The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train Colloquium will provide a platform to examine, study, and discuss the movement known as “The Orphan Train” (1854-1929) through multiple disciplines and perspectives. The colloquium has drawn presenters from the regional area in disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and arts. Events will be held October 2 and 3 on the UNK campus, The Archway, and the Museum of Nebraska Art. The colloquium will conclude on Wednesday evening with the opening night performance of the musical, Orphan Train.

The orphan train movement was a supervised welfare program that transported children, generally abandoned, orphaned, or homeless, from urban areas on the east coast of the United States to foster and adoptive families in the rural Midwest and Great Plains. Operating over seventy-five years, some 200,000 children found new lives in small towns and farming communities. The program ended with the beginning of the Great Depression and the establishment of a formalized foster care system in large cities. Nearly 3,500 children settled with families in Nebraska.


9 - 10:30 am REGISTRATION &
Fine Arts Building Lobby
10:30 - 10:50 am OPENING OF COLLOQUIUM & WELCOME Fine Arts Recital Hall [RH]
Session 1 - Fine Arts Recital Hall
11 am - 12 pm

John Shontz, JD - Keynote Speaker
Project Coordinator of Orphan Train Project: Making a Difference, Helena, MT

"The Orphan Train Riders: An American Saga"

Session 2
12:10 – 12:35 pm

Denise Bailey, PhD
Assistant Professor of Social Work,
Northwestern State University of Louisiana

"Sacred Duties: The Roles of the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital in the Orphan Train Movement"

12:40 – 1:05 pm

Megan Birk, PhD
Associate Professor of History,
University of Texas Rio Grande

"The Orphan Trains as Example: Setting the Stage for Placing Out"

1:10 – 1:35 pm

Martha Kruse, PhD
Associate Professor of English, UNK

"A Steer You’d Have to Pay for, but a Boy You Could Adopt for Free": Portrayals of Orphan Train Experiences in Children’s Historical Fiction

Session 3
1:45 – 2:10 pm

Cheryl Pooler, MSW 
Lecturer, Baylor University

"The Role of Social Work with Homeless Youth in the Progressive Era: Ending Youth Homelessness"

2:15 – 2:40 pm

Karyn L. Hixson, MA
Adjunct Faculty, Department of English, UNK

"The Failures: Looking at the Orphan Train through the Lens of the Adoptees"

2:45 – 3:10 pm

Chris Steinke, PhD
Assistant Professor of History, UNK

"The History of the Genoa Indian Industrial School"

3:10 – 3:30 pm BREAK Fine Arts Building Lobby
Session 4
3:30 – 4:45 pm

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, PhD - Plenary Speaker
Professor of History, Iowa State University

"Children, Work, and the Shape of the 19th Century Farm Family, or Why Orphan Trains Made Sense in the Context of their Times"

5 – 7 pm DINNER BREAK Dinner on your own
Session 5 - Museum of Nebraska Art
7 – 8 pm

Derrick Burbul, MFA
Professor of Art, UNK

"Equality Before the Land"

8 – 9 pm

Kate Benzel, PhD
Professor Emerita of English, UNK
Terry Sinnard and Mick Johnson, musicians

"The Young Folk: The Orphan Train in Song"

Session 6 - The Archway
9:30 - 10:15 am

L.E. McCullough, PhD

"All the World's a Classroom: Using Theatre to Teach Basic Curriculum"

Session 7
10:30 – 11:15 am

Jinny Turman, PhD
Associate Professor of History, UNK

"An Orphaned History? Investigating the Emerging Public Memory of Orphan Trains"

Session 8
11:15 am – 12:00 pm

Thomas Kiffmeyer, PhD
Associate Professor of History, Morehead State Univ. (KY)

"From Country Life to Rural Poverty: Conceptions of Rural Space in American Thought"

12:00 – 12:45 pm CATERED LUNCH
Session 9 - Fine Arts Recital Hall
1:30 – 2:15 pm

Sandy Cook-Fong, PhD – Featured Speaker
Assistant Professor of Social Work, UNO

"Orphan Train Riders to Nebraska: A Look at Life Experiences"

Session 10
2:30 – 3:15 pm

Orphan Train Riders and their Legacy – Featured Panel
John Shontz, Project Coordinator of Orphan Train Project: Making a Difference, Helena, MT
Mickey Creager, Daughter of Orphan Train Rider, Agnes Widhalm
Lloyd Castner, Son of Orphan Train Rider, Clarence Castner

Moderator: Shaley George, Director
National Orphan Train Complex

3:15 – 3:30 pm BREAK
Session 11
3:30 – 4:15 pm

Creating The Orphan Train Musical – Featured Panel
Panelists: Patricia Birch, Director; Doug Katsaros, Composer; L.E. McCullough, Librettist
Moderator: Janice Fronczak, Professor of Theatre, UNK

4:30 – 5:30 pm

Tours of the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture
William Stoutamire, PhD, Director
Tours begin at 4:30PM and 5:00PM but may be joined at any time.

5:30 – 7:30 pm DINNER BREAK Dinner on your own
Miriam Drake Theatre