Dorothy Mae Johnson

Posted by on June 28, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 comments

By guest Joan Sawyer:

Dorothy Mae Johnson (born Dorothy Kathryn Brooks in New York City on May 23, 1911) was an orphan train rider. She left New York on a train that stopped in Algona, Iowa in February 1917. At the age of 5 1/2 she was taken in by John and Carrie (Curtis) Johnson, who farmed near Irvington in Kossuth County, Iowa, and later adopted by them in 1923.

Dorothy Mae Brooks and her brother, Albert Brooks, and other children given up for adoption were accompanied on the train by Clara B. Comstock, western agent for the New York Children’s Aid Society. Dorothy Mae, Albert, and Charles were given up by their mother (Mary Elizabeth) after their father died. Mary Elizabeth had health problems and could not support her three youngest children. Charles was sent on another orphan train to Chanute, Kansas to be adopted. Albert Brooks was taken in by Mrs. Rawson in Algona, Iowa. Dorothy’s name was changed to Dorothy Mae Johnson. John and Carrie Johnson had a daughter, Clara Mae, born in 1905 and she died in 1907.

Dorothy grew up on the farm and attended the nearby country school. When Dorothy was 12, her birth mother came from New York in hopes of taking Dorothy and her brother, Albert, back to New York. Albert went but Dorothy liked her adoptive family and stayed with the Johnsons in Iowa. She attended high school in Algona, Iowa, and then taught in the country schools near the farm where she grew up.

In 1933, Dorothy married Irving Urch of Kossuth County, Iowa. They farmed in Iowa and later in Minnesota. They had four children. Dorothy visited her birth mother in New York and also made sure that her four children met their grandmother. One of her sons attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. Irving and Dorothy decided that each of their children would attend that university so they left farming and moved to Greenville, South Carolina.

In her later years, Dorothy wrote a book about her life and the quest to find her brother, Charles, who had been adopted in Kansas. By the time she finally found his family, Charles had died and his widow and his children lived in Canada. The name of the book is: “Charles Found at Last.”

After the death of her husband in 1993, Dorothy moved into a retirement home in South Carolina where she enjoyed making quilts and doing all kinds of crafts. In 1999, she and her two daughters met with the archivist of the New York Children’s Aid Society and loved searching through the old records. She attended an orphan train reunion, hosted by the Society, in New York City in May 2000. She passed away on October 16, 2007.

Joan Sawyer,
First Cousin, Once Removed of Dorothy Mae (Johnson) Urch


  1. John and Carrie (Curtis) Johnson were relatives of mine. Carrie Curtis would have been a great-aunt of mine. I met Dorothy once in Algona during a susguecentenial (?) where she was in the parade. I believe this was a couple of years before she passed away. I have her book and the video made about her story. Just finished watching your documentary on IPTV – excellent!!!

  2. Charles was my father. His adopted name was John Scarrett Craig. He died in 1977. My mother’s name was Charline Loretta Orn Craig. She died in 2014. They had four sons, three are living. John and Charline have eleven grandchildren and, as of date, three great-grand children.
    Dorothy’s book is a keepsake of our family.

  3. Loved the article. Thank you for preserving this rich but forgotten part of our history. As a point of clarification, Dorothy’s baby brother, Charles, was adopted in Chanute, Kansas, by Fred and Edith Craig. He was re-named John Scarratt Craig. John’s familty moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, where he spent most of his childhood and graduated from high school. As a young adult, he moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he eventually met and married Charline Loretta Orn. Together they had four children. John lived a full and productive life and died in 1977. It was not until 1999 that his widow, Charline, was found by Dorothy in St. Marys, Ohio, after a long search by Dorothy. This reunion, though minus Charles himself, was surprising and sweet as I winessed for myself. After learning many details of (Charles) John’s early life that Dorothy had uncovered, Charline took up the telling of the saga of her husband and the Orphan Train movement to anyone who would listen. Charline died on June 24, 2014, but the legacy of Charles lives on.
    Michael Craig
    Lima, OH
    Youngest son of Charles

  4. My name is Al Craig and I am the 3rd son of John and Charline. Several years ago, my songwritting partner picked up Dorothy’s book, written about her brother and my dad, and proceeded to write a song. “Live was tough for a sidowed mum, with a bunch of kids in a New York slum, so out of love granma sent her son to the country.”

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