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Archives & Special Collections

Orphan Train

doll in a dress in glass case This is the doll given to Alice Bullis Ayler, one of the last orphans to ride the rails west in hopes of finding a new and loving home.

As a long time resident of Oklahoma City and a graduate of UCO, Alice has donated her Orphan Train Collection to the University. The exhibit contains artifacts, videos, periodicals, and oral and written histories.

See and learn more about her journey and the fascinating history of the Orphan Train Riders as we display the details of this remarkable story. The exhibit is in Archives & Special Collections on second floor in the library and is open during department hours.

Learn More

Orphan train riders : their own stories (May be read in Archives only).
Summary: First-hand accounts of young orphan train riders as they experienced anxiety, hope, and the longing for a new family. Some were adopted by loving families, but others were taken on as little more than work hands on the frontier.

A family apart by Joan Lowery Nixon (children's book).
Summary: When their mother can no longer support them, six siblings are sent by the Children's Aid Society of New York City to live with farm families in Missouri in 1860.

Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting (children's book).
Summary: In the late 1800s, Marianne travels westward on the Orphan Train in hopes of being placed with a caring family.

The end of the line, orphan trains (Streaming video requires UCO login).
Summary: This documentary tells about the development of the orphan train system which took orphaned children to the midwest for adoption. Features stories about New York children who were adopted by Missouri families soon after the turn of the century. Includes archival footage.

American Experience: The Orphan Trains (online PBS guide).
Summary: Over a 75-year period from 1853 and 1929, about 250,000 neglected and orphaned children were uprooted from major cities in the east and sent by train to farming communities to start new lives with new families. This PBS guide provides a history, the transcript of the program, and an extensive bibliography.