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 · english history · history

When Christmas was Banned…

The holidays this year have been a struggle. Many did not even expect the holidays would have been affected when the pandemic started in March . Gatherings will be smaller or over video chats and the holidays will not feel like the big event that they have usually been. Yet, it also gives us sometime time to focus on the things we are grateful for. Christmas could never truly be cancelled, right?

Well, actually, Christmas has been banned in previous centuries. It was banned in both the United Kingdom and early America. In 1647, Parliament decreed that Christmas was no longer considered a feast day or a holiday. This was under the rule of Parliament/Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who was placed in power as a result of the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I. This regicide brought the Puritans (some of the most extreme Protestants) to the forefront of politics. Puritans believed that the whole celebration and overindulgence of the season was wrong. To them, there was nothing in the bible that stated there should be a celebration like this on December 25. In fact, the date December 25 originates from a pagan festival (the date of the winter solstice) which was just adapted to the Christian rhetoric during the early medieval era. The bible was the word for the Puritans and they had a strict adherence to it. Christmas should be like any ordinary day. There would be no large feastings, merry making, rowdy behavior, drinking to excess, decorations (idols), or any other “sinful” activities. They also disliked these traditions as they felt that the Catholic influence was still too strong on the Church of England.

Continue reading “When Christmas was Banned…”
biography · english history · history · Scottish History

Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)

Part One ( The Great Cause (Part 1) )

Part Two ( William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2) )

In 1297, the Robert the Bruce was 22 years old. In part 1 of this series, his grandfather (also named Robert Bruce) was one of the contenders for the Scottish throne but lost to John Balliol. The Bruce family was still one of the most powerful Scottish families and were determined to see their claim to the throne fulfilled. They sided with Edward I when the first rebellions broke out.  This was because they refused to back their rival John Balliol and hoped others would support their claim. Now, the young Robert Bruce, against the wishes of his father, decided to join the Wallace’s rebellion in 1297. In 1298, Bruce was named Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn (the nephew of John Balliol), was also named co-Guardian. The men disliked each other and again were beginning to split into factions, just like their previous relations. Yet, despite these factions, in 1302 Edward received oaths of allegiance from all parties. Was young Robert the Bruce going to honor this oath?

Continue reading “Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)”

biography · english history · european history · history · Scottish History

William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)

In part one of this series (The Great Cause (Part 1)), Edward I had forced the Scottish nobles and their King to swear an oath of allegiance to him as their “overlord”. As he believed he had finally subjugated Scotland, the English king attended to affairs in other parts of his kingdom. After the betrayal of John Balliol and a failed rebellion, Edward I completely occupied Scotland. He sent soldiers to ensure his rule would continue. The people of Scotland were taken advantage of and abused under this military occupation. Scotland needed a new champion to take up their cause for freedom. Their nobles had failed them with their infighting and military defeats, so it was time for one of their own to pick up his sword.

William Wallace’s background is hazy and was thought to be the son of a minor feudal lord in Renfrewshire or Ayrshire. He seems to have grown up with military training which contributed to his later success. He was a very tall man . He was over six feet when the average male height was about 5’6” (though this physical characteristic was highly exaggerated in legends). Walter Bower (author of  the Scotichronicon) describes him as having “a certain good humour, had so blessed his words and deeds with a certain heavenly gift, that…he won over to himself the grace and favour of the hearts of all loyal Scots.” Bower also described him as “fair in his judgments”, compassionate, patient, and a skilled orator. Yet, English sources would describe him as “a vagrant and a fugitive”, a “bloody man”, and “a chief of brigands” (Morris, pg 303).

Continue reading “William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)”

english history · european history · history · Scottish History

The Great Cause (Part 1)

This month I was supposed to be travelling to Scotland with one of my best friends. Scotland has been a dream trip of mine for a while, but it seems 2020 had other plans for me and so many others in similar situations. I hope to re-schedule, but, in the meantime, I would love to share some Scottish history in a new three-part series. This series will focus on the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1328). This was a time that was filled with fascinating characters, intriguing military battles, and cunning tactics. On the English side, we have Edward I, “The Hammer of the Scots”. Edward was one of the strongest monarchs in English history, but also has a reputation of being a tyrant. Later, his weaker son, Edward II, will struggle to carry on his father’s legacy. There are some familiar names on the Scottish side such as: William Wallace and the legendary King Robert the Bruce. Along the way there will be a sprinkling of minor characters, including a brilliant sneaky re-capture of Edinburgh by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. I am greatly looking forward to this series and I hope it will provide an interesting read!

The Lothians - East, West & Midlothian | VisitScotland
A photo of Edinburgh, which was our travel destination (https://www.visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/edinburgh-lothians/)

In 1286, Alexander III of Scotland died and ended what had been considered a golden age of the Scottish kingdom. At 45 years old, King Alexander decided to risk it all and take a dangerous ride through a stormy night in order to spend the night with his new young bride of twenty-two years old. The next morning, he was found dead at the rocks at the bottom of a cliff. It was a disaster for Scotland as Alexander III had survived all his children and his new young wife had not yet produced an heir. With the throne up for grabs, powerful factions began to form which threatened the stability that had been a constant in the prior Kings reign. The main players were John de Balliol and Robert Bruce (senior, his grandson will become the more famous Bruce). Rebellion and civil war threatened Scotland due to the succession crisis and infighting between the two factions.

Continue reading “The Great Cause (Part 1)”

American History · Detroit/Michigan · history

New Decade, New Goals, and Anniversaries

2020! We have entered into a new decade and it feels like a clean slate. What will happen in the next ten years? How will we change in the next ten years and what will we accomplish? I find it interesting to ponder these questions.

In 2019, I am most proud of the amount of traveling I did. I traveled overseas to Europe for the first time and was able to experience much of the history I read about first hand. I traveled to the west coast of the United States for the first time as well. I already have booked a trip to Scotland with a friend for 2020 and hope to explore even more! The cover photo is a picture of me taken in Zurich, Switzerland.

Returning to the present, I am proud of the work I did on the historynavigator blog in 2019. My goal was to become more consistent and create a post every month. Though I missed two months (one of those months was consumed with my travels to Europe and the other was just laziness), I was still more consistent than 2018. This year I hope to do better and make all 12 months. It is definitely difficult to find the time to do the research and even just figure out topics with work, life, and changes happening. This year, I want to make time to think of these things in advance and start my reading in advance. Is there any topics that you would be interested in me researching ?

Continue reading “New Decade, New Goals, and Anniversaries”

art history · biography · european history · history

The Creation of a City of Ladies: Christine de Pizan and her Legacy

 

Image result for city of ladies manuscript

The female sex has been left defenseless for a long time now, like an orchard without a wall and bereft of a champion to take up arms in order to protect it…

                                                          –The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, 1405

Feminism in the 15th century? This is considered a rare concept during the medieval period. This was an era of serfs/lords, arranged marriages, and a time when women were viewed as little more than property. This period lacked champions to stand up to the patriarchy that dominated society. Well, such a champion did exist, though many may not have been familiar with her. She is considered France’s (even Europe’s) first profession female writer and was popular internationally. Her name was Christine de Pizan.

Christine is considered one of the first feminist figures as, through her work, she directly addresses many of the injustices her sex had been subjected to. She calls out the injustice of their treatment in a very progressive manner. This is evident in two of her most famous books, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the Three Virtues. Christine’s version of feminism in the 15th century is still not like it is today (as she was still a woman of her time), but it was extremely radical for the period she lived through. I first learned about this amazing woman in an art history course in college and she has been a figure that I have wanted to highlight for a long time now. Continue reading “The Creation of a City of Ladies: Christine de Pizan and her Legacy”

biography · english history · european history · history

Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In this post I wanted to highlight a new book by author and historian, Hallie Rubenhold. The Five is a history that involves the now infamous story of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer that terrorized Victorian London. In the modern area, it seems his killing spree has almost been glorified through the media and tourist attractions. It is all about Jack the Ripper, his mysterious identity, and his modus operendi. His victims are only remembered as “prostitutes”, but can any of us even recite their names?

Continue reading “Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold”

Asian History · biography · european history · history · ottoman history

The Rise of Roxelana

Roxelana’s notoriety has lasted long after the end of her life. Despite her status as a female slave in a patriarchal society, she would go on to make her mark in politics, break traditions, and create an example for royal women in the future of the Ottoman Empire. She also founded many charitable foundations throughout Istanbul and beyond. Roxelana would gain the title Haseki Sultan of and become the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. To many, Roxelana may be an unknown figure in history, but she has always been a person of interest to me. I had watched the first season of the Turkish drama, Magnificent Century, and was inspired to learn more. I have been very excited to create this post and hope to bring more awareness to Roxelana’s impact in Ottoman history and women’s history.

16th century portrait of Roxelana titled Rosa Solymanni Vxor

Continue reading “The Rise of Roxelana”