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Adoption in America

Historical Perspectives

E. Wayne Carp

Publication Year: 2002

Includes research on adoption documents rarely open to historians . . . an important addition to the literature on adoption. Highly Recommended. ---Choice "Sheds new light on the roots of this complex and fascinating institution." ---Library Journal "Well-written and accessible . . . showcases the wide-ranging scholarship underway on the history of adoption." ---Adoptive Families "[T]his volume is a significant contribution to the literature and can serve as a catalyst for further research." ---Social Service Review Adoption affects an estimated 60 percent of Americans, but despite its pervasiveness, this social institution has been little examined and poorly understood. Adoption in America gathers essays on the history of adoptions and orphanages in the United States. Offering provocative interpretations of a variety of issues, including antebellum adoption and orphanages; changing conceptions of adoption in late-nineteenth-century novels; Progressive Era reform and adoptive mothers; the politics of "matching" adoptive parents with children; the radical effect of World War II on adoption practices; religion and the reform of adoption; and the construction of birth mother and adoptee identities, the essays in Adoption in America will be debated for many years to come.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: A Historical Overview of American Adoption

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pp. 1-26

Adoption touches almost every conceivable aspect of American society and culture. Adoption commands our attention because of the enormous number of people who have a direct, intimate connection to it—some experts put the number as high as six out of every ten Americans.1 Others estimate that about one million children in the United States live with adoptive parents and that...

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A Good Home: Indenture and Adoption in Nineteenth-Century Orphanages

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pp. 27-50

Adoption in the nineteenth century occurred at the nexus of new attitudes about the family, women’s roles, childhood, and class. Today, adoption is generally seen as a means by which middle-class infertile couples can establish families by relieving young unmarried women of their unwanted babies, and the ideal adoptee is a newborn. But two hundred years ago, Americans, who...

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Building a Nation, Building a Family: Adoption in Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Literature

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pp. 51-81

Although orphans and orphanhood are frequently discussed in studies of nineteenth-century American fiction, few critics have turned their attention specifically to the subject of adoption.1 This omission is striking both because adoption is a logical outcome of orphanhood and because adoption occurs frequently in American literature and culture. Indeed, adoption plots shape such...

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What’s Love Got to Do with It?: “Adoption” in Victorian and Edwardian England

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pp. 82-100

The problem of regulating English adoption practice proved vexing for politicians and philanthropists alike. Writing in 1887, two American historians gazed enviously across the Atlantic: “In a stable society, like that of England, where distinctions of rank and social position are settled by birth rather than by achievement, the questions connected with the family do not present such...

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A Historical Comparison of Catholic and Jewish Adoption Practices in Chicago, 1833–1933

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pp. 101-123

As the nation’s population diversified in the nineteenth century, benevolent work in the United States began to develop along sectarian lines. This fact led to the common assumption that Roman Catholics and Jews differed both from one another and from the dominant Protestant group in the handling of their social welfare needs. In studying the way that Chicago’s Catholics and Jews coped with...

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Rescue a Child and Save the Nation: The Social Construction of Adoption in the Delineator, 1907–1911

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pp. 124-139

Every morning, George Wilder, president of Butterick Publishing Company, noticed the ragged and dirty children who milled around outside his building. Where did these children live? Who were their parents? What was to become of them? How could he help? Wilder’s concern sparked the creation of the Child-Rescue Campaign in the Delineator, the country’s third-largest women’s...

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A Nation’s Need for Adoption and Competing Realities: The Washington Children’s Home Society, 1895–1915

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pp. 140-159

American society has had a vested role in adoption from the time it became an established method of saving children at the turn of the century. Although many of the specific issues surrounding adoption have changed since then, we still look to adoption to provide solutions for some of the nation’s most heartrending conditions, from child neglect, abuse, and abandonment to fulfilling...

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Adoption Agencies and the Search for the Ideal Family, 1918–1965

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pp. 160-180

Earlier essays in this volume have described the work of Charles Loring Brace’s pioneering agency, the New York Children’s Aid Society (CAS), which began placing children in substitute families in 1853, at almost exactly the same time that state legislatures began passing the first modern adoption laws. The CAS was the ancestor of the modern adoption agency. Few of the children placed by...

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When in Doubt, Count: World War II as a Watershed in the History of Adoption

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pp. 181-217

The title of this essay was inspired by English historian G. Kitson Clark, who advised anyone venturing a generalization, “do not guess, try to count, and if you cannot count, admit you are guessing.”1 Clark’s advice has been almost impossible to follow in writing the history of adoption. In addition to historians’ difficulty in gaining access to adoption agencies’ confidential case records, in...

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Adoption Stories: Autobiographical Narrative and the Politics of Identity

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pp. 218-245

Adoption is Other in a culture and kinship system organized by biological reproduction. This essay examines autobiographical narratives of adopted persons, birth mothers, and adoptive parents as uneasy negotiations of identity.1 Memoirs of adoption by adoptive parents first appeared in the 1930s, but adoption autobiography was not established as a recognizable subgenre until...


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pp. 247-248


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pp. 249-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024636
E-ISBN-10: 0472024639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472030545
Print-ISBN-10: 047203054X

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 6 drawings, 33 tables
Publication Year: 2002