Writings about orphan crisis after the American Civil war?
May 6, 2017 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Has there been any writing on the orphan crisis after the American civil war?

So my Great Grandpa was a kid during the American Civil War and my Grandma would talk about the orphans who made their way North across the Ohio River during the 1860s and 1870s.

In her small township she mentioned four specific kids - all of whom I have found in census records as being farm labor and household servants, but she spoke of this as if it were a real crisis, in that "civic leaders" who were less than honest would try to keep the kids out of the local schools and as pretty much indentured labor on farms.

I've googled around a little, but have been able to find mostly modern stuff about other civil wars and was wondering if this was just her confirmation bias from being near the Kentucky border or if there was a real social problem with wandering children who lost their parents.

So has this been written about?

posted by Tchad to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a term to aid your research you can check "soldiers orphans". The thing is there were already lots of orphans with no place to gon so it wasn't a brand new shocking thing. There were greater numbers and I think the amount of sympathy for the kids increased slightly since it was often due to the ACW. New orphanages sprung up soon after.

I don't think the civic leaders had to do too much to keep them out of school. Im sure whoever had them as labor probably had little incentive to send them for school. (Although i could imagine some felt they didnt want them in school with their children.) I've seen many servants at least as young as 8. School wasn't compulsory in the US, only in Massachusetts.

Also, a soldiers orphan could be only fatherless. Only having a mother meant no income so no way to take care of the child.

If you'd like to read about it you could go to fultonhistory and search the newspapers of the time, it's free. Newspapers.com is way easier to search but is a subscription.
posted by beccaj at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

There does appear to be newspaper coverage of war orphans and h need to deal with them, both contemporary pieces and more recent retrospectives.

This is maybe also connected to the transfer of many children from the Eastern US to the Mid-West in the later 1800s via the so-called Orphan Trains?
posted by Wretch729 at 1:18 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think she's describing Orphan Trains, which were not specifically connected to war orphans, but the timing is right. There are lots of records of train stops, advertisements, and newspaper articles about them. If you want the local history, you might start by contacting Children's Home Society of America, the umbrella organization that sprung from this history. Pretty sure the location you're describing is now served by Beech Acres Parenting Center, so they may have local historical documents for you to peruse.
posted by juniperesque at 2:27 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm really glad you guys mentioned orphan trains; I saw them on a couple of searches, but didn't realize they went back so far. That would make sense in terms of how she was so into the issue - they owned a train station out in the countryside from the end of the war through the 20s.

Such good direction. Thanks for that.
posted by Tchad at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2017

My great-great grandmother was a soldier's orphan in Davenport, Iowa. Her mother placed her and her two brothers in the home after their father was killed in the war and she could no longer care for them. I have been able to confirm this story through census records that show the three children as residents of the home in 1900.

There are some things written about the Iowa Soldier's Orphans Home on a blog by the Davenport Public Library.
posted by LightMayo at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might look into the popular fiction of the time. I have a big collection of books by Mary Jane Holmes and this was one of her favourite topics-- displaced orphans and their fate in the post-war period was often part of the story.
posted by frumiousb at 3:58 PM on May 6, 2017

There is an orphan train museum in Concordia, Ks. I'm sure you could call and talk to them as well as visit.
posted by aetg at 7:17 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might get a response if you post this question to reddit.com/r/AskHistorians

Unlike the rest of the site, they moderate that page very well, and there are a number of highly qualified historians who answer questions exactly like yours. I know there's a few people who specialize in the Civil War, so they may be familiar with sources that would be useful to you.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:06 AM on May 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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