‘Orphan Train Riders’ play to be performed by Henry Barnard School fifth graders March 19

A historical drama presented by fifth graders at RIC’s Henry Barnard School will be presented on Friday, March 19, at 9:30 a.m. in the Nazarian Center’s Sapinsley Hall.

Sharon Fennessey
The play, written and directed by Sharon Fennessey, professor at Henry Barnard School, dramatizes the experiences of the three Wilson children, who were riders on an orphan train going to Kansas in 1875.

The play begins in the mansion of John D. Rockefeller, where a fundraiser for the orphan trains takes place. It then moves to the Wilson apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here we learn that the Wilson children’s mother has recently died and their father can no longer support them. Eventually, the children find themselves at the Children’s Aid Society, an orphanage for homeless children founded by Rev. Charles Loring Brace.

After spending time in the orphanage, the Wilson children are chosen to go on the orphan train and in the final scene of the play they are adopted by the a couple who live in McPherson, Kansas.

Charles Loring Brace rescued thousands of homeless and unwanted children from the streets of New York City. In the mid 1800’s there were as many as 30,000 homeless children living in alleys and doorways. He believed that children needed fresh air, a good home and job training to become good citizens. His solution was to send the children by train to the farmlands of the Midwest. There they would be placed in homes and sometimes adopted. The orphan trains carried children to destinations all over the United States from 1854-1929.