A piece of history was passed from the Traer Historical Museum to the Dysart Historical Museum on July 16 at the Traer Museum's monthly meeting. For several years, a small coat worn by Ben Pippert of Dysart when he came to Iowa as a child of the Orphan Train in 1894 has been on display at the Traer Museum. The little coat had been given to the museum by Dorothy Halupnick, Pippert's daughter, because she wanted to assure that the coat and a Children's Aid Society card that was pinned to it be preserved so that people of the area would remember the impact of the Orphan Train on her father, his four siblings and many others.
Recently, the Traer Museum Board and the Dysart Museum Board have entered into an extended loan agreement so that the coat can be placed on exhibit in the town that Ben Pippert had called home from the time he was about three years old until he died past the age of 100. There is no evidence in Traer histories of the Orphan Train stopping in Traer. And yet, Ben Pippert's story is a piece of Dysart's history and the museum boards felt that Dysart was the more historically accurate place for it to be displayed.
From 1854 to 1929, orphan trains from New York "placed out" 150,000 to 200,000 destitute children, like those of the Pippert family, mainly to homes in the farming communities of the Midwest. Some of these children, from young infants to age 15, were orphans. Many were homeless street kids, and others were given-up by parents unable to provide for their well-being. Some had been abandoned by their families or were runaways from abusive homes. Many children on the orphan trains came from the street gangs and orphan asylums of the city.
Judy Robb, representing the Traer Historical Museum is pictured here lending the original coat that Pippert wore on the Orphan Train when he arrived in Dysart to the Dysart Historical Museum. Pictured (l to r) Judy Robb, John Mehlaus, Deb Ewoldt, Thelma Brandt and Catherine Wieck.
Photo by Linda Podhajsky
During the orphan train trip, children were accompanied by a placing agent. The trains stopped in scheduled locationslike Dysart. Children usually lined up in front of prospective takers on a platform or at a meeting hall. They were encouraged to look and act their best. Inspection sometimes involved poking and prodding; an attempt to determine their value as workers on farms or in local shops and businesses. Unselected children were returned to the train to travel on to another stop.
Two main institutions in New York City were involved in the mass "migration" of children: The Children's Aid Society and The New York Foundling Hospital. Both are operating today, still involved with aiding in child welfare. The Children's Aid Society, founded and directed by Charles Loring Brace, began the orphan trains as a way to "save" poor street children by placing them with families. The idea was that families would provide the children food, clothing, and a living space in return for their help on the farms. It was hoped that the children would become an integral part of the families, that they would be adopted. When it actually worked that way, it was usually great. Children grew up, married, raised families, and contributed to the growing nation. Two orphan train boys went on to become governors of South Dakota and Alaska. Others were teachers, business people, legislators, and community leaders.