Practice Babies

I have previously mentioned in this blog the new book – American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser. She is getting a lot of press for her new book which focuses on one particular story of a mother and son but also documents the “shadow” history of adoption or so much that has been mostly hidden from public view.

One of those aspects was how babies, before they were relinquished for adoption but not yet adopted and often actually orphans, were given or “lent” as practice babies to home economic students in colleges, passed around, Glaser says, “like footballs.”

From a blogspot post –

From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, college home economics programs across the country set up ‘practice homes’ where students set up temporary residence. The women were graded on their ability to live cooperatively, keep a tidy home, and plan meals.  

On some campuses, this domestic practice was taken a step further.  Schools would obtain temporary custody of babies from orphanages or child welfare departments and move the children into the practice home. The students would then raise the baby in shifts, each taking a turn to act as the house ’mother.’ 

After a year or two, the babies would be put up for adoption. While potential parents considered these ‘scientifically raised’ babies particularly desirable, the practice died out as educators and government authorities began to worry about the effects of having so many people involved in a child’s early life. 

Former Practice Babies Come Forward

Many people react to learning about the ‘practice baby’ story with a desire to know what became of the children later in life. Since adoption records are closed and the practice children were referred to by fake names in university records, it is difficult for researchers to find these now-adults. However, at least two former ‘practice babies’ have come forth to talk about their life experiences.

Shirley Kirkham was a practice baby at Oregon State College in Corvallis in the 1930s. In an interview given to The Euguene Register-Guard in 1999, Ms. Kirkham described feeling used by the college, as she feels that her early childhood left her with emotional scars. She is attempting to locate her birth parents.

Donald Aldinger was a practice baby at Cedar Crest College in 1947. He reconnected with four of his practice mothers in 1993. The reunion was a joyful one.

While the baby behind the controversy at Illinois State Teachers College, ‘David North,’ has never been identified, some of his former practice mothers have publicly reminisced about their time with him.

The links above include a few other tabs if you wish to explore this piece of history related to adoption further. The Adoption Network has announced that they are having a presentation with Gabrielle Glaser on Monday, February 8th in the evening which you can register for.

11 thoughts on “Practice Babies

  1. This is too painful to read Deb. Who on earth came up with all these ideas and thought it was okto pass babies around and practice on them? Now I need to look up this David North character, and I have a clinic to run. lol Blessings but please stop posting stuff that is so heart and gut wrenching.

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    1. Sad to be the bearer of truths hard to realize. HUGS from me to your reverse teddy bear. And enjoy that nice, long hot aromatherapy bath. I really wish I had the time in my own life. Someone has to make sure these hard truths don’t remain buried.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I make the time 😉 Bath was already run for me by the time I’d got home from work. (Hubby reads my posts lol) Blessings Joy. Am going to write another one on the topic, probably tomorrow, now that I’ve got that one off my chest. Blessings J x

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    2. Hi Joy, I am the Don Aldinger aka “Baby Donny” who has been mentioned in this article. Should you have any questions or should you like to speak or write to me, please feel free to contact me at. .donnie7@comcast.net
      Thank you.

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  2. Hi Deb, I am Don Aldinger, the “practice baby” who you wrote about in your book. I am so thankful and grateful for the nursing which I received as a “practice baby” at Cedar Crest College, Allentown, Pa. in 1947. All turned out well…..I worked hard growing up on the Mennonite farm as I grew up as a foster child, milking cows each day and serving as the free neighbor boy each summer making hay. I went to college, working three jobs at a time, earned a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, and then became a high school teacher and college for 30 years, winning a number of state championships. In 1993, I learned my parent’s names for the first time and became interested in researching my birth family’s (Aldinger) history. Since that day, I have learned of 6 siblings and have traced my lineage (line of birth grandfathers) back to the year 1620. From 1994-95, I lived and researched my family history in Fellbach, Germany, the home of my Aldinger family and the town where my great-grandfather, Christian Aldinger, migrated from in1881 to Bethlehem, Pa., to work for Bethlehem Steel, because there was a drought in Germany and the vineyards produced no grapes. I have been so fortunate to have climbed the Alps, toured the Black Forest, boated down the Rhine River, and visited many of the most beautiful castles in Germany. Why was this all possible……because in 1993, I learned for the first time that I was a “practice baby” who then wanted to learn my family history. I finally found my family which I never knew until I was 46 years old. So, you see…all turned out for the BEST…..and, “Thank You” to all the nursing students at Cedar Crest College who gave me love and care for the first 13 months of my life. Please feel free to contact me if you like!!! Tschuess!!!!!!!!!

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    1. How interesting and thank you for commenting here. Actually it was only this blog and not a book (though I am working on one about learning about my own family history). I had no idea of my family’s origins for over 60 years. Both of my parents were adoptees and died knowing next to nothing about their birth parents who surrendered them to mid-1930s adoptions. My dad’s father was a Danish immigrant, not yet naturalized and married to someone else, at the time of his conception. Sadly, he never knew he had a son but my dad was so much like him, it is a pity.

      So, I do know how it feels to know nothing. A year after both of my parents died, only 4 mos apart, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and have some contact now with genetic biological relatives. Even one in Denmark !!

      BTW my daughter is married to a German national who has lived here in the US since the age of 6. They would like to visit Germany some day. His parents are divorced. His father immigrated to the US but his mother stayed in Germany. She has come over to visit them recently.

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      1. Thank you for your reply and I surely understand and appreciate your feelings about your parents. Should your daughter ever want to speak to someone about Germany, I would be so happy to share my experiences from Germany with her. Where is her husband’s family from in Germany? Just like you, I began researching and learning about my birth family’s history in 1993 and I must say it “has been a remarkable experience”, the greatest adventure which I have ever experienced. I have gone from learning my parents’ names in 1993, to learning who my grandfather (generations removed) was in 1620, to learning about Capt. Aldinger who took the phone call when Hitler had Fieldmarshal Rommel killed in 1944 (this was told to me by Fieldmarshal Rommel’s son, Manfred Rommel who was the Mayor of Stuttgart, Germany in 1994), to the involvement of the Aldinger family in the Charles Lindberg baby kidnapping in New York City. Researching my family has been the greatest history lesson ever learned. I even visited the town of Aldingen, Germany, the namesake of the Aldinger family. Good luck with your research and if I can ever assist you, please do not hesitate to ask me. Viele Gruessen!!!!

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      2. I have asked my daughter because I do not have the foggiest idea of what part of Germany they come from. Learning my parents origins story gave me a feeling of wholeness I never expected to have in my own lifetime. It is amazing.

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