From the 1850s to the 1920s, orphan trains transported hundreds of thousands of children from the East Coast to the Midwest. Children who were poor, abandoned, or runaways found themselves traveling across the country to start new lives. The origins of foster care can be tracked back to this unusual practice of shipping kids across the United States to families they never met.
The foster care history timeline beings with Connecticut-born minister Charles Loring Brace. He was alarmed by the abuse and poverty he witnessed among the children of New York City while working as a missionary. Some kids were housed in overcrowded orphanages, while others were trying to survive on the streets. Many of them were dirty, rambunctious, members of street gangs, and thieves. Their parents were either dead, sick, addicted to drugs and alcohol, or unable to support them for whatever reason. Brace is an important figure in child welfare history in America. Because of him, more than 100,000 children were placed in homes over the course of 75 years. And it all started with orphan trains.