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Orphan Train - A Little Known Slice of American History

Updated on July 4, 2017

A Historical Novel

Did you know that over 200,000 children were moved from East Coast cities to the Midwest for adoption in the mid-19th to early 20th century? I did not, until I read Orphan Train.

The story is weaved intricately through the unknown, but parallel lives of two characters, Molly and Vivian. Molly is a high school teen who has been in and out of several foster homes for most of her life. She commits a wrong doing and has to perform community service hours. She ends up helping an elderly widow, Vivian, clean out the attic of her old house. You can almost feel the curtains blowing in the Maine sea breeze every time they go in the attic to "clean out" some more of Vivian's lifetime of memories that are stored in trunks and boxes. Through this cleansing of sorts, Molly and Vivian discover their lives to be very similar and a special bond develops between then.

The settings take us back and forth from the East Coast to the Midwest part of the United States in the turbulent but ever changing late 19th to early 20th century; sometimes in thought and imagination, and sometimes by train.

Fast Read

Christina Baker Kline leads us through a little known piece of American history that will make you research this happening and perhaps ask questions to those who are still witnesses and participants of the orphan trains. In fact, my girlfriend read this book and she and her mother (who was adopted) are questioning whether her mom was an orphan on the trains!

It is not often that I have the time to read a book all in one setting but I could not put this book down and did read it in one 24-hour period. It is that good.

Orphan Train Museum - Concordia, Kansas

On a recent drive to Nebraska, I drove through the Kansas town of Concordia where much to my surprise, there is a museum on the orphan train. Since it was evening, I could not stop but I hope to visit it on one of my next car trips through that area.

Orphan Train Complex

A marker300 Washington St, Concordia, KS 66901 -
300 Washington St, Concordia, KS 66901, USA
get directions

Some excellent videos with more factual information on orphan trains.

Have you ever heard or known of the orphan trains?

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    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      @mbgphoto: Agree with you 100% on the putting it down part. Glad you enjoyed.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was one of those novels I just couldn't put down until I was finished. Thanks for your review and leading me to this book.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      This sounds fascinating - a book I definitely am interested in.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      @Wednesday-Elf: Agreed! and thanks!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I remember this book well. Excellent review. Everyone needs to read this little known part of our history.

    • profile image

      sybil watson 3 years ago

      No, I haven't - but my girlfriend just gave me this book to read and I can't wait to get started.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      @Diana Wenzel: Thank you for your summary and beautiful descriptions. I feel blessed to have been chosen at such early age to be part of a family - the greatest gift I have ever received.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      Just had to return to let you know I loved this book. I'm still stunned to have been totally unaware of this important historical movement. Appreciated how portages became the connecting theme, along with the beautiful relationship that developed between Vivian and Molly. My heart breaks for the hardships experienced by the orphans (and some of the children who weren't orphans). Children weren't meant to know such deprivation (especially of the emotional variety).

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      @Johanna Eisler: What a wonderful lesson in life and history for your daughter. I think it's wonderful she researched this subject and went the extra mile - there is no better history lesson than hearing it from the mouth of those who experienced it. Thank you so much for sharing your family's story!

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 3 years ago


      When my daughter was a teenager, she became fascinated with the history of New York City, and the problems of child labor in particular. In her research, she learned about orphan trains. Digging deeper in her research online, she found a link to an elderly gentleman who himself had been one of the orphans. His mission, in his later years, was to help educate today's children with this piece of history which he had experienced firsthand. To that end, he visited many schools and gave lectures and showed pictures of the things he'd lived through.

      He was kind enough to write a personal letter to my daughter, as well as emailing her several pictures of him and his brother when they were children. This communication really touched my daughter's heart and made the stories she had been reading very real to her.

      Thank you for your excellent lens and the accompanying videos. I would love to read "Orphan Train - A Novel."

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      @GrammieOlivia: I don't want to give the story away but sadly, some folks were "adopting" these kids to use as child labor. It just made me sick. But then I wondered what was worse? Living on the streets or at least having a roof over your head and food on the table. There were also some heartwarming endings. A very good read.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      No, I did not know this, but I can see that this is still happening. Many other cultures do the same type of thing, I know of several people right now who are raising their nieces and nephews as their own children. This is good for the children who would otherwise be looking for food or live a life of poverty in their home countries........

    • yoursfoolie profile image

      yoursfoolie 3 years ago

      Yes, I had, and it always brought a lump to my throat. Why do human beings treat each other so badly? Things go so very, very much better when we work together...

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      What a heart-wrenching read this must be and a sad part of history. I will be adding Orphan Train to my must read list. Thank you for an enlightening review of the book and for being a voice for the orphans.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I didn't know this, the trauma these kids had to go through must have been terrible - my heart hurts for a child that suffers - for the kids that actually had to go through this I hope there were some happy endings

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      Can't wait to read this. I was not aware of the orphan trains. Having been born in Minnesota, I believe this novel will hit especially close to home. Thanks for your review and the introduction to this important history.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Yes, I've heard of them, but as a side note in history and never heard much more on it. This book written from the point of view of someone experiencing it, is much more enlightening. This review will be placed on my FB page Hand In Glove With History and my blog Thanks for this review.