American History · biography · history

The Riders of the Orphan Train ( 1854-1929)

I took a bit of a hiatus from the blog as it has been difficult to find the motivation to research and write. It has been a bit of a struggle to find topics I am passionate with especially with the worries of the past year. I recently took a trip to New York City and I found a bit of that passion once again. I visited Ellis Island and it was a great museum where I learned quite a bit. One small information blurb at the museum really caught my attention. From 1854-1929 the Orphan Trains delivered about 200,000 children to different homes in the American West. I thought this was incredible and I quickly wanted to learn more.

Due to the influx of immigration during the late 19th century, large east coast cities (like NYC and Boston) were having problems with large masses of orphaned children living on the streets. In New York City, it was estimated that there were about 10,000-30,000 children living on the streets. These children may have been abandoned by parents who no longer wanted them/could not afford them or some, sadly, lost their birth parents due to disease (typhoid/yellow fever epidemics), addiction, malnutrition/poverty, or freak accidents (especially through dangerous work accidents). These children were force to turn to desperate measures to survive. They formed gangs who would steal in order to stay fed and clothed. They may have terrorized some of the neighborhoods, but they were just trying to survive in the difficult world they were born into. They were often taken advantage of and arrested as adults. There were some poor houses, asylums, and orphanages that were formed to try and control this, but these were overcrowded and abusive. These children were given no help to better their lives at this place. There was minimal education opportunities, food, and attention.

UNK conference highlights Orphan Train Movement | Local News |  kearneyhub.com

Charles Loring Brace founded the Children Aid Society. He felt that there was a better way to control the homeless situation and try to actually help the children who were alone. He thought that they would have better opportunities if these children were sent West with the goal of finding a family to take them in. Many families who had moved West needed the help on their farms and homesteads that these children could provide. It seemed a win-win for both sides.

Social Welfare History Project Brace, Charles Loring
Charles Loring Brace

On September 1854, the first train was sent out to Dowagiac, Michigan. By the end of the program, over 30 states accepted new children. Most were located in the Midwest. Fliers were placed out in advance at the towns that the trains were arriving in order to search for families where the children could be placed. Some were placed with families in advance, but others it was whoever came to make a bid for them upon their arrival. Many of the children had no idea where they were going once they boarded these trains and this would be a very upsetting time for them. For others, this was a grand adventure. Overall, the children themselves did not have much choice in where and who they were going to.

Orphan Trains' Brought Homeless NYC Children to Work On Farms Out West -  HISTORY

When the trains arrived in town, prospective “parents” came from miles around to see. The children would finally get off the train upon arrival and be stunned (and possibly frightened) to see the crowds craning their necks to see if there would be a child they could bring into their family. The Daily Independent of Grand Island, Nebraska (1912) reported, “some ordered boys, others girls, some preferred light babies, others dark, and the orders were filled out properly and every new parent was delighted.” The children were often inspected and encouraged to “show off” including singing, dancing, etc. Sometimes there was a lot of competition for a certain type of child (boy vs girl, ages, appearance, etc). After selected, the children were given a new outfit and a bible to start off their journey. Lee Nailling was one of the children who left on one of these trains from New York City. He left with his two brothers and spoke about his arrival:

“Then we were instructed to go stand at the front of the church, where a lot of adults began coming in and crowding around us.  I picked Gerald up and glared at the milling adults.  Leo grabbed hold of my leg as a tall man dressed in overalls approached us.  The man reached out and felt my arm, I stared straight ahead, “A bit scrawny,” he commented, then moved on down and chose number 30.

Number 30’s face turned white as he left the line with the man.  A smiling woman wearing a flowered dress joined them.  Then they walked to a table filled with papers, where some of the caretakers were sitting.  Soon other numbers were called out, and by the time we left that afternoon to board another train, several of the children were gone.

Two days later my brothers and I had survived several lineups in many different towns.  Each time we were inspected I was terrified we’d be chosen, and then when we weren’t, I was angered and believed that people thought we weren’t good enough.  But I was relieved that we were still together.  I’d seen other brothers and sisters separated, and as I listened to their loud sobbing, I wondered “How can I stop them from separating us?” (https://orphantraindepot.org/history/orphan-train-rider-stories/lee-nailling/)

Orphan Trains Head West - Fishwrap The official blog of Newspapers.com

In the end, Nailling was separated from both his brothers. This was a common occurrence during the program as many families could only afford to take in one child. He was moved between a few families before finally finding his permanent home with the Nailling family in Texas. In this case, he found a loving family who longed for a son and found the happiness that he sought. In a lot of cases, the children did find new loving homes who adopted them as their own children. Every family who participated in this program were required to clothe and educate the children who they fostered and many did adopt the children who went with them. There were many pros to the program. The children had an opportunity to received education (and possibly higher education depending on the family), they could find a loving household, they would be fed and clothed, they would be safer than living on the streets and could overall obtain a better life.

Naturally, there were those who abused the system as well and some of the children did not find the same success. Some families did take in the children because they were solely looking for additional labor help. Some children were mistreated and abused (verbally and physically) which caused many to become runaways. Some were threatened to report that everything was okay to the Children’s Aid Society representatives who came to check up on them. Those who were against the Orphan Train program found too many similarities to slavery with these children being “auctioned off”. The orphans were also held to a much higher standard than the families natural born children (likely because they were viewed as obtaining a product). A lot of the children moved between different houses as they were returned by their foster family. These could be for the smallest instances (they did not like the child’s attitude, an instance of stealing a cookie, was not the appearance they were looking for, etc). This could cause a lot of damage to the growing child’s self image. Some children had to be moved for more practical reasons such as financial costs or sickness.

By 1830, the amount of Orphan Trains had greatly decreased. There was a lot of criticism by those who fought against child labor and those who felt the system was very akin to slavery. With new laws protecting children, transporting them to be placed across state lines became illegal. Additionally, more welfare programs began to be developed to support families and children. State and local governments became more involved to prevent children ending up on the street and the population of orphans was greatly reduced. In 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was established as well whose goal was to accomplish all that was stated above.

The Orphan Trains definitely had many pros, but also some cons as well. Some children were so young when they were transported they did not even learn that they were aboard the Orphan Train or that they had birth parents until later in life. Many of the children transported went on to have good lives (and likely lives that they would never have had if they were left on the streets). Some went on to have careers and attend university, many were married and had families of their own, and many were able to make their new state their home. Fred (Engert) Swedenburg was six years old when he was transported and then adopted by the Swedenburg family in Nebraska. He had been given up by his family in New York due to “scandalous neglect”. He lived a happy life and was lucky enough to have his sibling adopted by a family only 20 miles away. He was treated as the Swedenburg’s true born son and even received inheritance. Yet, when asked later if he could go back and have a choice in riding the train to Nebraska, this was his response:

“When asked by one boy if he had a choice would he ride the train again to come to Nebraska. Swedenburg slowly shook his head and said no. Swedenburg asked the boy how he would feel to be taken from his family and put in a new home and the boy’s face fell as he looked at the floor.”( https://orphantraindepot.org/history/orphan-train-rider-stories/fred-engert-swedenburg/)

Did any of your ancestors ride the Orphan Trians?

Sources:

https://www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org/blog/orphan-trains-brief-history-and-research-how

https://www.pbs.org/video/university-place-brave-journey-orphan-train-rider/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/horizon/nov98/orphan.htm

https://www.history.com/news/orphan-trains-childrens-aid-society

biography · european history · history

Agnes Keleti- The Amazing Story of the Oldest Living Olympic Champion

I was watching the open ceremonies for the Olympic games this past week and was introduced to an amazing woman. Agnes Keleti is the oldest living Olympic champion and turned 100 years old this year. She was a 10 times Olympic medalist and five of those were gold. She lived through a lot of difficulties during her life, but in the end she came out on top. I find her to be very impressive and I wanted to highlight her here.

Agnes Keleti, a mais velha campeã olímpica, comemora 100 anos de idade

Keleti was born on January 9, 1921 in Budapest Hungary. At age 16, she won the National Gymnastics Championships and was on the fast track for the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, these games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. Keleti has more pressing worries though than just missing her chance at the Olympics. She was Jewish and her country was now under Nazi occupation. In order to survive, she took the identity of a Christian girl (using false paperwork). She refused to wear the gold star that was required by the Nazi’s to identify those with Jewish heritage. She managed to escape with the use of the false documentation and found safety in a remote village where she worked as a maid. Fortunately, she survived (her mother and sister did as well by going into hiding separately). Many of her family members (including her father) were not as lucky and lost their lives after being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. I cannot imagine how terrifying this would have been and how brave she was to take these risks in order to survive.

At 27, Keleti prepared to compete at the London 1948 Olympic games, but was injured and was unable to compete that year. It was not until she was 31 that she finally got her chance at the 1952 Helsinki games. At 31, she would have been one of the oldest gymnasts. Gymnastics is a sport where it is more difficult to compete in the elite level as one ages. The average age of the athletes at the time was 23 years old (today the average is 19 years old). Despite this “disadvantage,” she won 4 medals (including one gold in the floor exercise). Yet, Keleti was not finished.

Holocaust survivor, 10-time Olympic medalist Agnes Keleti awarded Israel  Prize – International March of the Living

At age 35, she competed at the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne. By the end, she was the most successful athlete of those games. She won six medals in total with four of these being gold. She won gold in the floor, bars and balance beam individual events and placed second in the all around competition. At the time, she was the most decorated athlete. During these games, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary (her home country) and she had to seek political asylum in Australia. She remained there the rest of the year and helped coach Australian gymnastics.

Agnes Keleti: The incredible voice of an Olympic centenarian

In 1957, she moved to Israel. She did not return to Hungary until 2015. In Israel, she married and had two children. She worked as a physical education teacher and helped coach and advise Israel’s national gymnastics team until the 1990s. Besides her Olympic accomplishments, she won the national championships nine times more before retiring in 1956. In 1954, she became world champion in uneven bar. She has been inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Hungarian Sports Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Keleti’s life has been incredible and she is such an amazing woman. She has shown her strength and perseverance as she lived through much hardship, but still managed to accomplish her goals. She is still finding the joys in life at 100 years old.

Sources:

https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en/news/agnes-keleti-the-incredible-life-of-the-worlds-oldest-surviving-olympic-champion

https://olympics.nbcsports.com/2021/01/09/agnes-keleti-gymnast-oldest-olympian/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81gnes_Keleti

American History · biography · history

Timeline of Women’s Suffrage : 1848-1920. Part 2

See Part 1 : historynavigator.org/2020/09/03/timeline-of-womens-suffrage-1848-1920-part-1/

New Women

Today in history…27 February | english3batz

The turn of the century brought about a new era of suffragists. The previous generation attempted to fight for their suffrage rights while still trying to fit into the roles that society made for them. They wanted to fight for progress, but also could not afford to stand out in ways that may look badly on the cause as they would lose support. For this reason, the old generation of suffragists did not encourage street speaking, marches, or acts of civil disobedience. Victoria Woodhull (a woman who I profiled two years ago: historynavigator.org/2018/06/18/victoria-woodhull-first-female-presidential-candidate-and-activist/ ) was a woman ahead of her time and was a very popular figure. She was bold and headstrong. She even announced her candidacy for president in 1870 (prior to women receiving the vote!). Woodhull was a divorcee and lectured about women’s rights and their sexual freedom. It was the free love portion and her spiritualism beliefs that cause the suffragists to want to disassociate from Woodhull’s brand. They knew that this would be a discouragement to any politician who may have sided with their cause. Society was not ready to accept women’s suffrage AND their sexual freedom. Just like with the temperance movement, the women of the older generation were still very concerned with appearances despite their activism.

Yet, in the wake of the 20th century, the world was changing. In Great Britain, the “suffragettes” were making loud scenes to get what they wanted. The suffragettes held parades, gave speeches, performed skits, participated in hunger strikes , and , sometimes, even performed acts of violence. American suffragists, like Harriot Stanton Blatch (daughter of Cady Stanton) , traveled to Great Britain and were influenced by what they saw there.

Continue reading “Timeline of Women’s Suffrage : 1848-1920. Part 2”
english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

Image result for all together now statue
“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

Continue reading “A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914”

biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

Image result for testament of youth real
Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

Continue reading “Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth”

American History · art history · european history · history

Places to See: Ancient Spanish Monastery, Miami, FL

In the 20th century, 11,000 wooden crates were brought across the Atlantic in order to rebuild one of the most beautiful (and oldest) buildings. I visited Miami this weekend and was able to tour this amazing place. I was astounded at the beauty and overall peaceful feeling while in this ancient Spanish Monastery. It is most likely the oldest building in America and I felt I needed to share its history (and my pictures!).

Image may contain: grass, sky, plant, tree, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: indoorImage may contain: plant, tree, table and outdoor

Currently this church is known as the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, but it was originally created in 1133 in Sacramenia, Spain. The construction was completed in 1141 and the Monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the Cistercian Romanesque style and was located in a mainly Muslim area of Spain during this period. It would have originally contained some defensive structures (as the Christians and Muslims where at war during this period). This monastery also contains two of the only three known telescopic windows from the medieval period that exist today (pictured below). These are placed above the altar Continue reading “Places to See: Ancient Spanish Monastery, Miami, FL”