The Children’s Aid Society

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The Children’s Aid Society

In 1853, Charles Loring Brace and a group of businessmen formed a new organization to help care for the neglected children of New York City. They called it the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) with Mr. Brace as the first Secretary. This care led to the “free-home-placing-out” of over 200,000 children between 1854 and the early 1930s.  You can find a list of Agents and their biographies here.

 The Program

Children were taken in groups of 10 to 40 under the supervision of at least one “western” agent and traveled on trains to selected stops along the way where they were taken by families in that area. Today, many consider the Orphan Train Movement as the precursor to modern foster care.

Agents would plan a route, send flyers to towns along the way, and arrange for a “screening committee” in towns where the children might get new homes.

The towns where they stopped had to be along a railroad line. The screening committee (mostly men) was often made up of a town doctor, clergyman, newspaper editor, store owner and/or teacher.

The agent asked the committee to select possible parents for the children and approve or disapprove on the day the children arrived. They helped the agent(s) in the placement process.

When a child was placed, a contract was signed between the Children’s Aid Society and the guardians taking the child. A typical contract stated:

Terms on Which Boys are Placed in Homes

Applications must be endorsed by the Local Committee.

Boys under 15 years of age, if not legally, adopted, must be retained as members of
the family and sent to school according to the Educational Laws of the State, until they
are 18 years old. Suitable provision must then be made for their future.

Boys between 15 years of age must be retained as members of the family and sent to
school during the winter months until they are 17 years old, when a mutual
arrangement may be made.

Boys over 16 years of age must be retained as members of the family for one year,
after which a mutual arrangement may be made.

Parties taking boys agree to write to the Society at least once a year, or to have the
boys do so.

Removals of boys proving unsatisfactory can be arranged through the Local
Committee or an Agent of the Society, the party agreeing to retain the boy a
reasonable length of time after notifying the Society of the desired change.


If the child had to be removed from the household for any reason, the Children’s Aid Society did so at their own expense.  It cost the new family nothing.

The first group of children went to Dowagiac, Michigan, in 1854, and the last official train ran to Texas in 1929.

Annual reports of the Children’s Aid Society printed selected letters from the children. Glowing reports of a good life with a caring family often closes with a wistful, “If you should see my brother, please tell him where I am.”

By 1860, 30,500 miles of tracks had been laid and eleven railroads met in Chicago, enabling the Children’s Aid Society to place children throughout the country.  Railroads were the most inexpensive way to move children westward from poverty filled homes, orphanages, poor houses, and off the streets. In the west and mid-west Brace believed, solid, God-fearing homes could be found for the children. Food would be plentiful with pure air to breathe and a good work ethic developed by living on a farm would help them grow into mature responsible adults able to care for themselves.

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