So many orphans

images-1Pre-20th Century European literature is full of orphans. For good reason. Consider these statistics from the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society.

  • In 17th & 18th C western European, 1 out of 3 children had lost at least one parent.
  • 1 out of 2 children in 19th C Milan had lost a parent by age 20.
  • 1/3 of all boys in 19th C China had lost a parent by age 15.
  • In 19th C Sweden, 60% of children who lost their mothers before their first birthday died before age 15; while “only” 30% of those who lost their father that early were dead by age 15.
  • In 1915 Baltimore, nearly half the children whose mother died before they were two months old swiftly followed their mothers to the grave.

Do you know about “orphan trains” in 19th and early 20th Century America, carrying unwanted children from east coast cities to servitude in the needy Midwest? Christina Kline Baker’s Orphan Train is a fascinating and engrossing read.

FYI: all this orphan research came about in research for my upcoming historical novel, due out Spring, 2015: World War I, magic realism, shell-shock, a Prussian orphan and a castle in New Jersey.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS and SWIMMING IN THE MOON (both HarperCollins).

Posted in WWWS
One comment on “So many orphans
  1. carole says:

    I just finished ORPHAN TRAIN. I knew nothing about all these orphans until I read the book. Isn’t reading wonderful? Im going to read SWIMMING IN THE MOON next if it’s on audio. I am completely spoiled by audio books.

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Swimming in the Moon runner-up for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction.

Saturday, February 28, 2015. Workshop on creating better dialogue for the Knoxville Writers Guild

May 5, 2015: release of Under the Same Blue Sky. World War 1, magic realism, shell shock, Pittsburgh & pastries.

Recent Review
"A testament to the love and enduring bond between mothers and daughters, childhood friendships and adopted family, Swimming in the Moon is a must read for anyone who enjoys beautiful, richly drawn characters and a historical setting so realistic one would believe they had been transported into another time. A glorious, unforgettable novel. A+" Pittsburgh Examiner

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