Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Orphan Train

Fiction by Christina Baker Kline.

Orphan Train

I recently read another book that touched on the subject of orphan trains: The Chaperone. This is an interesting subject; it was "a seventy-five year social experiment" that transported street children and orphans from East Coast big cities to Midwest farming towns for adoption.

Basically they would take a group of kids cross-country on a train and offer them to families in farm communities. There would be an advertisement about the arrival of the train and people could come and inspect the kids to decide if they wanted one. The children that no one picked would be put back on the train and shipped to the next town, where they'd be offered up again.

You can see the problems inherent in this system. The kids had both the opportunity of a better life and the chance to be abused or exploited. Babies and older boys went first, to childless couples and those who wanted free labor, respectively. Girls, like the ones fictionalized in both books I read, would have been at greatest risk.

It amazes me that this is true;  more than two hundred thousand children were shipped off like this between 1854 and 1929. I shudder to think of my own kids abandoned to such a fate. But I can also see that these children wouldn't have had much of a chance of survival on the streets of New York City either. The rationale was that it couldn't get any worse, I suppose.

This book melds the story of an orphan girl from that time with a modern girl in foster care, and we can see the both the similarities and differences in the stories. Do we do any better with our orphaned and homeless children nowadays? It's an interesting question.

Definitely worth reading.

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