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Orphans Of The Storm

July 2024
1min read

Thomas A. Collier, Jr., found this old, uncaptioned photograph in a flea market just outside the town of Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. Who, he wondered, were these children? Boys all in military caps, girls in their checkered jumpers. He bought it and began his research.

He found the answer in a book published in 1876, Pennsylvania’s Soldier Orphan Schools . These were the orphans of the Mount Joy School, founded in 1864, to provide for children left destitute by the Civil War. The dress of the children is described: “The girls and boys were neatly and uniformly clothed—the former in brown hoods, black cloth cloaks, and checked frocks, and the latter in dark blue gold-laced caps, blue roundabouts and gray pantaloons.”


The school undertook to build character; it taught that “labor is honorable and idleness a disgrace. … The children have also been taught the importance of good manners, whether in the schoolroom, at their work, at the table, or on the playground. Tidiness in dress and person has at all times been required. …

“The moral and religious training of the orphans has been regarded of first importance and received much attention. Vice has been made to appear odious and its practice degrading, while moral purity has been represented as lovable and elevated and the road to success. … As a result of this wholesome discipline, right training and thorough instruction, a large proportion of the children, after leaving school, do well.”

To speak of the “good old days” is not always an exercise in idle nostalgia.

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