LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — In her new book Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline writes about a little known and disturbing piece of American history that went on for 75 years.

Kline told WNEW’s Judlyne Lilly that, between 1854 and 1929, more than 200,000 children were sent from East Coast cities to the Midwest on “orphan trains.” Philanthropist and minister Charles Loring Brace was the one who came up with the idea to send urban children living on the streets to homes across the country.

“Mostly,” she said, “to the Midwest where he figured there would be lots of open air and beautiful vistas and also they could help out on the farms.”

So, orphaned children, for whom there were no social programs or labor laws, were taken to the more sparsely populated and labor heavy parts of the country.  From there, their fates would be determined by chance. 

orphan train book cover

“At the time there were 10 to 30 thousand children living on the streets of New York at any given time,” Kline said.

Her novel focuses on Irish immigrant Vivian Daly, who was one such child. After being sent across the country on an orphan train,  she returns to the East Coast later in life and lives quietly on the coast of Maine. But when a young woman helps her clean out her attic and sort through old keepsakes as part of a community service project, relics of her turbulent, hazy past are unearthed.

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