The Orphan Trains


The Orphan Trains

Placing Out in America

Marilyn Irvin Holt

264 pages


February 1994


$19.95 Add to Cart

Author Bio

Marilyn Irvin Holt, former director of publications at the Kansas State Historical Society; is a freelance editor, writer, and researcher and teaches historical editing at the University of Kansas.


"From 1850 to 1930 America witnessed a unique emigration and resettlement of at least 200,000 children and several thousand adults, primarily from the East Coast to the West. This 'placing out,' an attempt to find homes for the urban poor, was best known by the 'orphan trains' that carried the children. Holt carefully analyzes the system, initially instituted by the New York Children's Aid Society in 1853, tracking its imitators as well as the reasons for its creation and demise. She captures the children's perspective with the judicious use of oral histories, institutional records, and newspaper accounts. This well-written volume sheds new light on the multifaceted experience of children's immigration, changing concepts of welfare, and Western expansion. It is good, scholarly social history."—Library Journal

"Soon there will be no memories of the ‘little companies,’ as they were called, of children setting out with an adult leader for a new life. This little book is kind of a preservation movement, and a contribution to our understanding of how the West was won."—David Shribman, Wall Street Journal

"As a portrait of the time's charitable networks, The Orphan Trains succeeds. . . . [Holt's] work brings to light a meaningful concept: the idea that charity; then and now, is sometimes tinged with greed, indifference, hostility, self-promotion and is an institution that can serve the giver more than the receiver."—David James Rose, Washington Times

"This book should be interesting to anyone interested in the social structure, the social conditions, and the good intentions of the various placing out organizations. The author has done an excellent job of bringing all of these facets of the placing out theory and its process to light."—John L. Niehaus, Villager

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