End of an Era

Laws Restricting Placements

Complaints and investigations against the CAS and other organizations led to the creation of laws that restricted the orphan train system in various states. A few of these laws are outlined below.

In 1895, Michigan began requiring institutions to place bonds with local judges for each child they placed in the area.

By 1901, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri had all passed laws prohibiting children with mental deficiencies and some diseases or disabilities from being placing in their states. These laws also required more standards for prospective adoptive homes and families.

In 1901, Nebraska passed a law demanding legal proof of guardianship for any one or any organization attempting to adopt out a child. The law also specified that children had to be legally adopted and could not be placed in a home without legal documentation.

Also in 1901, Kansas mandated that their State Board of Charities had the authority to investigate all organizations placing children within the state. The Board of Charities immediately rules that any homeless children coming into the state must have a certificate of good character and the organization bringing them to the state must also provide the state with a $5,000 bond. However, the Board of Charities did not always enforce these rules, and organizations were only investigated when the Governor requested. Orphan train placements in Kansas continued regardless.

In 1915, the Illinois State Legislature began investigating the orphan train system, and deemed the practice uncharitable and illegal.

The New Field of Sociology and Social Work

Another factor in the gradual end of orphan train movement was the professionalization of sociology and social work. Sociology and social work became officially recognized fields of study in the mid-1890s, and the field rapidly expanded during the first world war. As professional training became more widely available and accepted, the standards of welfare and the theories behind them changed. Social work and welfare became more scientific, more standardized, and less religious. This led to increased regulations that had to be met in order to receive public funding.

Shifting Ideas about Welfare

Another shift that led to the end of the orphan train movement were changing ideas about welfare. Programs providing financial support to families, increased daycare opportunities, and tenement reforms became more popular, and aimed to keep children with their birth families as often as possible. Large orphanages that had housed and instructed hundreds or thousands of children slowly gave way to small, cottage-style housing and specialized schools. These changing ideas grew out of the professionalization of the social work field and out of continued emphasis on the importance of family in Victorian society.

The End

The orphan train movement came to an end when the two largest placing organizations, the CAS and the NYFH, stopped placing children out by train. The end of their programs were affected by complaints, restrictive laws, and new ideas about social work and welfare. The NYFH ended their placing out system in 1927 as they shifted to in-state foster care. The CAS ended their program in 1929 and redirected their energies toward improving existing child-care services within New York City.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Holt, Marilyn Irvin. The Orphan Trains: Placing out in America. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

Trammell, Rebecca S. “Orphan Train Myths and Legal Reality.” The Modern American, vol. 5, issue 2, Fall 2009, pg. 3-13.