The Orphan Trains

  • 277 W. Main St.
  • Stoughton
  • Stoughton, WI 53589
  • Phone: (608) 873-7567

Between 1854 and 1929 the United States was engaged in an ambitious, and ultimately controversial, social experiment to rescue poor and homeless children, the Orphan Train Movement. The Orphan Trains operated prior to the federal government’s involvement in child protection and child welfare. While they operated, Orphan Trains moved approximately 200,000 children from cities like New York and Boston to the American West to be adopted. Many of these children were placed with parents who loved and cared for them; however others always felt out of place and some were even mistreated. There are estimated to be about 2 million people living today who are descendants of Orphan Train children.
As far as history of the orphan train in Wisconsin is concerned, Mr. Kidder says”Wisconsin, being in the Midwest, was favored by many of the child-placing institutions due to the large number of farmers that had room to take a needy child into their home — with plenty of food from the farm for all.”
Records show that in August 1869, Children Aid Society representative Charles Fry accompanied a group to Stoughton in Dane County and Edgerton in Rock County. This group consisted mainly of families plus one 75 year old. Five teenagers went to Fulton (Rock County) and one fifteen year old went to Stoughton.
Clark Kidder resides in southern Wisconsin. He is a freelance writer for International publications, and has authored several books, including Orphan Trains and Their Precious Cargo (1st Ed. Heritage Books, Inc., 2001; 2nd Ed. Createspace, 2017); A Genealogy of the Wood Family (Family Tree Publishers, 2003, and Higginson Book Company, 2007); A Genealogy of the Butts/Butz Family (Higginson Book Company, 2007), Emily’s Story: The Brave Journey of an Orphan Train Rider (2007), and A History of the Rural Schools of Rock County, Wisconsin (6 volumes), 2014. His magazine articles have appeared in History Magazine, the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Family Tree Magazine, Fancy Fowl (in England), Avicultura (in Holland), and Poultry Press

  • Times: 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
  • Admission: Free