U. S. Children's Bureau, Memo About Conditions at a Baby Farm, 1918

Source:  W.H. Slingerland, Child-Placing in Families: A Manual for Students and Social Workers (New York:  Russell Sage Foundation, 1919).

Before and after pictures, like the ones above and below, were common in exposés of baby farming by reformers who favored increased state regulation of placing-out and minimum standards in adoption.

Source: W.H. Slingerland, Child-Placing in Families: A Manual for Students and Social Workers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1919).

This memo reported on an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Children’s Bureau of the Sunshine Nursery in Kensington, Maryland.

Memorandum for Miss Lathrop:

Miss Emery called yesterday morning and was here for three hours. She spoke of Miss Washington’s place being quite a dreadful place and I asked her to be specific and wrote down her statements and read them back to her. They are as follows:

Screens inadequate. Many flies. Most of the babies’ beds were built with screens, however.

One little child was tied in bed.

A filthy rug was noticed by Miss Emery on a bed. She lifted it and found a baby beneath it. The housekeeper said the rug had been put there because the baby would not sleep in the light.

While Miss Emery was at this nursery from one to five o’clock on Monday July 15th, she said only one pillow was changed.

The nose and mouth of one child were covered with a mass of flies.

The children had no playthings.

An uncovered slop jar on the porch afforded the only toilet facility for the children.

Miss Emery asked for water for the little girl in whom she is interested. The housekeeper said, “We do not give water because water poisons the children.”

Miss Emery said she picked up the little girl, Catherine, in whom she is interested and her legs were numb. She said this little child 15 months old was chaffed and bruised as though it had been whipped.

Miss Emery told the housekeeper the little girl needed a bath and the housekeeper said she did not. Miss Emery asked for water to bathe the child and the housekeeper refused to give it to her, saying that all their water had to be heated in a kettle.

The little girl in whom Miss Emery is interested was given a cup of milk to drink. Miss Emery noticed that the milk was cold (just off the ice) and asked that it be heated. The tin cup was put upon the stove and in a few moments the housekeeper gave it to the child and burned the child’s lips with it. . . .


Source: Memo on Sunshine Nursery, July 19, 1918, United States Children's Bureau Papers, Box 60, Folder 7349.1, National Archives II.

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