Purinton v. Jamrock, 1907

This excerpt from a 1907 Massachusetts case suggests that controversies associated with transreligious adoptions anticipated the debates about transracial and international adoptions in the post-1945 period. Clara and Jesse Purinton, a Protestant couple, were the foster parents of Kate Jamrock, the abandoned nine-year-old daughter of an unmarried Catholic mother who had been in state care for a total of six years. The Purintons petitioned to adopt Kate even though Massachusetts law specified that children were to be placed in families that shared the religious faith of their birth parents whenever “practicable.” In this case, the court upheld Kate’s adoption over the objections of her birth mother, Mary Jamrock, and the Catholic Church, ever-vigilant against the child-stealing that had characterized the era of Charles Loring Brace and the orphan trains. Arguments for religious protection and matching had real merit, according to the court, but they could not trump all other considerations related to child welfare. “The first and paramount duty is to consult the welfare of the child.”

PETITION, filed in the Probate Court for the county of Franklin on April 25, 1905, by Jesse M. Purinton and Clara F. Purinton, his wife, both of Colrain, for the adoption of Kate Jamrock, a child of nine years of age at the time of the filing of the petition.

In the Probate Court Thompson, J. made a decree granting the petition. The respondent, Mary Jamrock, the mother of Kate Jamrock, appealed, assigning the following objections to the decree:

“ First. That the respondent is the only parent of said child, and has never consented in writing or otherwise to said petition or decree. . . .

“Second. That the petition should be dismissed because it is alleged upon the record that said child is illegitimate, in that the petition alleges that said child is the child of a single woman, and such allegation is contrary to the provisions of law.

“Third. That the petitioner Jesse M. Purinton is not a fit person to be the adopted parent of said child, and that it will not be for the welfare of said child that said petition should be granted.

“Fourth. That the mother and sole legal parent of said child has always been a member of the Roman Catholic church, and that when said child was but a few days old she procured the child’s baptism duly, and its reception into membership of the said church, and [said child] was brought up by her in the said church, and said mother has never consented to the child being educated or trained in any other form or doctrine of any other religious belief.

“Fifth. That the said mother has a natural, inherent and constitutional right to be protected by the State in her prerogatives as the sole parent of said child, and cannot be deprived of them by reason of poverty or misfortune, nor can the State usurp, deprive, or declare forfeit the appellant’s rights in and to said child, or transfer the possession of her perpetually to any other person without her consent.

“Sixth. That the petitioners are of a different religious faith from that of the mother of said child, and intend, if their petition is granted, to educate said child in their own religious belief, and that it is the right of the appellant that said child, while of such tender years as to be herself incapable of exercising a rational choice in this respect, shall not be educated in a religion other than that of her mother, the appellant. . . .

The Chief Justice refused to rule as requested; and made the following findings of fact and order for a decree:

“The petitioners are about forty years of age, childless, and without expectation of having children of their blood. They live in a small town, in a comfortable home, in a good and healthful neighborhood. They are not possessed of a large property, but from their savings and earnings, with or without a possible inheritance, they reasonably expect to be able to give the child a suitable support and education. The petitioner, Clara F. Purinton, is a woman of exceptional fitness and unusual qualifications to become a parent of such a child by adoption. She was a teacher before her marriage, and by disposition and temperament as well as education, she seems a proper person to perform the duties of a mother to this girl. . . .

“It was proved that during the years that the child had lived in the family of the petitioners they came to have a very strong affection for her, and that she showed much fondness for them. . . .

The evidence satisfies me that the interests of the child will be greatly promoted by granting the petition for adoption. . . . The petition should be granted unless some good reason is shown to the contrary.

“It appeared that the petitioners are accustomed to attend the Baptist church, and that, during her stay in Colrain, the child had been a member of the Sunday school connected with that church. She was baptized in the Roman Catholic church. Her mother is a Roman Catholic, and she objects to having her child reared in a Protestant family. This objection is entitled to consideration, although it does not appear to be of great weight. . . . Certainly her [the birth mother’s] seeming indifference and her lack of any personal relations with her child for nearly six years, makes her wishes on such a subject not so important as they otherwise would be. . . .

It is undoubtedly the general policy of the Commonwealth to secure to those of its wards who are children of tender years the right to be brought up, where this is reasonably practicable, in the religion of their parents. But it is the right of the children that is protected by this statute. . . . In such a case as this it is not the rights of the parent that are chiefly to be considered. The first and paramount duty is to consult the welfare of the child. The wishes of the parent as to the religious education and surroundings of the child are entitled to weight; if there is nothing to put in the balance against them, ordinarily they will be decisive. If, however, those wishes cannot be carried into effect without sacrificing what the courts sees to be for the welfare of the child, they must so far be disregarded. The court will not itself prefer one church to another, but will act without bias for the welfare of the child under the circumstances of each case. . . .

The right of the parents is not an absolute right of property, but is in the nature of a trust reposed in them, and is subject to their correlative duty to care for and protect their child; and the law secures their right only so long as they shall discharge their obligation. . . .


Source: 195 Massachusetts Reports 189-190, 194-196, 199-201.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
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