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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa  Orphan Train Riders

~ Dubuque County ~


Orphan Trains


The famous "Orphan Trains" which once brought children to St. Patrick's Parish were a project of the Children's Aid Society, founded in New York by Charles Brace in 1853. He saw little boys sleeping under the Harlem Bridge, in burned-out safes in Wall Street, in old boilers and barges, on steps and in stream gratings. He decided the best thing for these orphan, outcast children of the New York slums would be to send them to midwest farm families.

The "Orphan Trains" ran from 1854 to before the Great Depression in 1929. The first train brought 47 boys for placement in Michigan. At least 100,000 children were eventually placed. Some were placed in abusive situations where parents wanted workers rather than loving children. However, 90% of the children were successfully placed in good homes. Many of the orphans became journalists, judges, lawyers, attorneys, physicians and leading business and professional men and women.

Before the boxcars of children entered a town, the children were bathed and given clean clothes to wear. The were given instructions on how to act on arrival at the train station, town hall, church or wherever people gathered to pick out a child. Sometimes the children sang, danced or just stood and smiled to get the people's attention. At first people thought the children were of the "criminal class" because they heard the children were "slum dwellers". Their attitude soon changed when they saw how very normal the children were.

The farm families were always give adequate notice so that many people would be waiting for the trains to come in. In Neola' St. Patrick's Parish, the children were taken to the convent from the train depot. The following Sunday they were taken to Mass by the Sisters. After Mass, Father M. T. Schiffmacher would line up the children in front of the Communion rail. He would select a child for a family, and the parents were responsible for making the child a welcomed and loved member of the family.

Among the orphans, who became part of the St. Patrick's Parish, in Neola, Iowa were: Evelyn Cavanaugh (later Sister Mary Ritea of Sisters of St. Benedict), Ida Sweeney (Parks), Theodore Dunn, Teddy McGinty, Velma Henley (reared by Young family), Charlie Stephany, Ethel King, and Eugene Raymond. Their loves were a testament to the generosity and good will of St. Patrick's Parish families.

NOTE: This has to be a more recent article because they weren't called 'Orphan Trains' until the 1970's or so.