Excerpt from Ida Parker, Fit and Proper?, 1927

Twenty-five cases selected from those whose social history is known are given here in some detail in order to furnish an idea of the quality of much of the stock which was transplanted from its natural to its artificial environment by adoption. While one would hesitate to call them typical, it can be said that they are not unusual. Several of these cases show also something of the kind of home into which the children were permanently received. Opinions will differ as to the propriety of some of these adoptions.

(1) A little girl of fourteen months was the first illegitimate child of a mother who had had at least three. This mother herself was probably the illegitimate daughter of a woman of bad reputation and of a man said to have had colored blood. She had already made arrangements to allow the adoption of the child of the study by a woman with whom she was boarding her, when an agency was asked to put through the legal papers. An investigation showed that the middle-aged foster parents, although respectable, were financially unable to assume the permanent support of this child. The foster mother, in need of a surgical operation, could get about only with difficulty. The foster father was earning but $16 a week at the same job he had held for many years. The agency, therefore, considered it unwise to put through the adoption. A private attorney, however, transacted this piece of legal business. Not long after, another organization was asked to assist the adoptive parents who were giving the child good care but could not carry the burden of its support.

(2) Three illegitimate children were found by a court to be neglected and removed from their parents. This family had been known to several agencies for years because of conditions of neglect in the home due to the mother’s mental condition. She was finally committed to a hospital as epileptic and insane and continued to deteriorate mentally. The boy of the study, who in spite of his heredity seemed normal, was adopted at nine years of age by a family with whom he had lived some time.

(3) An agency put through the adoption of a two months old illegitimate baby whose mother was also illegitimate and had been in care of an organization during the first two years of her life. Then she had been returned to the maternal grandmother, who at once placed her with a fine woman who gave her an excellent bringing up. In spite of this opportunity the girl had a child just after she had begun to work.

(4) A little boy of two years was admitted to the care of an agency on application of his mother who was fatally ill with tuberculosis. She had struggled in vain to support him and his older sister and had been obliged to accept assistance from more than one agency. Her husband was a chronic non-supporter and finally found his way to a correctional institution. After the mother’s death the little boy was discharged by the agency to the maternal relatives who adopted him when four year years old. The older child was taken by relatives on the father’s side. . . .

The adoption law in Massachusetts is on the whole good. It was framed to protect all the parties at interest but in its intent exists primarily for the welfare of the child. The judges of the probate courts are men of integrity and worthy of the pride that the citizens of Massachusetts have always felt in its judiciary. Yet the children of Massachusetts are not adequately protected under the present adoption practice. Adoptions which for the welfare of the child, of the adoptive parents, and of society, should never be permitted, are being decreed almost daily.

It has been shown that at the present time it is possible in Massachusetts’ court procedure for inaccuracies or even untruths concerning social facts bearing upon adoptions to pass undetected. No oath is required as to the truth of any of the facts contained in the petition. No penalty is prescribed for misstatements. There is no requirement for going behind any plausible statements, nor any as to what parties to the process shall be seen by the judge.

The difficulty seems to lie in lack of appreciation of the fact that adoption is a most complicated child-welfare problem and not merely a small part of the business of crowded courts whose primary concern is far removed from this problem. Once it is recognized that there is a social problem behind each adoption petition and that therefore it is not the occasional, but every case, concerning which the court needs full information, the number of unsuitable adoptions will decrease. A way will be found to secure the facts for the courts.

The outstanding conclusion from this study is the great need of thorough investigation of the social facts which bear upon every adoption petition filed.


Source: Ida R. Parker, Fit and Proper?: A Study of Legal Adoption in Massachusetts (Boston: Church Home Society, 1927), 19-20, 69.

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) 346-3699
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman