Orphan Train Important Characters

Vivian Daly

Vivian is one of the two main characters in the book. She was born in Ireland and immigrated to New York City with her family in 1929. Her family was killed in a fire and she was sent to the Children's Aid Society. They put her on the Orphan Train which took her to Minnesota to a new life. Her birth name was Niamh Power, which was changed to Dorothy Power by the Brynes. They were the first family to take her in and the first family to give her back to the Children's Aid Society. They gave her back because the stock market crash of 1929 had occurred and they could no longer afford to keep her. She is then sent to the Grote family. She is turned out of this home after Mr. Grote attempts to rape Dorothy. She is then taken in by her teacher, Miss Larsen, until a permanent family could be found for her. Mr. and Mrs. Nielsen took her in and changed her name to Vivian. After her husband, Dutchy, is killed during World War II, Vivian marries his best friend Jim Daly. Vivian is the one person who understands how Molly, the foster child, feels about being pushed from home to home. She is also the one person willing to look past the wall Molly has put up and finally gets close to her. Vivian is a warm hearted woman who has endured not only the loss of her family, but also the guilt of putting her only child up for adoption. She and Molly together work to find Vivian's daughter and arrange for the two of them to meet.

Molly Ayer

Molly is seventeen years old and living with her twelfth foster family. She has built up a wall between herself and other people. She dresses as a Goth and takes on an attitude of don't come near me. Ralph and Dina, the latest foster parents, are at odds as to how to handle Molly. Ralph wants to try and help her, but Dina just wants her to go away. After Molly is caught trying to steal a book from the local library, Dina is certain her way is correct. Molly is sentenced to fifty hours of community service. Molly's boyfriend, Jack, has his mother set it up so that Molly can work in the household of Vivian Daly. Vivian is Jack's mother's employer and she needs someone to clean out her attic. Molly and Vivian work together to clean out the attic. Vivian thinks Molly is doing this as part of a class requirement and is willing to help the girl. During the long hours the two spend in the attic, Vivian, by looking at her possessions, relates to Molly the story of her life. Molly, whose father is dead and her mother in jail, understands Vivian's story. They both in their own ways are orphans and in their youth were at the mercy of other adults. Molly comes to see, by listening to Vivian, that these trials she endures can sometimes be the path to a better life. After Molly is turned out by Dina, Vivian takes her in and together the two of them work to put back the missing pieces of Vivian's life.


Dutchy meets Vivian on the Orphan Train. He is sent to sit next to her because he and the boys he was sitting with were causing trouble on the train. At this time, Vivian is still known as Niamh, she is hopeful that the life awaiting her in Minnesota will be a good life. Dutchy, on the other hand has been living on the streets of New York after running away from his abusive father. He knows what is awaiting them in Minnesota and it is not the good life Niamh is hoping for. He is streetwise and cynical, he knows he will be taken by a farm family and used for labor. He is realistic about how he will be treated, which will be like an animal. As it turns out he is right. He is taken by a farm family which makes him sleep in the barn and beats him for any small infraction. He eventually runs away from them and discovers he has a talent for music. He had promised Niamh they would always stay in touch. It just so happens, in Minneapolis they run into each other at a hotel where Dutchy plays the piano. They eventually marry and move back to Hemingford, Minnesota. Unfortunately, World War II interrupts their ideal life. Dutchy is drafted and is assigned to an aircraft carrier, which is where he is killed after a plane crashes into the ship. Dutchy was a hardened teenager, who had a special place in his heart for Niamh. He and she would have lived a happy life together, had he not been killed during the war. It was his child Niamh gave up for adoption. She felt that after losing him, she was cursed to lose everyone who mattered to her, so she gave up the child in order to save her.


Jack is a fellow student at the high school Molly attends. He is the only student willing to take the time to try to get past Molly's hard exterior and really get to know her. Jack's father is from the Dominican Republic and his mother, Terry, is from Spruce Harbor, Maine. His father abandoned the family, so Jack is being raised by his mother. Jack sees something in Molly which other people do not, which is her intelligence and curiosity. He also sees someone who has, through no fault of her own, been beaten down by life. It is Jack's idea to have Molly do her community service hours in Vivian's home. He talks his mother into the idea of lying to her employer, as to the reason for the hours. Jack has faith in Molly and does everything he can to help her. The two have a falling out after Terry discovers that the attic is not actually being cleared out. Instead Vivian is having Molly neatly rearrange the items into new boxes and organizing them. Vivian cannot let go of her past and just wants someone to listen to her. Jack is afraid Molly is taking advantage of Vivian. He is also afraid his mother will lose her job if Vivian is dissatisfied with the work or she finds out the true reason Molly is there. In the end they work out their differences.

Terry Gallant

She is Jack's mother and Vivian's housekeeper. She does not approve of Molly and Jack's relationship, because she does not approve of Molly. Molly dresses as a Goth, complete with a nose ring, multiple piercings, and dyed black hair with a white stripe on one side. In addition to this, she is a foster child with a criminal record, so she is not the girl Terry would choose as girlfriend for her son. Despite that, she loves her son and would do anything to make him happy. This is why she arranges for Molly to work in Vivian's attic. She keeps a close eye on the girl and is astounded when Molly moves in with Vivian, after Dina has her leave her home. After a while though, she sees the rapport the two have and softens her view of Molly.


He is Molly's foster father who thinks he can make a difference in her life. The only problem is, he has absolutely no idea of how to do that. Compound his lack of experience with his desire to keep peace with his wife and it leads to a totally ineffectual experience for both him and Molly. He has good intentions, but good intentions alone are not enough to salvage the situation. In the end he allows Molly to go on living with Vivian, without informing the authorities of the change in Molly's life.


She is Molly's foster mother who just barely tolerates her. All she can see is the trouble Molly causes her and the stress Molly brings into the family. She never thinks that maybe by being a little less rigid she could make all their lives easier. She is the one who, after an argument with Molly, finally tells her to leave immediately.

Mr. and Mrs. Byrne

They are the first family to take Niamh in and they are the couple who change her name to Dorothy. She is treated as a servant by them. They make her sleep on a pallet in the hallway, she is not to talk to them after supper, and she is not allowed to use the indoor bathroom. She is only there to work in their sewing business. Even though they had agreed to educate her, Dorothy is told she is not ready for school and therefore will not be sent. After the stock market crash they give her back to the Children's Aid Society.

Mr. and Mrs. Grote

They are the second family to take in Dorothy. She is nine going on ten years old by this time, and she is put in charge of four young children. The family is very poor and the mother is sickly. She will not hardly do anything to raise her own children. They do send Dorothy to school which is her salvation. After living with them a while, Mr. Grote tries to rape Dorothy, but he is interrupted by Mrs. Grote. She blames Dorothy and send her out immediately.

Miss Larsen

She is Dorothy's school teacher who sees how intelligent Dorothy is. She takes pity on the girl, after she is found half frozen in the school, because Mrs. Grote put her out in the middle of the night. She convinces the Children's Aid Society representative to allow Dorothy to come home with her until a new home can be found for her. Miss Larsen is kind and helpful to Dorothy. It is through her landlady that the next and final family is found for Dorothy.

Mr. and Mrs. Nielsen

They decide to take Dorothy into their home. Their child had died when she was young, her name was Vivian. They wanted a child to help them with their general store. Dorothy was at first a little apprehensive about going with them, but she came around to liking them. They were kind to her and made her feel as if, for the first time, she would have a permanent home. They even adopted her. The one thing they asked of her was to change her name from Dorothy to Vivian. She decided that would be alright with her and so she became Vivian.

Related Links:

Orphan Train Quotes
Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Union Station, Chicago, 1929 Summary
Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Albans, Minnesota, 1929 Summary
Orphan Train Summary
Orphan Train Quiz
Orphan Train Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Union Station, Chicago, 1929 Quiz
Orphan Train Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Albans, Minnesota, 1929 Quiz
Orphan Train Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Quiz
Orphan Train Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Quiz
Orphan Train Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 - Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930 Quiz
Orphan Train Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930-1931 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1939 Quiz
Orphan Train Hemingford, Minnesota, 1940-1943 - Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Quiz
Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Summary
Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 Part 2 Summary
Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930 - Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930 Summary
Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930-1931 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1939 Summary
Hemingford, Minnesota, 1940-1943 - Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 Summary
Literature Summaries

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