minutes document an ongoing discussion by staff members at Louise
Wise Services, one of the country’s leading adoption agencies
in the post-World War II era. What to do about children of mixed
or ambiguous racial background? This raised a number of thorny questions
about who children were, where they belonged, and what their sexual
and reproductive futures might hold, recalling the earlier debate
about adoption and eugenics.
Should agencies place children in white families in cases where
they could “pass”? The Interracial Program of Louise
Wise Services was launched in 1952 with the strong backing of Justine
Wise Polier, daughter of the agency’s founder, Louise
Wise. This excerpt suggests the role that science played in legitimizing
matching at a moment when
the acknowledgment of racial differences within families was just
Judge Polier then called upon Dr. Shapiro, the newest member of
our Professional Advisory Committee. He is chairman of the Department
of Anthropology and Curator of Physical Anthropology at the American
Museum of Natural History. He has worked with all of the adoption
agencies in New York City for the past several years in helping
them to make decisions regarding children of interracial background.
Generally it is a question of how the child should be placed. Dr.
Shapiro said that the problem of mixed races is not purely biological,
it is biological in a sociological setting. He said that it is not
always simple to say what the child really is; he can only give
an opinion of what a child is and what kind of a family he believes
the child can fit into. The agencies must make the final decision.
In discussing the nature of racial differences, Dr. Shapiro said
that racial differences were easy to see if the child is of unmixed
racial background. When we cross individuals of certain racial backgrounds—as
for example Negro and white—the child may fall within the
range of Negro traits, or the child may be so white that we should
think of him as a white child. In the latter cases, the Negro strain
has been diluted out and the genes of the child are overwhelmingly
white. If such a child should later marry a white person the couple
would not have Negro children.
Dr. Shapiro stated that since most agencies like to place children
very young they send them to him at two to three months of age.
However, he refuses to gave an opinion then, and will not see the
children until they are six months old. He realizes that this puts
a burden on the agencies but yet he feels that it can save us from
There was some discussion regarding birth certificates for children
who should be classified as white but whose original birth certificates
indicate that they are Negro. In such situations, Dr. Shapiro writes
a letter which the agency can use in having the birth certificate
changed. . . .