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.
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.