The Orphan Train Movement: An Historical Analysis

Charles Loring Brace: A Product of His Times

Orphan Train
The Children's Aid Society "placed out" over 150,000 children between 1853 and 1929.
The Program
Treatment of Children
Family Values
Social Darwinism
Romanticism of Rural Life
Role of Religion
Role of Racism
About the Author

Charles Loring Brace was a product of his times. His personal beliefs, values, and prejudices reflected those of the society in which he lived. The policies and practices of the Children's Aid Society, which Brace founded in 1853, were not revolutionary. They were simply an extension of the values held by the majority of people living in nineteenth century society.

The "placing out" of poor people and orphans by physically transporting them from one geographic location to another was not a new concept. It had been practiced throughout history. Ancient Jewish and early Christian cultures routinely practiced placing out. England actively transported children out of the country right up through the twentieth century. Following World War II, the British government shipped two thousand British war orphans to Canada and the United States, and eventually on to Australia in what would later become known as a "shameful chapter in British social history." Placing out had been an accepted practice in many societies before Charles Loring Brace, through his work with the Children's Aid Society, systemized the concept.

Charles Loring Brace was neither a maverick nor a revolutionary. He was a product of his times. His beliefs and prejudices reflected those of the majority of society during the nineteenth century. The policies and practices of the Children's Aid Society were reflective of the society in which they were employed. The relocation of over 150,000 children over the course of seventy five years is an indication of the acceptance of this program by the majority of society. Placing out was viewed as a suitable answer to the problems faced by people living in the nineteenth century.

Following the death of Charles Loring Brace in 1890, his son, Charles Loring Brace, Jr. took control of the CAS. Brace Jr., known as Loring, was also a product of his times. The reforms Loring instituted in the policies and practices of the CAS were reflective of the changes in the views of society during his lifetime. The CAS was transformed from a religious institution into a professional organization run by competent, well-trained professionals. Great care was taken in placing children in foster homes, as society now considered the care and protection of children to be a priority. Progressive era reforms such as new legislation protecting the rights of children and governmental financial assistance to families in crisis reduced the need for placing out services. The last "orphan train" ran in 1929, as the placing out program had become obsolete.

Designed by Regina Talento. Last updated 16 October 2005.

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