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Special Collections Highlight

Alice Ayler Orphan Train Collection

Image of Alice Blanch Bullis around three years old.

 

Alice Blanch (Bullis) Ayler (1919-2005) was one of 150,000 New York children sent west on the Orphan Train (1854-1929) in the hopes of finding a better home. Her collection includes an autobiography, interviews with other orphan train riders, photos, videos, books, newspaper articles, awards, and a few possessions. 

 

Alice Blanch Bullis was born on June 19, 1919 in Roseboom, New York to Charles and Orena Bullis. The family grew to include Pearl, twins Wesley and Lesley, and Elmer. Charles and Orena had a 25 year age gap. The difference in their life experiences and expectations eventually led to the breakup of the family.

Photo of Alice, her mother Orena, sister Pearl, twins Wesley and Lesley, and youngest Elmer before the CSA came to take them away.

 

At the age of nine, custody of Alice and the other children was signed over to the Children's Aid Society. This organization had contracts in the west to place orphaned children with new families, either as an adopted child or in many cases for older children, a worker. It was later discovered that Orena had forged Charles's signature.

Photo of twins Wesley and Lesley

 

The siblings were separated. Pearl went to a home for handicapped children, the boys to a boys home, and Alice to Goodhue Home for Girls. The Home prepared girls with training to aid them in any home that might want to take them in and make them more "adoptable."

Portrait of Alice as a young woman

 

Alice and the boys ended up in Kansas. The twins were adopted by Mr. & Mrs. Bankston, who were childless. They renamed the boys Thomas Floyd and Loraine Alan Bankston. Elmer was adopted by a couple but given back once they had their own child. Alice moved from home to home ending up with a family in Marion, Kansas. She remained there until 17, when she went off on her own. 

Wedding photo of Alice Bullis and Donald Ayler December 24, 1939.

 

Alice's time with the family in Marion was difficult, but she met the love of her life, Donald Ayler, while attending school. The high school sweethearts were married on December 24, 1939 and welcomed their first child (Donald Bruce) in July of 1941.

Silver Anniversary photo of Alice and Donald Ayler

 

Alice had always wanted to adopt a child and in 1947, after years of being denied, the family finally welcomed Ann Lynn. 

Image of Alice's Master's Degree from UCO

 

Alice started college at the age of 50. She went to Oklahoma State for one year before transferring to UCO. She graduated with her BA in 1973 and her MA in 1977. She wanted to prove that even unwanted children could achieve success if they chose to.

Image of Alice and Donald Ayler with son Donald Bruce Ayler around 1998.

 

Alice continued to work as a school Psychometrist until her daughter became ill with terminal cancer, when Alice quit work to care for her. Ann Lynn died in 1985 at the age of 39.

 

After Ann Lynn's death, it took Alice five years to recover the will to return to work. Unfortunately, age had caught up with her and she needed to retire. During her retirement, Alice took a very active role in forming the "Orphan Train Heritage Society of America."

Image of Alice Ayler with her George Washington Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

 

At the age of 78, Alice was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal in recognition of her work in promoting the advocacy and study of the orphan trains and the children who rode them. 


text reads Library Transformations