Bernadine Barr, “Estimates of Numbers of Children in Institutions, Foster Family Care, and Adoptive Homes, 1910-1960”

By the early twentieth century, child welfare reformers had declared that families—not institutions—were the environments in which children should grow up. In 1909, for example, the first White House Conference on Children called the family “the highest and finest product of civilization.” As the table below shows, this famous declaration obscured the stamina of institutional care. In 1910, there were well over 1000 orphanages in the United States, their average size had grown considerably since the late nineteenth century, and they housed more than 100,000 children. Not until 1950 did the number of children living in foster families exceed the number of children living in institutions, and the number of adoptive placements did not surpass the number of institutional placements until 1960.

 

Estimates of Numbers of Children in Institutions, Foster Family Care, and Adoptive Homes, 1910-1960

 

Institutions

Foster Family Care

Adoptive Homes

1910

101,403

61,000

 

1923

132,258

61,475

3354?

1933

140,352

102,577

5833?

1950

95,073

98,082

80,000*

1960

70,892

163,000**

107,000

* estimate for 1951

** estimate for 1961

   
 

Source: Bernadine Barr, “Spare Children, 1900-1945: Inmates of Orphanages as Subjects of Research in Medicine and in the Social Sciences in America” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1992), p. 32, figure 2.2.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
Site designed by:

 
To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3118
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman