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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa  Orphan Train Riders

~ Mills County ~

The Leader

Malvern, Iowa
01 May 1980


Not A Popular Idea


This was not a popular idea. Iowa Citizens thought this would bring incipient criminals to their town, although many farmers were interested in adopting orphans to assist them in their work.
New Yorkers, of course, were quite agreeable to have their huge surplus of homeless children sent anywhere. So until Townsend's death in the Spring of 1869, he did receive and care for a number of orphans although this impoverished him and caused constant trouble.

When the idea of bringing eastern orphans to the mid-west first was tried it cost only $10.00 per child to send them here, which included transportation and food en-route. Since costs hadn't advanced much by 1901, that was probably the amount needed then. In New York City most of them had lived in abject and depressing poverty.

There it was not unusual to find children no more than six years old entirely on their own. Boys were found sleeping in boxed or any kind of shelter, or even above the grills where warm air would come up from the heated basements. They might acquire skill at scrounging
for food, or stealing from the carts of vendors along the streets. They would be subject to the criminal element in the streets and many mid-westerners were fearful that some sent here might already be hardened criminals.

When they arrived in Malvern that Spring morning almost 80 years ago, (1901), the orphans were taken to the Methodist church and lined up on the rostrum at the front. Prospective parents were in the church pews and those in charge had them express their choices. The children were introduced to their new 'parents' and the matter was handled quickly and finally.

Mrs. Robinson recalled that almost all of the adoptions worked out, not always without some friction, for the older children had already formed some habits that would have to be modified and their new 'parents' weren't always skilled at child-rearing.

Yet the average results for this strange plan was beneficial. Certainly the orphans from urban New York were far better off here in rural Iowa than they were, or would have been, in their native environment.