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Aired November 27, 1995

The Orphan Trains

Film Description

"I had the whole future ahead of me, and I didn't know what to expect."— Elliot Bobo

Eighty years ago, Elliot Bobo was taken from his alcoholic father's home, given a small cardboard suitcase, and put on board an "orphan train" bound for Arkansas. Bobo never saw his father again. He was one of tens of thousands of neglected and orphaned children who over a 75-year period were uprooted from the city and sent by train to farming communities to start new lives with new families. Elliot Bobo's remarkable story is part ofThe Orphan Trains.

 The story of this ambitious and finally controversial effort to rescue poor and homeless children begins in the 1850s, when thousands of children roamed the streets of New York in search of money, food and shelter--prey to disease and crime. Many sold matches, rags, or newspapers to survive. For protection against street violence, they banded together and formed gangs. Police, faced with a growing problem, were known to arrest vagrant children--some as young as five--locking them up with adult criminals.

In 1853, a young minister, Charles Loring Brace, became obsessed by the plight of these children, who because of their wanderings, were known as "street Arabs." A member of a prominent Connecticut family, Brace had come to New York to complete his seminary training. Horrified by the conditions he saw on the street, Brace was persuaded there was only one way to help these "children of unhappy fortune."

"The great duty," he wrote, "is to get utterly out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country."

In 1853, Brace founded the Children's Aid Society to arrange the trips, raise the money, and obtain the legal permissions needed for relocation. Between 1854 and 1929, more than 100,000 children were sent, via orphan trains, to new homes in rural America. Recognizing the need for labor in the expanding farm country, Brace believed that farmers would welcome homeless children, take them into their homes and treat them as their own. His program would turn out to be a forerunner of modern foster care.

Elliot Bobo was eight years old when he was put on a train. His mother had died when he was two. "Far as I know, my father hit the bottle pretty heavy, and they took us away from him." The Children's Aid Society gave him the small suitcase he still has. "I had all my possessions in there, which wasn't much. No shoes, just a change of clothes."

He did not know--no one knew--where he or the other children would wind up.

Placement into new families was casual at best. Handbills heralded the distribution of cargoes of needy children. As the trains pulled into towns, the youngsters were cleaned up and paraded on makeshift stages before crowds of prospective parents. Elliot Bobo remembers the ordeal:

A farmer came up to me and felt my muscles. And he says, "Oh, you'd make a good hand on the farm." And I say. "You smell bad. You haven't had a bath, probably, in a year." And he took me by the arm and was gonna lead me off the stage, and I bit him. And that didn't work. So I kicked him. Everybody in the audience thought I was incorrigible. They didn't want me because I was out of control. I was crying in the chair by myself.

Elliot Bobo eventually found a warm and loving home. The Children's Aid Society liked to point with pride to other success stories, like those of street boys Andrew Burke and John Brady who grew up to become governors of North Dakota and of Alaska, respectively. But the record of placements was mixed. Some of the farmers saw the children as nothing more than a source of cheap labor. Hazelle Latimer, an orphan train rider featured in the film, remembers a farmer with "old dirty hands" examining her teeth. There was also evidence of abuse by foster parents. Many of the older boys simply ran away; some children were rejected by their new parents.

As The Orphan Trains so poignantly reveals, even those for whom the journey ultimately was a triumph found the transition from one life to another almost always painful and confusing. "I would give a hundred worlds like this," wrote one child from her new comfortable home, "if you could see my mother," Brace himself grappled with the dilemma: "When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go."


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Archival Photos Courtesy of:
The Children's Aid Society
Sotheby's, Inc.

Archival Film:
The Image Bank
National Archives
Petrified Films/The Image Bank
Streamline Images

Archival Photos:
Children's Home Society of Minnesota
Culver Pictures
Jefferson County, New York, Historical Society
Minnesota Historical Society
Museum of the City of New York
The New York Historical Society
Nebraska State Historical Society
Mary Neighbors
Ohio Historical Society
Lynn and Harold Ornes
Kirk Pearce
Eunice Reeser
Theresa Schexnyder
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities

Special Thanks to:
The Children's Aid Society
Philip Coltoff
Truda C. Jewett
Victor Remer
Marsha Kaplan
Orphan Train Heritage Society of America
Mary Ellen Johnson

Thanks to:
Thomas Bender
Julia Hammer
Lynda Hansen
Douglas Martin
George Measson
New York Foundling Hospital
Arthur Smith
Strasburg Rail Road
The Sackrider Family
Fiscal Agents
New York Foundation for the Arts
Historical Society of Michigan

Funding for this program was provided in part by:
Michigan Humanities Council
New York Council for the Humanities
Texas Committee for the Humanities
Woodstock Chimes Fund

This film is dedicated to the memory of Ethel Lambert

A production of Edward Gray Films, Inc.

Copyright © 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray. All rights reserved.


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THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of WGBH/Boston.

Major funding for this series is provided by the
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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ANNOUNCER: Tonight on The American Experience-- some were orphans, some lived on the streets, others were merely poor. All would be sent far away.

CLARETTA MILLER, Sent West, Age 9: She said, "Very early you will rise and board a train to go to find a new home."

ANNOUNCER: One hundred and fifty thousand children, an unforgettable journey-- "The Orphan Trains" tonight on The American Experience.

DAVID McCULLOUGH, Host: Good evening and welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough.

One sure measure of the heart and soul of any society is how it treats its children. Tonight you are about to see an extraordinary film on the subject, "The Orphan Trains," and behind the film is a remarkable story.

A few years back, two film producers, Janet Graham and Edward Gray, were taken down into the dim basement of an old building on East Twenty-Second Street in New York. It was the headquarters of the Children's Aid Society, the private charity which, in times past, for seventy-five years sent more than one hundred thousand orphaned or unwanted children from the streets of New York to new homes across rural America.

Presiding over the basement was a tiny, elderly woman named Ethel Lambert. I'd like to show you her photograph, but she hated to have her picture taken. She was a retired employee who for years had been working voluntarily to save stacks of old papers and records that she felt certain had historic value.

By studying the building's architecture, she'd found a hidden closet behind old filing cabinets and there she discovered a lost treasure, the one hundred and forty-year-old diaries of Charles Loring Brace, founder of the orphan trains. There were scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and, most important of all to her, hundreds of letters from the children themselves, all organized year by year.

Her dream was to create an archive so that future generations might read what happened in the words of the children, many of whom wrote of their fear that they'd be forgotten. Ethel Lambert was herself the mother of two children whom she had raised as a single parent.

Fortunately, there are Ethel Lamberts everywhere, in all parts of the country, people who stubbornly refused to let the past be treated like rubbish. Were it not for this Ethel Lambert, who died before our film was completed, tonight's story would never have been told. For this reason, Janet Graham and Edward Gray have dedicated the film to her.

READER[Susan Galbraith] "I am fourteen years old. Father died three years ago and Mother died a year ago. I became a singing girl. I went on board the boats and sung. I am tired of singing. I would like to live with somebody."

NARRATOR: In 1853, a plan to rescue thousands of New York street children was announced by a new charity, the Children's Aid Society. It would send the children to live with families in rural America. By 1929, the Society had relocated over one hundred thousand orphaned, abandoned or neglected children.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO, Sent West, Age 8: Far as I know, my father hit the bottle pretty heavy and they took us away from him. And my mother died when I was two years old.

HAZELLE LATIMER, Sent West, Age 11: My mother and I were very close because I was all she had and she was all I had. On January 7th of 1918, my mother came to the school and she had a suitcase. She was going to go and have tests taken care of, see why she was having these awful headaches. And that was the last I saw of her.

ALICE AYLER, Sent to Kansas: My mother bore five children and she accepted responsibility for none. She just simply brought we children-- us children into the world and then let the rest of the world take care of us.

CLARETTA MILLER, Sent West, Age 9: We were hungry. I don't ever recall taking a bath in a tub of water. We slept on old, dirty mattresses on the floor and the rats ran over our heads and through our hair lots of nights and we'd wake up screaming with it. We don't know where our parents were. We never did know.

NARRATOR: The trains that carried the children out of the city became known as "orphan trains."

CLARETTA MILLER: I knew that this was going to be my home from then on, but it seemed like it just kind of hit me when I got here that I had left everything behind, which I had. I didn't have my sister anymore. I didn't have my parents anymore. I didn't have any friends. They were total strangers. It just caught up with me all at once. But she was with me, Mrs. Carmen. She never left me for a minute. And she helped me get into bed and that's when I began to cry was when-- the emotion hit me, I think, when I went to get into bed. I still felt all alone and yet I knew there was someone around me, but they were strangers. I didn't know them from Adam.

HAZEN ARMSTRONG, Foster Father, Texas: They had to find homes for those children up there in New York and that was their way of doing it. And you couldn't do that now. People were different then. The whole-- the world was different and they acted different and lived different. And they-- they couldn't do a thing like that now.

NARRATOR: This ambitious relocation effort began back in the eighteen fifties in New York City, a time when ten thousand homeless children prowled the streets in search of money, food, shelter. A thousand immigrants a day had been flooding into the city from rural America, from Europe. Work was scarce. Families crowded into shacks and tenements, were easy prey to cholera, tuberculosis and alcohol.

The plight of these impoverished children became the obsession of a young minister, Charles Loring Brace. A member of a prominent Connecticut family, Brace had moved to New York City to complete his seminary training. He was horrified by the conditions he saw on the streets. As he wandered through the city, he talked with children, recording their stories in his diary.

CHARLES LORING BRACE IV: [reading great-grandfather's diary] "May 19th, 1854. At dusk, I found a girl in the Sixth Street begging. Gave her a loaf of bread and followed her home. This little girl, nine years old, without a bonnet, barefooted and thinly clad, is sent out every day to beg for money.

"In the evening, at twelve o'clock, went down to the coffee cellars where the newsboys congregate. They were not more than ten or twelve years old, yet they had all the manners of old roués, drinking their coffee, smoking and talking of gambling.

"Visited the Eleventh Ward in the afternoon. Five thousand children throng the streets at all times. The younger girls sweep the crosswalks. The older girls prostitute themselves."

NARRATOR: Because of their wanderings, the children became known as "street Arabs." Some joined violent gangs. Others survived by selling matches, newspapers or pieces of old rags. "Their numbers are almost incredible," said the chief of police. "They are destined for a life of misery, shame and crime."

CHARLES LORING BRACE IV: [reading orphan's diary] "When Mother was dying, she warned me against going to live with strangers. I became a singing girl. People said I had a good voice. I used to sing, in the beginning, to keep away those sad thoughts. But soon I made use of my voice for a living."

READER: [Susan Galbraith] "I go on board the boats and sing and I gather as much money as I can. I have no other way of getting along. Sometimes I make very little by it, sometimes nothing. All the night, I was out in the street and no one spoke to me or asked me who I was."

NARRATOR: The police began arresting vagrant children, some as young as five, and locking them up with adult criminals. Reformers urged that children be sent to more modern institutions called "houses of refuge" and "orphan asylums" where they could be trained. In an era when most children were expected to work, Brace argued against the asylums, said the skills they taught had little practical use.

READER: [Charles Loring Brace] "The best of all asylums for the outcast child is the farmer's home. The great duty is to get these children of unhappy fortune utterly out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country."

NARRATOR: Brace knew that the greatest need for labor was in the expanding farm country to the west, where there was a long tradition of employing children as apprentices and hired hands. He believed that America's Christian farmers would welcome the homeless children, not only give them work, but treat them as new sons and new daughters. He imagined sending tens of thousands to the country.

In 1853, Brace founded the Children's Aid Society to arrange the trips, raise the money, obtain the legal permissions needed for relocation. To recruit likely children, Brace and his staff of volunteers visited orphanages and reformatories and the homes of impoverished parents.

READER: [Charles Loring Brace] "Found one room not more than twelve foot by ten with two women and five children. The boy, Peter Casey, would like to go to the country, but the mother said she would rather die than part with him. In general, the mothers do not like to part with their children, even to get them in much better situations."

NARRATOR: But desperate parents often saw little hope. Many surrendered custody of their children in hopes of ensuring their survival.

READER: [Mary Ann Moxley] "This is to certify that I am the mother and only legal guardian of Hattie Moxley. I hereby freely and of my own will agree for the Children's Aid Society to provide a home until she is of age. I hereby promise not to interfere in any arrangements they may make."

NARRATOR: To the children, surrender often meant an inexplicable break with their families.

HAZELLE LATIMER: I'd just finished eating and this matron came by and tapped us along the head. "You're going to Texas. You're going to Texas." Well, some of the kids, you know, clapped and laughed. When she came to me, I looked up. I said, "I can't go. I'm not an orphan. My mother's still living. She's in a hospital right here in New York." "You're going to Texas." No use arguing.

CLARETTA MILLER: We all had a certain place that we had to sit, at a certain table, and we knew our place. We just ate our supper thinking the next day would be just another day, but the superintendent said, "I have something to tell you." She said, "You're going to take your baths and you will be issued all new clothing and tomorrow morning very early, you will rise and board a train to go to find a new home."

LEE NAILLING, Sent West Age 8: I don't know what to think sometimes. Some of my brothers tell me that my biological father was no good and he might have not been, but by the same token, if he was at the train, he was crying when we were taken from him. The man had to lay down at night and wonder where all his children were and everything. And regardless of the kind of man he was, he had to have a certain amount of love for his family or he wouldn't have been at the station at all, and crying when we were taken from him. I'm sure that it was circumstances that he couldn't help.

NARRATOR: Three times a month agents of the Society assembled the children into groups ranging from six to one hundred and fifty. The groups were booked at a discount on regular passenger trains.

READER: [Children's Aid Society Agent] "The trips were planned so as to arrive on Friday, usually leaving New York Tuesday noon. We filled one end of the car or, if the party was large enough, a coach was put on for us."

LEE NAILLING: I do remember the children milling around outside the train, waiting to be assigned our seats. The big problem was that you never knew what the future held for you. You had no idea what the future ever held for you and that was a great concern and a great worry.

NARRATOR: The journey usually lasted for three or four days. The children never left the train. They slept in their seats.

HAZELLE LATIMER: I didn't cry. I guess I was too angry to cry. We were going too far too fast.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: I've kept this suitcase as a souvenir all these years. Each one of us had one. And I don't suppose it was very expensive, not over a couple of bucks, but-- we had the handle here we could carry it by. I had all my possessions in there, which wasn't much, just clothes-- no shoes, just a change of clothes. I had the whole future ahead of me and I didn't know what to expect, but I didn't want to stay in the orphanage.

NARRATOR: On the journey west, the agents tried to comfort the children. They gave each child a hand Bible and spoke of the good homes that awaited. Sometimes the agents sang to the children.

READER: [singing] From the city's gloom to the country's bloom / Where the fragrant breezes sigh / From the city's blight to the greenwood bright / Like the birds of summer fly / O children, dear children / Young, happy, pure--

LEE NAILLING: I can't remember exactly what he told me, but my biological father gave me a pink envelope with his address on it and asked me to be sure to let him know when we got to our destination. I took the envelope that my father had given me and put it in my inside coat pocket, trying to be very protective of it. And that night, why, of course, like all kids, we went to sleep. The next morning I woke up and I guess the first thing I thought of was my pink envelope and I reached in my pocket and it was gone. And I was kind of heartbroken, of course. And I asked Leo to get down on the floor and help me look for it and we were looking for it when one of the caretakers came by and asked us what we were doing and told her that we were looking for the envelope. I was afraid to tell her anything else because punishment sometimes was a little severe. And she told me to get up, get in my seat, where I was going I would not need that envelope.

NARRATOR: As the train drew nearer to its destination, the children's clothes were changed, their faces washed. They were prepared for the defining moment of the trip: the distribution.

In local newspapers notices had run in advance, encouraging people to come see the homeless children on the stage of a meeting hall. As the children waited to be displayed, they were urged to make a good impression on the audience.

READER[Hastings Hart] "November 7th, 1883. I was a witness of the distribution of forty children in Minnesota. The children arrived at about half past three P.M. and were taken directly from the train to the court house. Mr. Matthews set the children one by one before the crowd and gave a brief account of each. Applicants for the children were then admitted in order behind the railing and rapidly made their selection. If the child gave the assent, the bargain was concluded on the spot. It was a pathetic sight to see those children, tired young people, weary, travel-stained, confused by the excitement, peering into those strange faces. Hastings Hart.

NARRATOR: The distributions continued for seventy-five years until 1929.

CLARETTA MILLER: It was a huge stage and we were all set up there in two rows, a semi-circle. And the people were already down in the audience. They had been notified ahead, the day before, that we would be there.

LORRAINE WILLIAMS, Sent West, Age 4: The big day came and we arrived on a Sunday in Kirksville, Missouri, at the Presbyterian church. We marched down the aisle, thirteen of us, and they would walk past us and you were viewed. And that's a strange feeling. You'd never been looked at in that way before. You'd never seen people looking all around you.

HAZELLE LATIMER: That was an ordeal that no child should go through. They pulled us and pushed us and shoved us. And this old man-- I had never seen anything like anybody chewing tobacco. I knew nothing about it. This old man came up and his mouth was all stained brown and I thought, well, he'd been eating chocolate candy or something. Then he said, "Open your mouth." I looked at him and he-- "I want to see about your teeth." I opened my mouth and he stuck his finger in my mouth and just-- and rubbed over my teeth. And his old dirty hands just-- I wanted to bite, but I didn't.

NARRATOR: The local minister, banker, doctor and other leading citizens were asked by the Children's Aid Society to form a committee to check qualifications of potential foster parents. An agent explained the Society's rules to the crowd. All placements were to be made on a trial basis. Legal adoption was not required. Dissatisfied children could leave. Those who stayed were expected to work as contributing members of the household. The foster parents were asked to house, feed and educate the New York children in the same manner as their own. Brace's system put its faith in the kindness of strangers.

HAZEN ARMSTRONG: Well, I-- I lived on the farm out west and I-- my uncle was a doctor in Denton and I went in to see him that day. And he says, "I was down -- they called me last night -- down at Davis' rooming house. They had a bunch of children down there and one of them was sick." Said, "they've got those children to find homes, give them homes." Said, "If I was you, I'd go down there and get one of those boys. He could be a big help to you as he grew up and you could be a big help to him." And I went down and the lady said, "Now, here they all are." There was eight or ten in that row-- different kinds and different expressions and all different places they had come from, some from Italy, some from other countries. And they was all-- and they just let me pick the one I wanted. This little sharp-eyed boy, I said, "I'll take that one." And they fixed him up and he had a little bundle of clothes and we took him home. And I was nineteen and he was nine, I think.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: I wasn't very comfortable up on that stage because I didn't know where I was going to go. And I was old enough to realize that there could be a lot of mistakes made.

A farmer came up to me and he felt my muscles and he says, "Oh, you'd make a good hand on the farm." And I says, "Well, I'm not going to go home with you." I says, "You smell too bad. You-- you haven't had a bath probably in a year."

And he took me by the arm and was going to lead me off the stage and I bit him. And that didn't work, so I kicked him. And so then everybody in the audience thought I was an incorrigible. They didn't want me because I was out of control.

I was crying there in the chair by myself and a school teacher came up there and she says, "I'd like to take you home with me and play with my boy for a week. And if nobody wants you then, why, then we'll have to send you back to New York."

But this elderly couple in their sixties were contacted by this school teacher. And they had no children, never did have. They had a stillborn about thirty years previous. So he put me on my-- on his lap in this school teacher's home and-- and got acquainted with me. And he said, "If you go home with me, I'll buy you a pony and a bicycle and a puppy."

So I thought that was great so I went home with them and I finally got the best home of the whole bunch. But I always thought that biting and kicking did me a lot of good. Best day of my life!

HAZEN ARMSTRONG: He was a little Italian, still had a little of that Italian talk. Well, he was great. We was in a buggy. Come-- we had to get him our buggy and go eighteen miles to our farm. He enjoyed setting down there, holding those lines. Of course, the horse done most of the driving, anyway.

And we got out on that farm. He'd never been on a farm. He thinks, oh, that's a world to him. He saw chickens and hogs and sheep and everything and somebody gave him a little old pup after a year or two, an Airedale dog. And of course, he thought he was a rich man, having a dog. No children have them in New York. It was interesting to see him-- the city ways he had, and put him in the country.

HAZELLE LATIMER: We got to the house and this nice old lady met me and says, "You look all right." Well, they had already had their supper, so she fixed a plate for me and this big goblet of milk. And I tasted it and I said, "It's sour." She heard it. She could hear that. She said, "It is not. I churned it fresh this morning." Well, I still didn't know what she was talking about. I said, "Well, I don't like it." She said, "You don't have to have it." Anyway, she took the glass away.

And her daughter-in-law was waiting for her husband to come out because the war was over now and her husband was stationed at Langley Field, Virginia, and he would be home soon. So I could sleep with her that night. And that was really a night. She told me just exactly why those people wanted me, that she would be gone and I was growing up and I would be big enough to take care of that house. And that's all they wanted with me, but she wouldn't be there to help me.

And said, "What can I do?" She says, "Go back to the hotel and tell them that this is just not for you." So she drew me a map of where I was, back to the Beckham, and I walked in and I never got such dirty looks in my life as I did when they saw me walk in that door. "Well, what happened to you?" And I said, "They didn't want a child. They wanted a slave."

NARRATOR: The children whom no one selected were escorted back to the train and taken to the next stop on the line.

LEE NAILLING: By that time, there were some twenty, maybe twenty-five children left on the train, along with my brothers and I. And we eventually wound up in a little town down in deep northeast Texas called Clarksville, Texas. And we were lined up again there and examined and everything. And a couple came by and picked up Gerald, who was only two-and-a-half years old. I don't suppose the child had ever been shown any love or anything because when the lady bent over to talk to him and everything, he just almost jumped in her arms and you could see him grab her around the neck. And so they decided to take Gerald. There again, I-- I felt terrible because I knew I was losing a brother right there. And they took Gerald over to the table, did the paperwork and he was just happy as he could be until they started out the door and he suddenly realized that he was losing his brothers. And he turned around and screamed right loud for his "bruvvers." And, of course, that broke my heart again.

HAZELLE LATIMER: The next morning, the door of the room opened up and two men were standing in the doorway and one of them-- I started here and looked up, like that, and I thought I would never quit looking. That was, I thought, the biggest man I ever saw in my life. Probably was. It was my dad, my foster-- would be my foster dad. And he said, "May we come in?" And the matron said, "Oh, yes. Come on. This is Hazel, sitting right here on the floor." Says, "Get up, Hazel, and shake hands." And I got up and he says, "You're going to be my little girl." And I says, "If you ever hit me, I'll never get up." He says, "Dear, I'll never hit you. I'll never hit you. And he never did. He never did.

LEE NAILLING: Children were sent to Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and Texas, forty-seven states in all. They were taken to sod houses and cabins, to large farm houses and shop-keepers' homes in town. From the very beginning, many of these placements made so hastily did not go according to plan.

READER[Mrs. Charles Sabin] "Julia McCann came to us with very erroneous ideas. She expected to be taken care of by rich people."

READER: [John Doren] "I had your son for about three months and he did not suit me, so I gave him up to Mr. Gilson and gave him to a good farmer and the farmer could not keep him."

READER[foster father] "We farmers can hardly imagine how it is that these boys can be so awkward on a farm. I've promised to give them a horse apiece if they will stay and be good boys. I fear that they will run away."

NARRATOR: Children drifted from farm to farm. Some even made their way back to New York. There were stories of children landing in reform school in Michigan; from Indiana, rumors of children on the dole. A southerner named J. H. Mills claimed that "men needing labor, their slaves being set free, take these boys and treat them as slaves."

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: There was one boy. I refused to go home with this farmer, too. He took this other boy, Albert-- maybe I shouldn't name him, but-- and they kept him on the farm, wouldn't send him to school, worked him eighteen hours a day in the field and he just lost his mind. And he died at an early age, less than thirty years of age. And he finally ran away from home, but it was too late. They wouldn't let him go to town and see people, afraid he'd tell them how badly he was treated. And he never saw anybody. Didn't-- once-- I saw him about two times during the whole time he was there, about ten years. I just saw him twice and he was afraid to talk to me. And I couldn't-- I couldn't help him. I didn't know enough to help him. But my dad always thought that he was abused, so he was afraid to talk about it, afraid he'd be abused some more.

NARRATOR: The record books are filled with names and dates, details of departures and arrivals, but say little about the quality of the children's treatment. The extent of abuse is unknown.

The Society's goal was to visit each child once a year, but there were only a handful of agents to monitor thousands of placements. With reports of children drifting through the countryside, Brace consented in 1883 to an independent investigation. It found the local committees were ineffective at screening foster parents. Supervision was lax. Many older boys had run away. But its overall conclusion was positive. The majority of children under fourteen were leading satisfactory lives.

READER[Ann] "Dear Mr. Brace: When I lived in New York, I had no bonnet and now I have more bonnets than I can wear. And I get no whippings and I have a father and mother and brothers and sisters here and they are kinder to me than my own ever were. I think I will never be happier than I am now."

NARRATOR: In New York, the children of a new generation of immigrants were facing deprivation and homelessness. Brace continued to insist that removal from the city was the street children's best hope for deliverance. he used photographs like these, made by his protégé, Jacob Riis, to dramatize their plight.

The Society boasted about the story of two street kids, Andrew Burke and John Brady, who were sent to the same Indiana town on the same day. On arrival, the judge who adopted Brady considered him "the homeliest, toughest, most unpromising boy in the whole lot." He said, "I had a curious desire to see what could be made of such a specimen of humanity." John Brady grew up to be governor of Alaska. His friend, Andrew Burke, grew up to be governor of North Dakota.

But many rural people viewed the orphan train children with suspicion, as incorrigible offspring of drunkards and prostitutes. The children spoke with the accents of Ireland, Germany and Italy. Unlike most Midwesterners, many were Catholic. One official said, "What was good for New York was very bad for the west."

READER: [farmer] "I have known several of these city Arabs being provided with homes and never heard of but one that proved to be honest. I believe it is the blood and not the education that tells."

ALICE AYLER: Bad blood. That's what they used to consider it. We kids from New York were of inferior stock. Bad blood is what's running through those veins and some people have bad blood and others have blue blood. Well, the bad blood is supposed to carry the bad things down from your parents. Through your life, all the bad things are supposed to come through that bad blood and you don't have a chance to do better.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: The first day of school, they took me to the third grade. I could hear whispers among the kids. "There's an orphan and he's going to be in our class. And they say you don't know what his background is." And they-- they kind of dodged me and they-- they said, "Well, he's an orphan. We don't want to have anything to do with him," because they wasn't used to that. They were-- they were farming families and well-- well-knit families, most of them, and they was-- they didn't have that kind of trouble.

TONI WEILER, Sent to Nebraska: You know, I was never invited to birthday parties. I would see other children going to birthday parties and it really hurt. Children didn't want me. They didn't want to play with me. And I remember, possibly in the fourth grade, when this-- I was walking with this girl and this mother came to the screen door and she said, "Haven't I told you I don't want you to walk with her? I don't want you to talk to her. Get away from her." And that's the way it was. And it was very hurtful because sometimes I'd go home and look in the mirror. What was the matter with me? I didn't know. Somehow, those people, the ones I went to school with, knew that I was a bastard.

NARRATOR: The children expressed their hopes, fears and loneliness in letters they wrote to Brace and his colleagues.

READER: [Katie Murphy] "Elkhart, Indiana, May 28th, 1865. Dear Friend: The place where I lived I did not like. They whipped me till I was all black and blue. I told the lady I did not like to stay there, so she told me I might leave. I have a good place now. I hope you will write to me and let me know if you see any of my folks in New York. I would give one hundred worlds like this if I could see my mother. Katie Murphy."

NARRATOR: Annie Williams was sent to live in this house in Battle Creek, Michigan. An Irish orphan, she'd been discovered by one of Brace's agents sleeping in a doorway near the New York docks. Brace visited Annie while on a field trip to the Midwest. She later wrote him this letter.

READER: [Annie Williams] "January 12th, 1862. Dear Mr. Brace: It is rather pleasant today for winter weather. I go to school and enjoy myself first-rate. I would like to teach school when I get a good education. But sometimes I have a great deal of trouble and woe. I build many air castles and before they are entirely constructed, they tumble down in a heap of ruins. I suppose we must take life's journey as it comes. Annie Williams."

LEE NAILLING: You didn't think about the years ahead of time. You're trying to think a day ahead of time and you live in hopes that the good will come, but you doubt it, at the same time.

Anyways, the Naillings took me in and they took me, gave me a room of my own that was almost unbelievable for anyone to have-- a boy that age to have a room of their own. The next morning we went in for a huge breakfast and the breakfast was set in the main dining room, which was an honor. And the prayer was most gratifying and it gave me a new thought on life, that maybe this wasn't so bad, after all, that I'd kind of wait and see how things worked out.

TONI WEILER: You have to have something deep inside of you that will make you want to keep going. When I went to school, they had a game they played. "Send in and send out" was the name of it. And the width of the playing ground-- playground, they would line up and they'd go after people. Well, they had-- they wanted fast runners, so I started running home and running back to school and running, running, running. Wherever I went, I was running. And one day, I finally talked them into, "Please let me play. Just please, just once let me play and go after somebody." That was all it took. I was in sixth grade. After that, they fought over who got me because I could catch anybody there was.

CLARETTA MILLER: Nobody seemed to want to keep me very long. I was shuffled from one home to another for many months until I finally was placed with the Carmens. That's me and that's my calf. I made pets out of all the calves and they just tagged me everywhere. I really had a wonderful time. They were so good to me and-- as far as having a wonderful family, I was one of the lucky. They were always there for me when I needed them. Always.

READER: [Sallie Highland] "Danville, Indiana, June 5th, 1865. You wanted to know if John Reyer is with me. He is with me and always will be. If he were our own son, we could not love him more than we do. We have given him our name. We call him Charlie Highland. He thinks we are his parents and we want him to. I love him so much that it would break my heart to part with him. Mrs. Sallie Highland."

LEE NAILLING: My adoptive mother, Mrs. Nailling, she lived with a horror that I would eventually go back to New York to my biological people. And, of course, after two or three years with them, that was just past thinking because I was happy where I was. And I don't imagine I would have gone back if I'd have had the chance, but even after I was grown, she had that horror.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: I remember my mother hiding a letter one time from the Dr. Hoffman, wanting to know if I was happy and well cared for an all. And she put it up on top of a corner shelf and it stayed up there, I guess, for ten or twelve years.

HAZELLE LATIMER: When I got the letter that my mother had died, I just felt like the door had closed. I just walked out of the house, walked down the road. It was cotton-picking time. Daddy had said I could stay at the house. I did, but I didn't cry. I just felt, "Well, this is the end of something."

And there was always that hope that she would get better and I would get a letter or maybe she would come. Somehow or other, I still had that hope.

TONI WEILER: Nobody can understand the loneliness that an orphan feels. it's a loneliness-- you just don't know who you are. You don't know where you come from. So there-- there's that, with the combination that if only-- if you could just only have known your biological mother, if you just could have seen her.

LORRAINE WILLIAMS: As far as I have been able to research, my biological mother never made an inquiry. You'd have thought maybe there'd have been a little ache in her heart to wonder whatever happened to me. And if I die, should be fortunate to go to heaven, and if I saw her in heaven, I guess I would speak and say-- and extend a hand and say, "My name is Lorraine and you're Marguerite, aren't you." I would not say, "I am your daughter. I would leave that up there to her to put two and two together. And unless she had a comment, I believe I would walk on because the true Mother and Dad who loved me, cared for me in sickness and in health, were the ones that cared so much that they legally adopted me. They loved me and they were my mother and my father and I think they are the only two ones that should be called rightfully Mother and Father.

ALICE AYLER: It hurt awfully bad, being separated from my family. But as I got older and realized, I would have never stood a chance if they had left me in that environment, I would never have gotten to do anything I was capable of. By them picking me up and moving me clear away from it, as bad as it was afterwards, I got a chance to do what I was capable of doing, making something of myself, being a good mother.

HAZEN ARMSTRONG: I think he looked on me as a father -- I feel like he did -- and my wife as a mother. And we went through life together. He just passed away, I think, at seventy-two years old. And I was always and still am glad that I did that one thing, to take that boy and raise him.

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: This is the picture-- this is the knickers and the high-laced boots and the blouse that I wore on the train. And this is the picture-- I first had-- I was eight and a half then. I'd been with the-- with my parents for six months and they dressed me up for the picture. My mother wanted it when I was all dressed up so she could show it to her relatives. She just wanted to show me off! My father couldn't wait till he could buy my first pony. He just went all over the country trying to find a pony for me. He was a very successful merchant. He owned a hardware store. He was president of the bank. And he owned two farms. I never did work on a farm. He never asked me to.

I never had a spanking. Never had a spanking of any kind or correction. My dad would put me on his lap and say, "I want you to be a good boy. And you made some mistakes today and I want you to-- to be a good citizen." And he never did spank me, but I-- it got next to me, you know? He wanted to give me a good start. He-- the kindness is what got next to me. He saved my life. I tried to live the life that Alvin Bobo wanted me to live and I think I have.

NARRATOR: The Orphan Train program was widely imitated. Forty thousand children were sent to Catholic communities by a religious order, the Sisters of Charity, and organizations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago relocated thousands more.

When Charles Loring Brace died in 1890, he was acclaimed as the most influential child saver of the nineteenth century. But in the twentieth century, America's vision of childhood was changing. The emphasis was shifting from the virtues of work to the benefits of play, from children's economic value to their emotional needs. On May 31st, 1929, the Children's Aid Society sent three boys to Sulfur Springs, Texas. It was the last of the orphan trains.

Back when he began, Brace said, "When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him, and yet you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go."