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The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America (Bison Book) Paperback – February 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A history of the emigration policies instituted between 1850 and 1930 to resettle the urban poor from the East Coast to the West.

Copyright 1994 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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. Freelance writer 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 emigration, changing concepts of welfare, and Western expansion. It is a good, scholarly social history that provides more analytical information than James Manguson and Dorothea Petrie's Orphan Train ( LJ 6/15/78). A solid contribution on a little-known phenomenon, this book is suitable for academic and large public libraries.
- Charles C. Hay III, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Archives, Richmond
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Bison Book
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803272650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803272651
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Millie Frese on April 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
From 1853 to about 1929, more than 200,000 children and several thousand adults were sent west on "orphan trains," leaving crowded urban areas on the East Coast behind. Holt's book focuses on the placing out system--from its creation to its demise--instituted by the Children's Aid Society of New York. Estimates of the number of destitute children living in the streets of New York in 1853 ranged from 10,000 to more than 30,000. Charles Loring Brace, who became secretary of The Children's Aid Society believed there was no better place for vagrant or outcast children than "the farmer's home." Placing out removed destitute children from the streets of New York City, placing them with families in the west. The system was intended to provide Christian homes and families for orphaned or abandoned children while fulfilling the demand for workers on farms in America's heartland. The author also discusses other charitable organizations that imitated Children's Aid Society initiatives. She uses oral histories, institutional records, and newspaper accounts to bring the orphan train era to life in this balanced account, highlighting both the positive and negative aspects of the placing out system. Her discussion of social and economic structures of the 19th century help readers view the topic in context. This is a "must read" for anyone conducting further research in the topic, or readers who are simply interested in this lost chapter of American history.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Donna Aviles on December 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
This, in my opinion, is the best reference book on the Orphan Train Movement of 1854-1929 that is available. As the granddaughter of a rider and author of 2 books on the subject, I am often asked to speak on the topic locally. I have used this book extensively in my research on this period of history. I am especially pleased that the author puts the events of the orphan train movement in context of what was going on in our country during this time allowing the reader to gain a better understanding of how and why this could have happened and why it came to an end after 75 years. Highly recommended!
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Becky Coffield on March 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Orphan Trains, by Marilyn Irvin Holt, is simply excellent. The book is extremely well-written and absolutely riveting. Holt carefully documents her work.

I particularly enjoyed the author's discussion of how child rearing views were changing during this time in American history. It was fascinating to read because it clearly paves the way for why the "placing out" of these children was seen as such an excellent idea. Shipping these children off to other parts of the country seemed completely justifiable when one considers the alternative facing these children. Indeed, the idea of "placing out" isn't so bad considering what happens to so many young children now raised in poverty in the ghettos of this nation.

The United States was not the first country to come up with the idea of placing out. Holt points out that other countries also used this idea for "getting rid" of the impoverished. In this country, however, placing out definitely was a movement that started with well meaning motives. The idea was to salvage these often abandoned, neglected impoverished children and send them to good homes in the West where, coincidentally, their labor was also often needed.

Holt's discussion of this event is just extremely well presented. She is factual and not judgmental. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in societal changes. From this episode in history came the beginnings of social work. It also raises interesting questions about how children are dealt with nowadays where they are often left with birth parents to the extreme detriment of the child. It makes placing out seem rather desirable.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on November 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
The book contains a history of the out placement movement as well as of it's founder Charles Loring Brace and others involved. Holt examines romantic and realistic notions of placing outplacement based on overpopulation of poor children in urban centers like NYC coupled with need for cheap labor in the rural west. She provides the roles of the New York Children's Aid Society and many other charitable institutions. It might be the best book on the sociology of urban life since Dickens. It's certainly the best view of 19th century American urban and rural life of poor children that I've read.

I found the question of indenture status of the children very interesting. The book contains instances of indenture, adoption and more often neither. Legal status seems to have been very nebulous. It was never institutionalized, which may have been a factor in the demise of the outplacement movement.

During the history of the outplacement movement, did the kids get the benefit of good homes or where they exploited as cheap labor? Holt is realistically ambivalent, giving an excellent presentation of all issues from start of the movement in about 1853 to its conclusion in 1929.
There's individual success stories as well as examples of failure and abuse. Her book is applicable to modern sociology in analysis of benefits and why did the movement stop? It examines the increasing government role in poverty mitigation after about 1929.

The sewing machine changed the garment industry in the late 19th century, creating a need for young seamstresses in both urban and rural environments. 1912 saw the first National Children's Bureau and initiation of careers in social work. There is a very interesting analysis of the reasons for the close of the movement in 1929.
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