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Sherwood Anderson Extension Activities:
Bound Children and the Orphan Trains

The old woman in the story "Death in the Woods" had been a "bound girl" on a farm in Ohio. Although the practice of "binding out" children as indentured servants was common in Colonial America, students may not know that this practice continued in the twentieth century. In fact, the terms "bound girl" and "bound boy" were used by the United States Census to identify people well into the 1900s. Some children who became legally indentured as laborers in the late 1800s and early 1900s were among the hundreds of thousands sent west from cities like New York and Boston on "Orphan Trains" during the largest migration of children in American history.

Getting Started

Lesson Objectives
After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Define the term "bound girl" (or boy)
  • Write a letter from the point of view of a child who has been bound out as a servant in early America
  • Complete a WebQuest about the Orphan Trains
  • Write a fictional autobiography about the old woman's childhood and adolescence as a bound girl

Grade Level Indicators
In meeting the lesson objectives, students will:

C. Independently read books for a variety of purposes (e.g. for enjoyment, for literary experience, to gain information, or to perform a task)
H. Use available technology to compose text
I. Publish writing for display or for sharing with others
K. Produce informal writing (e.g. journals, notes, and poems) for various purposes
L. Locate information using parts of books and online tools
M. Compare and contrast important details about a topic using different sources of information, including books, magazines, newspapers, and online resources
Only eighth grade students should document sources and include bibliographies.

Time Required
You can pick and choose among these Extension Activities. If you elect to do all four activities, they will take approximately six or seven 45-minute class periods to complete.

  • Handout and Discussion - 45 minutes
  • Letter from an Indentured Servant - 45 minutes
  • Orphan Trains WebQuest - three to four class periods (up to 180 minutes)
  • Autobiography of a Bound Girl - 45 minutes

Resources Needed
Computer with Internet access and printing capability


Handout and Discussion

Provide students with the "Bound Children" handout and activity instructions. After all students have read the handout, discuss the topic, review the instructions, and answer any questions.

You could use any or all of these activities as a springboard to further learning across the curriculum. We encourage you to partner with social studies teachers in your school, as well as people in your community to make these activities as enriching as possible.

Download the Handout (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Download the Activity Instructions for Students (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

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