother, allowing the Sisters of Charity to arrange for her travel to her new home on what was known as a Mercy Train.

    Grades: 4-12
  • The Legacies of the Orphan Train Riders | West by Orphan Train

    By the 1870s the Orphan trains of the Children’s Aid Society were rolling into towns in more than 30 states. An average of over three thousand children a year were taken out of orphanages and placed with families. It is estimated that there are now over two million descendants of Orphan Train riders. This segment from the West by Orphan Train documentary includes archival photographs and an interview with Amanda Wahlmeier, former Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex.

    Grades: 4-12

Brand: Iowa Public Television
Contributor: Iowa Public Television