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[Orphan Trains and their Precious Cargo]
From the Wisconsin State Journal, July 27, 2001
by William Wineke
MILTON - This is one of the ways society cared for its poor children a
Orphan trains carried unwanted children - not all of them orphans at
all - from the big cities of the East to the Midwest, where they were
put on display and, if lucky, taken into the homes of rural residents.
Clark Kidder, a Milton historian and farmer whose grandmother, Emily
Reese Kidder, came to the Midwest on one of those trains, has conducted
a study of the trains and of the way the children were treated when they
got to these parts.
Orphan trains transported an estimated 250,000 children, most of them
from New York, to the Midwest between 1854 and 1929.
Kidder now operates a game farm, where he allows hunters to shoot
pheasants, and a roadside vegetable stand on the family farm.In his
spare time, however, he is an amateur historian and is author of a
just-published book, "Orphan Trains and their Precious Cargo" (Heritage
The book is, essentially, a publication of the journals of the Rev.
Herman Clarke, who worked with the Children's Aid Society of New York
and made 32 trips to the Midwest to place hundreds of children with
foster families between 1898 and 1907.
Most of the children went to Missouri, Kansas and Indiana. But, Kidder
learned, "in the 1870s, the orphan trains stopped in Stoughton, Sparta
In the 1880s, the Wisconsin Legislature put a stop to such placements
"because one legislator said he didn't want any more New York criminal
children brought into Wisconsin," Kidder said in a recent interview at
his game farm. Single placements were allowed, however, which is why
Emily Reese finally arrived here.
Life in rural Wisconsin in the early days of this century was not
completely idyllic, Kidder said.
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