A Brief History of Adoption

Willa Cather said that those who gave up carried something painful,
cut off inside, and that their lives had a sense of incompleteness.

Before Georgia Tann, some states had laws that insisted a single mother breastfeed her baby for at least six months.  This was to encourage the mother to become emotionally attached and raise her child – thus relieving the state of a need to care for them in an orphanage at public expense.

After Georgia Tann popularized adoption, these babies became a marketable commodity, and this necessitated the separation of mother and child.  During the 30s, mothers were sometimes blindfolded during labor to prevent them from seeing their baby.

By the mid-40s, adoption was nationally popular.  White single mothers were EXPECTED to surrender their babies to adoption. This policy was endorsed by the Child Welfare League, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and most psychiatrists and psychologists.

It was even predicted by a social scientist, Clark Vincent, that in the future, all white newborns from single mothers would be seized by the state – not for punishment – but in the scientific best interest of the child, considering the rehabilitation goals for the unwed mother and the stability of the family and society overall.

Such a concept was even advocated by the author, Pearl Buck, who asked Georgia to collaborate on a book about adoption. Georgia Tann died from the complications of cancer after dictating only two chapters. By then, the scandal of her baby stealing and selling operation seems to have discouraged Buck from pursuing the topic to its completion as a book.

Even so, Georgia Tann had influenced Pearl Buck’s thinking – in a 1955 article in Woman’s Home Companion – Buck advocated legislation forcing single mothers to surrender their babies for adoption – thankfully such a law was never passed.

Social pressure was enough to separate many single mothers from their children. By the 1950s, 90% of white maternity home residents surrendered their children. It is because I understand how close I came to being given up for adoption as I was born in 1954, that I consider it a miracle that I wasn’t. My mom was only 16, unwed and a high school student when I was conceived.

Adoption came to be seen as the perfect solution for infertility. Birth control and abortion were considered threats to the availability of children for such women and it would seem are viewed the same even today.

My source for this information is The Baby Thief: The True Story of the Woman Who Sold Over Five Thousand Neglected, Abused and Stolen Babies by Barbara Bisantz Raymond.

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