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Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed

3.34  ·  Rating Details ·  86 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In mid-nineteenth-century New York, vagrant youth, both orphans and runaways, filled the streets. For years the city had been sweeping these children into prisons or almshouses, but in 1853 the young minister Charles Loring Brace proposed a radical solution to the problem by creating the Children's Aid Society, an organization that fought to provide homeless children with ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 1st 2004 by University Of Chicago Press (first published February 8th 2001)
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(showing 1-29 of 248)
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John Wood
Mar 05, 2014 John Wood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sending orphans on trains and leaving them with total strangers with little vetting or followup sounds horrible judging by modern standards. Charles Loring Brace was considered a visionary by many people as the founder of the CAS (Children's Aid Society). Around 250,000 children were processed between 1854 and 1929. They traveled from New York City to many destinations. I decided to read a book about these trains after going to a presentation, at the library, about orphan trains that delivered t ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Terry rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The first half of this book is the most interesting. While the book is ostensibly specifically about Charles Loring Brace and "orphan trains" it's really a history of how children are viewed and treated, and those who live in poverty, are viewed and treated, from the late 18th century through the early 20th century in America, mostly New York City.

It seems as if O'Connor was urged to make his book longer, because he includes a long digression into the history of missionaries in Alaska as well a
May 09, 2012 Jodi rated it liked it
This book alternated between so sloooow and really interesting. Which is why it took so long for me to read it! I also found O'Connor's ambivalence somewhat amusing. He never really could decide whether he admired Charles Brace or found him stupid and naive. I came away admiring Brace. He may have had many missteps along the way, but at least he did SOMETHING. It annoys me when people attack someone for their actions when they themselves do nothing to help society. I also came away admiring my s ...more
Jan 01, 2014 Jennifer rated it liked it
This book covers a fascinating subject, the origins of the 19th Century child-welfare movement, as enacted through orphan train "emigration" of impoverished children, out of the slums of New York to live with families in Midwestern and Western states - often as quasi-indentured servants. It also treats extensively the life of the man who founded the movement, Charles Loring Brace. Unfortunately, the author takes what starts out as an interesting read about a relatively obscure 19th century figur ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Gayle rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Stephen O'Connor's book "Orphan Trains - The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed" is a very detailed account of the earliest child welfare programs in the U.S. Charles Loring Brace was at the heart of the movement to improve the lives of the orphaned and abandoned children of N.Y. He founded the very well-known Children's Aid Society and was among the first to send out "orphan trains" to the West (Michigan, Texas, Minnesota). The CAS placed approximately 105,000 ch ...more
Nov 14, 2011 Robert rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Orphan Trains tells three stories: 1) the story of the "orphans" (not all were actually orphans) shipped from New York to the western United States as foster children; 2) a biography of the founder of the organization that rounded the orphans up and put them on the trains; and 3) the place of the orphan trains in the history of child welfare in the United States. The chapters telling the stories of the specific orphans were compelling and were the most interesting parts of the book. The least in ...more
Feb 26, 2009 Mary rated it liked it
This was a very interesting look into the beginnings of what later became the foster system. It was a different time and it's hard not to judge it from our current worldview. However I think Charles Brace really cared and started a revolutionary process to help kids and save them from the prisons. When you realize the orphans on the street, if caught, would end up in prisons along with adults his system seems much more humane.
Initially people thought kids from bad backgrounds were inherently ba
Writer's Relief
Dec 19, 2013 Writer's Relief rated it really liked it
In the first half of the 19th century, immigrants flooded our eastern shores. The population of New York City went from 33,000 in 1790 to more than 500,000; by 1890 it was close to 1.5 million. And it was estimated that more than 3,000 homeless children were wandering the streets. In an effort to correct this situation and clean up the most wretched areas like Five Points, the city created the Children’s Aid Society. This historic novel relates how one man, Charles Loring Brace, helped create an ...more
Terrie K.
This is one of the most difficult books I have read all year.It accounts for one man Charles Loring Brace starting the Children's Aid Society in New York in the mid 19th century. The book is so full of details, leaving nothing to the imagination, that I felt bogged down very early. I learned a lot about the Orphan Trains and the lives of children during that era. I recommend this book. But be ready to put in the time when the narrative starts to drag.
Sep 03, 2014 Trailhoundz rated it liked it
This book is a very comprehensive biography of Charles Loring Brace, who founded the Children's Aid Society and began sending NYC orphans out west to be re-homed. It was a rather tedious read and I wish it would have focused more on his interaction with the children he sent out west. There was a nice photo insert included.
Roger Rohweder
May 30, 2014 Roger Rohweder rated it liked it
My grandfather was shipped west on an Orphan Train, and I wanted to get a non-fiction understanding of what that the whole thing was about. Reading it certainly inspires one to try to help today's children who are in similar situations.

With the understanding gained by reading this, I will probably read one of the books that focuses on one or a few of the "orphans" (read O'Connor's book to understand the quotes) next.
Jun 20, 2015 Christine rated it liked it
At times this book lapsed into pretty dry detail but a thoroughly researched and analyzed account. the conclusion is well worth reading for anyone working with at risk kids.
Sep 11, 2016 Heidi rated it it was ok
Interesting orphan stories but bogs down with details of child welfare of the time and with the bio of CL Brace.
Mary Ellen
Sep 28, 2013 Mary Ellen rated it it was ok
Shelves: biographies
Well researched, but hamstrung by the author’s inability to overcome his own bias. Most students will recognize this type of analysis, where the conclusion is written first, and then historical detail is molded to fit around it. Largely because most students have written this exact kind of analysis at three in the morning on the day the paper is due. Myself included. It may be enough to get you a passing grade, but not much more than that. And this book doesn’t get much more than that either. C- ...more
Mar 03, 2010 Nathan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
You'd think a story about orphans and foster care reform would have been more compelling. From the outset, O'Connor remains awkwardly detached from his subject, preferring instead to bombard us with statistics and dry social reportage. The bulk of this book is deadly boring. Then, at its greatest unbearability, just when you can't stand the droning tedium any more, O'Connor launches into an ill-timed plea for reform of the system he has so blunderingly described. The point is well-taken, but so, ...more
Jul 30, 2007 Josette rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Interested in History
The book was very interesting and I learned a great deal about the Children's Aid Society and how it help some children but also neglected their individual needs at the same time. Charles Loring Brace paved the way for new systems of helping children and eventually their families in times of need. However, there is still much work that is needed to improve the child welfare systems and help improve the lives of children who suffer at the hands of their abusers. This task however, is not one that ...more
Aug 11, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it
This is a non-fictional account of the work of Charles Loring Brace and the development of the the Children's Aid Society in NYC during the mid-nineteenth century. Included are some firsthand accounts of orphans who rode the trains. Orphan train history is a significant slice of American history, a multi-layered series of events that is chronicled from 1854 to 1929 and impacting the lives of some 250,000 destitute children. This work by Stephen O'Connor is particularly insightful and readable.
Thorn MotherIssues
Aug 03, 2009 Thorn MotherIssues rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2009
Excellent history of the Children's Aid Society and the evolution of (and rationale for) the orphan trains. I was particularly interested, though, in the last chapter where O'Connor analyzes strengths and weaknesses in current foster care theory and practice, putting them in the historic context of previous American child protective practices. A lot of history, a lot of insight. I very much enjoyed it.
Aug 10, 2015 Don rated it it was ok
A long arduous read. I probably would never had read this book had I not needed to do some research on Charles Loring Brace.
Jan 28, 2010 Stephanie rated it liked it
Historical account of the Chidlren's Aid Society Orphan trains and their founder Charles Loring Brace. The disucssions on attitudes about children in the Victoria era and the impact CAS had on modern child social work were interesting.
Feb 13, 2009 Kristiina rated it really liked it
It took me a while to finish because it had so much information. It was a very informative and interesting read. I learned things that I had never thought of before!
Maureen Flatley
Sep 03, 2011 Maureen Flatley rated it it was amazing
More child welfare history and the roots of adoption practice in America.
Jun 11, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good biography that also explores shortcomings of modern foster care systems.
Apr 14, 2008 Sue marked it as to-read
Published by the University of Chicago Press, where I work :-)
Kristina Gibson
Jun 14, 2011 Kristina Gibson rated it really liked it
Engaging social history. Well researched and well written.
Jul 24, 2010 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub-book
picked by krista
discussion at Mongolian BBQ
Jun 10, 2015 Melissa rated it liked it
Quincy marked it as to-read
Sep 24, 2016
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STEPHEN OCONNOR is the author of two collections of short fiction, Rescue and Here Comes Another Lesson, and of two works of nonfiction, Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, a memoir, and Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, narrative history.

His fiction and poetry have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, TriQuarterly, Threepenny Review, Poetry Mag
More about Stephen O'Connor...

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