The Orphan Train Denounced as a White Slave Trade in Children February 1869

Pat Young

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#1
The New York Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register had been established as a small weekly paper carrying news of the Catholic diocese of New York. By the 1860s it was under private control and allied with Fernando Wood's Mozart Hall political machine. While it continued to focus on issues of interest to Catholic New Yorkers, it also contained much that reflected its Peace Democrat (Copperhead) orientation.

In the 1850s, the New York Children's Aid Society started the Orphan Trains. As an element in the Protestant evangelicization effort in New York City, the society would send children alleged to be orphans on the trains to parts of the Midwest to be adopted at meetings held in towns along the train routes. The Society claimed that the purpose was to alleviate the suffering of the 30,000 orphaned and abandoned children of the city. Since most of the children were Irish Catholic, and since the children were routinely baptized into various Protestant denomination, many Irish New Yorkers saw the Orphan Trains as a part of a larger cultural conflict waged against the immigrants. The fact that the children were often displayed at train stations and Protestant churches to prospective adoptive parents gave the transactions an air of the slave market to its critics. Subsequent research indicates that while some children found good loving homes, others became unpaid labor on farms in the Midwest.

Here is a sharply negative account from a Catholic priest of the day the Orphan Train arrived:

New-York Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register
Saturday, Feb 13, 1869
New York, NY
Page: 1
orphanA.JPG
 

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Pat Young

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#9
Here is a modern article from the Chicago Tribune on the Orphan Trains that includes 20th Century interviews with later survivors of the train station adoptions. As you can see from the 1880s ad the Tribune quotes, the children were described as being having "indentures."

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news...separated-immigrants-0722-20180718-story.html

We know that these forms of unfree labor were heavily criticized when practiced in the South upon black children by whites. Do the same criticisms apply when practiced by Midwestern native born upon the children of immigrants?
 

jgoodguy

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#10
I am not an advocate of orphan trains, but I'd be more impressed if someone compared and contrasted the outcome of the orphan trains with some sort of control against children in slums or orphans not on trains.
 

Pat Young

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#11
I am not an advocate of orphan trains, but I'd be more impressed if someone compared and contrasted the outcome of the orphan trains with some sort of control against children in slums or orphans not on trains.
I am not sure that the priest was in a position to do that.

I am not sure if comparing the orphan train outcomes to children who received no aid is really the appropriate comparison anyway.
 

jgoodguy

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#12
I am not sure that the priest was in a position to do that.

I am not sure if comparing the orphan train outcomes to children who received no aid is really the appropriate comparison anyway.
If the complaint is about mistreatment, then I think a comparison is needed. If the complaint is about indenture, then it seems better than dying in the street and thus more information is needed. Like the original indentures, it was the price to survive.
 

Pat Young

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#13
If the complaint is about mistreatment, then I think a comparison is needed. If the complaint is about indenture, then it seems better than dying in the street and thus more information is needed. Like the original indentures, it was the price to survive.
If the comparison is to dying on the streets, then any form of degradation would be permissible as long as it is just short of death.
 

jgoodguy

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#16
Note that the orphan trains ended just before the era of greater government concern for citizen welfare. Also note these are newspaper articles, love to see some academic research.
 



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