Evansville State Hospital

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Mental illness. That’s a term that has long scared us, that has terrible stigma attached to it. I delved into this in a January 21, 2019 blog entitled “It’s Bedlam Here!!” There I focused on the history of the St. Mary of Bethlehem mental facility in London, founded in 1247. The corruption of the word “Bethlehem” led to the term “bedlam.” Today’s blog focuses on another mental hospital, this one here in Evansville. To talk about it, we’ll first take a brief (I promise!) look at the history of the treatment of mental illness.

Throughout history there have been three general theories of the etiology of mental illness: supernatural, somatogenic, and psychogenic. Supernatural theories attribute mental illness to possession by evil or demonic spirits, displeasure of gods, eclipses, planetary gravitation, curses, and sin. Somatogenic theories identify disturbances in physical functioning resulting from either illness, genetic inheritance, or brain damage or imbalance. Psychogenic theories focus on traumatic or stressful experiences, maladaptive learned associations and cognitions, or distorted perceptions. Etiological theories of mental illness determine the care and treatment mentally ill individuals receive.” One of the weirdest (in terms of today’s knowledge of anatomy) somatogenic (i.e., physical) explanations was the wandering uterus theory from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. “The uterus could become dislodged and attached to parts of the body like the liver or chest cavity, preventing their proper functioning or producing varied and sometimes painful symptoms.

The Greeks called this condition hysteria, and you can easily see where negative stereotypes of “hysterical women” arose. A particularly chilling example of treating mental illness physically is the prefrontal lobotomy. First performed in 1936, this involved severing the neural connections to the frontal lobe of the brain. As gruesome as this is, there were those that believed in psychosurgery, among them an American physician named Walter Freeman (1895–1972). “Prefrontal lobotomies were both inefficient in terms of resources and of questionable therapeutic value, so Freeman developed a cheaper and more efficient technique: the transorbital lobotomy. An ‘ice pick’ or orbitoclast was inserted above the patient’s eyeball and through the boney orbital ridge to sever connections to and from the prefrontal cortex. A mallet was used to drive the orbitoclast through the thin layer of bone and into the brain, and the procedure was repeated in several directions. The procedure allowed Freeman to perform ‘assembly line’ lobotomies at state mental hospitals, where the resident psychiatrists would identify patients for the procedure and have them ready for when he arrived. On one occasion he lobotomised 228 patients over 12 days for the West Virginia Lobotomy Project.”

Now that you’re screaming and have chills up your spine, it’s time to acknowledge that the treatment of the mentally ill took a long time to become enlightened, what we might call humane. This is certainly not to say that today’s society always deals with mental illness well, but progress has been made. Even in the “bad old days” there were those who argued for compassionate, moral care, but sometimes the system was overwhelmed and care reverted to harsh, strictly custodial treatment. “Moral treatment had to be abandoned in America in the second half of the 19th century, however, when these asylums became overcrowded and custodial in nature and could no longer provide the space nor attention necessary. When retired school teacher Dorothea Dix discovered the negligence that resulted from such conditions, she advocated for the establishment of state hospitals. Between 1840 and1880, she helped establish over 30 mental institutions in the United States and Canada (Viney & Zorich, 1982).”

If you live or drive on the east side of Evansville, you’ve surely seen that large piece of property along Vann Ave., between Lincoln and the Lloyd Expressway. It’s lovely-wooded, with a small lake on Lincoln, and people use it a lot to walk their dogs and/or otherwise enjoy a stroll. There are soccer and baseball fields along the Vann Avenue side. This impressive piece of property houses the Evansville State Hospital. Founded in 1890, the state appropriated funds in 1883, as the Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane, it was built on the former Howard farm property on Newburgh Road, now Lincoln Avenue, purchased for $17,000 and at the time, 3 miles outside of Evansville . Partially to de-stigmatize it, and partly to celebrate its wooded acres, it was dubbed “Woodmere.” More land was added, and Woodmere at one time covered where UE, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Wesselman Park Nature Center, and the land that once held Roberts Stadium, now are. It admitted only 2 patients at its October 30, 1890 opening, but had a peak of an estimated 1500 in 1954.

Postcard of Woodmere, date unknown
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0743

While I have no information about the treatments offered there, in general the State Hospital (as its named was changed in 1927) was custodial in nature, offering a tranquil setting for its patients. It was believed that patients would benefit from the good, hard work, and this hospital was able to offer this in spades. With all that space, it had gardens, a poultry operation, a dairy herd, and orchards—plenty to keep the patients occupied and also to make the hospital self-sufficient. It even had its own power plant.

This 1927 view shows some of the gardens
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0907
Dummy Railroad advertisement. Although this poster is not dated, it’s probably from the early 20th century
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0544

All that land meant that the public could still enjoy the grounds. Apparently there was actually an amusement park built here, and an inexpensive ride on this Evansville Suburban and Newburgh Railway Co. “dummy railroad” transported visitors there. A passenger service of 5 trips a day and freight service was scheduled and 3 Baldwin dummy locomotives powered the passenger and freight runs. To accommodate the passengers, 12 double truck passenger trailers, 8 open and 4 closed, were secured. It’s possible that some of the patients were also able to enjoy the amusement park. In 1943 the X-shaped main building seen below was set ablaze by an employee, resulting in the death of 8 patients. One source claims that once the patients were moved to an interim facility, the employee tried to set fire to that, too, but that fire was quickly extinguished. This source then claims that this employee joined the patients as she was deemed to be mentally ill!

This elevated photograph, from the early 1920s, shows the shape and size of the main facility. NOTE: this picture was sharply cropped to show the building, so you have no sense of all the grounds.
Source: www.therecreationaltrespasser.com

This administration building replaced what the fire destroyed in 1943, although this photograph was taken in May 1997.

Current Evansville State Hospital.
Source: VPS Architecture

But, to quote Bob Dylan, “For the times, they are a-changin.” The 1960s introduction of antipsychotic drugs meant that many patients no longer needed to be institutionalized. The 1960s also produced the concept of mental health care in the community. “In 1963, Congress passed and John F. Kennedy signed the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, which provided federal support and funding for community mental health centers (National Institutes of Health, 2013). This legislation changed how mental health services were delivered in the United States. It started the process of deinstitutionalization, the closing of large asylums, by providing for people to stay in their communities and be treated locally. In 1955, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients institutionalized at public hospitals (Torrey, 1997). By 1994, by percentage of the population, there were 92% fewer hospitalized individuals (Torrey, 1997).” While there are many good community based mental health programs today, this vision and reality never totally merged, and the homeless and incarcerated populations have a large percentage of mentally ill people.

Resources Consulted

Evansville State Hospital. Asylumprojects.org

Evansville State Hospital. IN.gov

Farreras, I. G. “History of mental illness.” in R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers, 2020.

Mental Health. Science Museum: London, England.

“Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present” in Introduction to Psychology. lumenlearning.com

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Evansville State Hospital.” Evansville Courier and Press, March 13, 2017.Woodmere. Therecreationaltresspasser.com (lots of photographs here, if you’d like to see more)

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2021: USI Art Collection, Working Men’s Institute, and Historic New Harmony

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

It is the third week of #ArchivesFest2021. This week, our participating institutions are the USI Art Collection, Working Men’s Institute, and Historic New Harmony.

USI Art Collection

The University’s art collection is primarily made up of two-dimensional prints executed during the 1970s and 1980s and includes student and faculty work. As the University Art Collection expands, the goal is to acquire a better balance of photography, ceramics and sculpture. The Art Collection Committee develops the collection through its art collection management plan. Students working with the collection learn art management, gallery work and art collection management.

For more information on the USI Art Collection, please visit https://www.usi.edu/liberal-arts/art-center-galleries/university-art-collection/.

Working Men's Institute Logo, n.d.

Hours: Sunday, 12-4 PM; Tuesday-Thursday, 10 AM-7 PM; Friday-Saturday, 10 AM-4:30 PM

407 Tavern Street, New Harmony, IN, 47631

Established by philanthropist William Maclure in 1838, the Working Men’s Institute (WMI) set as its mission the dissemination of useful knowledge to those who work with their hands. After 170 years of continuous service, this goal is still at the heart of our mission. Maclure, who was a business partner with Robert Owen in the communal experiment in New Harmony from 1825-1827, was devoted to the ideal of education for the common man as a means of positive change in society. At New Harmony, The Working Men’s Institute was one manifestation of this ideal. The Working Men’s Institute in New Harmony was the first of 144 WMIs in Indiana and 16 in Illinois. It is the only one remaining. Many WMIs were absorbed by township libraries or Carnegie libraries. Yet the one in New Harmony remained. Today, the WMI is a public library, a museum and an archive. In each of these areas, the WMI tries to stay true to the original mission of William Maclure.

For more information on the Working Men’s Institute, please visit https://workingmensinstitute.org/ and follow their social media accounts at:

Historic New Harmony Logo, n.d.

Historic New Harmony, 401 North Arthur Street, New Harmony, IN 47631

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM

New Harmony was the source of two communal experiments in the 19th century: religious separatists from Germany who aspired to Christian perfection, and later, followers of Robert Owen who wanted to establish a model society of educational and social equality. “Historic New Harmony is a unified program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. By preserving its utopian legacy, Historic New Harmony inspires innovation and progressive thought through its programs & collections.”

For more information on Historic New Harmony, please visit https://www.usi.edu/hnh and their social media accounts:

Be sure to stay tuned next week for the final week of #ArchivesFest2021.

Posted in #ArchivesFest, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2021: EMTRAC, Reitz Home Museum, and Evansville African American Museum

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

Welcome back for another exciting week of #ArchivesFest2021! We are excited to present the EMTRAC, Reitz Home Museum, and the Evansville African American Museum.

Logo of the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science, n.d.

Hours: Thursday-Saturday: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00 PM

411 SE Riverside Drive, Evansville, IN 47713

Evansville has had a museum since 1906, with today’s location dating to the 1950s.  This appearance dates to a major update and remodel circa 2014. The Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science houses a permanent collection of more than 30,000 objects, including fine and decorative art, as well as historic, anthropological, and natural history artifacts. Over twenty temporary, regional and international exhibitions are displayed each year in four galleries.  The Koch Immersive Theater houses a 40-foot diameter domed screen with 360-degree digital projection featuring astronomy and science programming.  Evansville Museum Transportation Center (EMTRAC) featuring transportation artifacts from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. On exhibit is a three-car train. The museum is home to a model train diorama of Evansville.

For more information on the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science, please visit https://emuseum.org/ and follow their social media accounts at:

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM

112 Chestnut Street, Evansville, IN 47713

This 1871 home was built by John Augustus Reitz who was born in Prussia, moved to the United States in the 1830s, and made his fortune in lumber. “Today, the Reitz Home is noted as one of the country’s finest examples of Second Empire architecture. Authentic period furniture, much of it original, is arranged as if the family is about to return. Silk damask-covered walls soar to decorative hand-painted ceilings and delicately molded plaster friezes. French gilt chandeliers shine down on one of the home’s most beautiful features: the intricately patterned hand-laid wood parquet floors. The home has tile and marble fireplaces, walnut wainscoting in Moorish design, and glowing stained glass window panels.” It has been open as a museum since 1974.

For more information on the Reitz Home Museum, please visit https://www.reitzhome.com/ and follow their social media accounts:

Evansville African American Museum

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 AM to5:00 PM; Saturday 12:00 AM to 5:00 PM

579 South Garvin Street, Evansville, IN, 47713

“The mission of the Evansville African American Museum is to continually develop a resource and cultural center to collect, preserve, and educate the public on the history and traditions of African American families, organizations, and communities. Located in Evansville, Indiana as the last remaining building of Lincoln Gardens, the second Federal Housing Project created under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1938, our building serves as a permanent artifact in itself.”

For more information on the Evansville African American Museum, please visit https://evvafricanamericanmuseum.wordpress.com/ and follow their social media accounts:

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2021: Lincoln Village & Angel Mounds

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

October is American Archives Month! In honor of this month, #ArchivesFest2021 has returned. Be sure to visit amUSIngArtifacts each week to learn more about local museums, libraries, and archives in the Tri-State region! This week, we present the Lincoln Pioneer Village and Museum and Angel Mounds Historic Site.

Lincoln Pioneer Village and Museum. Where Lincoln's history comes alive!

Hours: May-October, Monday-Saturday, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM; Sunday 12:00 AM to 4:00 PM

928 Fairground Drive, Rockport, IN 47635

“Travel back through time and walk through cabins showing life as it was during Abe Lincoln’s early years. The Lincoln Pioneer Village is a historic memorial to Lincoln that visualizes the Spencer County environment in which Lincoln lived during the 14 formative years of his life, from 1816 to 1830. Walk through cabins depicting life 200 years ago as Lincoln would have lived it. Visit the museum on the grounds with displays of military artifacts, clothing, utensils, spinning wheels and a rare rocker beater loom still in use today. See the hutch handmade by Abraham Lincoln with the help of his father Thomas.”

For more information on Lincoln Pioneer Village and Museum, please visit https://lincolnpioneervillage.com/ and follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LincolnPioneerVillage/.

Angel Mounds State Historic Site, Ancient Indiana Metropolis.

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

8215 Pollack Avenue, Evansville, IN 47715

“Located on the banks of the Ohio River in southwest Indiana, Angel Mounds State Historic Site is one of the best-preserved, pre-contact Native American sites in North America. Built between A.D. 1000 and 1450, the town was occupied by more than 1,000 people part of the Mississippian culture. The society built 11 earthen mounds as platforms to elevate important buildings. The original town covered an area of 103 acres and served as an important religious, political and trade center for people living within a 75-mile radius. The site was abandoned before European explorers came to North America. Possible explanations for abandonment are depletion of natural resources, climatic changes or the collapse of chiefdom. More than 600 acres comprise Angel Mounds State Historic Site, which includes an interpretive center, recreations of Mississippian buildings and a working reconstruction of the 1939 WPA archaeology laboratory. The 500-acre non-archaeological portion of the site contains a nature preserve with hiking and biking trails.

For more information on Angel Mounds State Historic Site, please visit at https://www.indianamuseum.org/historic-sites/angel-mounds/ and follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AngelMoundsSHS.

Posted in #ArchivesFest, Local history | Leave a comment

Orphan Trains

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Life in 19th century America was difficult. The very pathways of American life were changing from an agrarian past to an industrialized future. Such a drastic change was not without hardships, and they often fell hardest on the most vulnerable … in this case, the children we’re going to explore in this blog. The following paragraph is a bit long, but it’s a great explanation of what was happening, so please bear with me here.

In the early 1800s the United States began to change from a country in which most people lived with several generations of their family on farms, to an industrialized nation in which many people lived in cities where they knew no one. The invention of farm machinery meant that fewer workers were needed to work on farms. At the same time, thousands of workers were needed for the new factories being built in the cities. Too many people wanted the factory jobs, however, which kept the wages low. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of people came to the United States from other countries. These immigrants competed with farm workers for the factory jobs. There was not enough housing for everyone, and city landlords could charge high rents for places barely fit to live in. Many workers had large families and were jammed into tiny apartments that had to be shared with two or three other families. Some families even lived in cardboard boxes or in coal cellars. The people lucky enough to find factory jobs often worked in dangerous conditions. If they were hurt or killed, other workers were always ready to take their place. People often worked 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Even so, many parents could barely feed and clothes themselves and their children. Children as young as 5 or 6 often labored long hours in factories to earn a few pennies a day. Others sold matches, shined shoes, peddled newspapers, picked coal, or ran errands—anything to make a little money. Children barely old enough to walk begged in the streets. Even when every member of a family worked, some families could not make enough money to survive. There was no welfare system. Some people starved to death. … Some parents were so upset at the birth of a child that they would abandon the newborn to a church or store, hoping someone would find and care for the baby. Others did not even make that effort, and every day the police would find the bodies of infants who had been left to die in rain barrels and trash cans. In other families the parents forced older children to leave to make space for a new baby, even if the children were only six or seven years old themselves. Homeless children slept on sidewalk heating grates, doorways, or empty buildings. They ate out of trash cans or stole food. Historians believe that in 1850, when New York City’s population was 500,000, as many as 30,000 homeless children roamed the streets. At that time the law treated children who were seven or older as adults, so the jails were often full of youngsters who had been caught stealing. Children of 12 or older could be put to death for that crime. Their punishment was carried out at public hangings that other street children would come to watch (Warren, Orphan Train Rider, pgs. 14-17).

Children living on the street in 19th century New York. Source: https://bit.ly/2YupayF

Into this hell on earth came Charles Loring Brace. To be clear, he’s certainly not the only person who worked to alleviate this misery, nor were his efforts without problems, but he is the instrument for the efforts discussed here. Born into a comfortable family in Hartford, CT in 1826, Brace graduated from Yale, then Yale Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary. After graduation he went to work in the Five Points Mission in New York City. His experiences there led him to establish the New York Children’s Aid Society (CAS) in 1853. In the past, family or neighbors took in orphans, but here that was not possible. Orphanages were available (although often Dickensian), so Brace believed that the only way to help these children was to remove them from their situations entirely. And where to send them? Why, to farms, out west! Brace, like many of his contemporaries, greatly romanticized the agrarian past.

Charles Loring Brace, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/3tkWrrv

Despite the demands of rural life, particularly on the expanding frontier, agricultural society on the whole presented to the nation “a poetic idea that defined the promise of American life.” The frontier farmer was idealized, and it was held to be true that life in the west fostered independence and self-reliance. Americans were told and wanted to believe that there was a place where “family name cuts but little figure. It’s the character of the man that wins recognition.” Agrarian society, romanticized as classless, was believed to allow an individual to seek his or her own fortunes based on personal abilities and talents—to rise as Alger’s fictional characters did, by their tenacity. It was the perfect setting for the urban poor to begin over and reach their potential. This romanticization of the pastoral life was an extension of America’s westward movement. Always there had been some who reached to the edges of the settlement and beyond. Under Jefferson, exploration of the vast continent has taken place, and with Jacksonian democracy the ownership of property was declared the right of free men. By mid-century the idealization of rural America reflected expansion as well as changes brought by industrialization. Growth and manufacturing may have been seen as the natural progression of things, but the financial benefits were offset by an increasing urban population, an influx of immigrants as laborers, and a litany of social ills created by industry and urbanization. Some wondered at the outcome and reflected on the more rural America of the past—the villages, the hamlets, the honest yeoman (Holt, pgs. 20-21).

A group outside of the Children's Aid Society's central office in New York City. The children hold satchels with their belongings as they prepare to travel west, c. 1895. Source: https://bit.ly/3zUbquO
A group outside of the Children’s Aid Society’s central office in New York City. The children hold satchels with their belongings as they prepare to travel west, c. 1895. Source: https://bit.ly/3zUbquO

Brace said, “The best of all asylums for the outcast child is the farmer’s home. The great duty is to get these children of unhappy fortune utterly out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country.” Fully buying into the mythos of the pioneer life, Brace believed “that the American pioneers who were settling the West could use help, and felt that an arrangement that would place children within these families would be mutually beneficial. He thought that the farmers in the West would welcome the children, take them in, and treat them as their own. Therefore, he arranged to send the orphaned children to pioneer families. The Orphan Trains and the practice of “placing children out” into homes that would accept them was the precursor to the modern foster care system in the United States.”

Advertisement for an orphan train coming to Cadiz, KY. Source: https://bit.ly/3zVQVxZ
Another orphan train announcement, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/3jOIyP6

Here’s how this worked: a group of children were gathered and put aboard a train with one or two guardians. Depending upon their ages and circumstances, the children may not have fully understood what was happening. Some were genuine orphans, some were not. One little girl, when told she was going to Texas, remembered saying that she was not an orphan, that her mother was alive and in a hospital. No matter … she was going to Texas. Siblings sometimes stayed together, but far more often they did not. Before the train departed, CAS agents scouted for locations were children were likely to be welcomed. Publicity alerted the townsfolk of the impending arrival. Before arrival, the agent found/was supposed to find local people to solicit and vet potential adopters. When they arrived at their destination, the children were cleaned up and then taken to the meeting venue and placed in front of the crowd. They were encouraged to sing, recite a poem, or otherwise make themselves appealing. After the event was over, any “leftover” children rode to the next stop and went through the same process all over again. The whole process was appallingly casual. Paperwork was not required. Adoption was encouraged, but again, not required. Both parties (the children and the “families”) had the right to back out of the agreement; some children rejected the first person who “chose” them and this seems to have been permitted. CAS was to check in on the children regularly to see how things were going. Some children were fortunate enough to go to families that did adopt them, that loved them, formed a bond with them, and raised them as their own children. Others became little more than hired hands or indentured servants. Much faith was placed in the goodwill and character of the adopters, faith that was not always rewarded. The story of Stanley Cornell serves as a good illustration of both the perils and successes of the program. He had a younger brother and sister. Their father was exposed to mustard gas during World War I and struggled with health problems. Their mother died of tuberculosis when the children were young. Their father was unable to take care of his children; fortunately a family member adopted the daughter, but Stanley and his brother ended up on an orphan train. Miraculously the boys stayed together, but they went through 6 or 7 homes before ending up with a family in Texas. This Texas family turned out to be “the one,” and Stanley and his brother Vic had a great life, and as an adult, Stanley was able to reunite with his father and sister. Watch this short 2015 video, “An Orphan Train Rider Tells His Story”, to hear the full story.

CAS was not the only group that utilized orphan trains. The New York Foundling Asylum/Hospital, a Catholic charity, also placed children aboard trains, but in its case, sent mostly babies or children less than 5 years of age. For that reason, these were sometimes known as baby trains, or mercy trains. The first CAS train in 1854 was sent to Dowagiac, MI; by the time the program ended in 1929 some 250,000 children were orphan train riders. Some orphan trains came to Indiana, and while I don’t know that any came to Evansville, I do know that some Evansville orphans were housed in orphanages. One of the first was the Children’s Guardian Home at 507 Lincoln Avenue, built in the 1850s as a county facility. After it closed in the 1930s, children were transferred to another facility. This building served as the initial home for the Carver Center; it burned down in 1972 after sitting vacant for 2 years.

Guardian Home, c. 1916. Source: UASC, RH 033-151.

Below is what was originally the home of Dr. John Laval, built before 1849 at the west end of Indiana Street. It became an orphanage in 1872 and was initially integrated. In 1883, city and country government split and this became the orphanage for white children. This was razed in 1952 and replaced with what is today called Hillcrest Youth Services, at 2700 West Indiana Street.

White Orphan Asylum, post segregation, c. 1883. Source: UASC, RH 033-082.

Until 1883, orphans of all races lived together. When they were segregated, this facility, the Colored Orphan Asylum at 1215 North Barker Avenue, was built. It was also known as the Booker T. Washington Home. In 1952, this house was razed and what is today called Hillcrest Youth Services, at 2700 West Indiana Street. was built, with integrated housing once again. It is integrated now, although it probably was not in 1952.

Colored Orphan Asylum, c. 1883. Source: UASC, RH 033-084.

Today attitudes and laws have changed. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 prohibits children younger than 14 from working, although this provision is applied lightly when it comes to agriculture. Certainly no child of 12 would be hung for stealing. And adulthood, in legal terms, begins at 18, not age 7 or 8. Having children “sell” themselves to potential adopters smacks of slave auctions and would not be tolerated by current social mores. Any massive effort like the orphan trains, to place over a quarter million children in homes, would face such overwhelming paperwork and legal challenges that it would never get off the ground. That’s a good thing, but still, it’s unfair to judge 1800s behavior by today’s standards, at least not wholly. Brace’s orphan trains were a flawed attempt that grew out of a genuine desire to help children. We can learn about something without condoning it. That’s the beauty of history.

Orphan train stopped in Kansas, 1900. Source: https://bit.ly/3zQWkq7

References Consulted

Blakemore, Erin. ‘Orphan Trains’ Brought Homeless NYC Children to Work On Farms Out West. History Channel, April 9, 2019.

Brown, Angelique. Orphan Trains (1854 – 1929). VCU Libraries Social Welfare History Project, 2011.

Chiodo JJ, Meliza E. Orphan Trains: Teaching about an Early Twentieth-Century Social Experiment. Social Studies. 2014;105(3):145-157.

Grossman, Ron. “The orphan train: A noble idea that went off the rails.” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2018.

Holt, Marilyn Irvin. The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Rice Library, General Collection: HV 985.H65 1992

Kidder, Clark. “America’s Orphan Train.” History Magazine (Toronto) 16.6 (2015): 22. Web.

National Orphan Train Complex. Concordia, KS

O’Connor, Stephen. Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Rice Library, General Collection HV985.O36 2001

“The Orphan Train Movement”—9 video clips from the West by Orphan Train documentary. PBS LearningMedia

“The Orphan Trains.” The American Experience, PBS, aired November 27, 1995.

Warren, Andrea. Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Rice Library, CMC: HV985.W37 1996

Warren, Andrea. “The Orphan Train.” Washington Post, 1998.

Posted in American history, history, Local history | Leave a comment