OrphanTrainPosterHannah Bachman Einstein, a German Jewish social reformer who demanded and won state support for destitute mothers and their children, was born in New York on this date in 1862. As president of Temple Emanu-El’s Sisterhood for twenty-five years, she became heavily involved in the lives of poor Jewish immigrants in New York, and in 1915 she headed the committee that wrote the state’s Child Welfare Law, which provided funds for widowed and abandoned mothers so that they would not lose their children to orphanages. Within five years the policy was emulated in many states, and orphanages and orphan trains mostly disappeared in the U.S., replaced by welfare systems, foster care, and adoption networks. Einstein founded the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations, was the first woman to sit on the board of the United Hebrew Charities, and served as president of the New York State Association of Child Welfare Boards from its establishment in 1915 until her death in 1929.

“Up to 95 percent of children in orphanages {today, internationally] have at least one living parent and an extended family. Poverty, disability and social exclusion push most children into orphanages, state institutions and other so-called children’s homes. . . . Even in facilities with the best of intentions, damage is done. The custodial setting itself, no matter how humanely or responsibly run, causes lasting psychological and physical damage. In many cases, for every three months a baby or toddler is institutionalized, that child loses one month of development. Even in clean, well-managed, “good” orphanages, children can never get the direct care that a parent, family or caring guardian can provide.” —Laura Ahern, Disability Rights International