Kathleen d'Olier, “Case Work with the Unmarried Father,” 1937

Kathleen D'Olier, Executive Director of Family and Child Welfare Departments, Catholic Charities, Rochester, New York, expresses here the moral condemnation that was frequently leveled against unmarried fathers on the rare occasions when they were discussed early in the twentieth century. In the era before reliable blood or DNA testing, paternity was “putative” rather than provable.

Case work with the unmarried father is a subject which any case worker would approach with humility, not only because of the serious nature of the problem, but because when thought of as a separate categorical field, it is a seriously neglected one, and there is therefore less precedent to guide us in our approach.

Why should this be! For centuries, at least since the days of St. Vincent de Paul, much loving care has been given to the unmarried mother and her child, and still how incomplete is the picture. . . .

As to the social aspect of the problem, the man is often a more serious menace than the girl. Have any of you kept a file of putative fathers in your own agency and seen how often the same name is mentioned in different cases, or how often the names of two brothers may occur? I recall a young business man whose name is mentioned three times in our file, and this does not by any means limit the harm he may have done. The ease with which many of our young men and women forestall the consequences by use of contraceptives, or conceal them by resorting to abortions, makes illegitimacy no longer an index of immorality.

There are few social workers today who do not agree that the putative father should be located and given an opportunity to acknowledge paternity; and if he refuses to do so after an understanding and objective interview, and there appears to be sufficient evidence to prove a case, then he should be brought before a court which will, after hearing both sides, adjudicate, and if the decision be favorable to the girl, order a financial settlement, either in a lump sum or in small payments. There are still, however, some institutions that oppose this practice, feeling that charity is better served by ignoring the question of paternity entirely. . . .

No greater injury could be done to both mother and child than in the case in question [ignoring the birth father]. The child has been deprived of the social, educational and religious advantages of being born into a normal family. The mother, aside form the burden of bearing the child, must face, except in communities where public respect of chastity is lax, greater or less ostracism. . . . Now to repay this debt the man may marry the mother. However, this is not always possible, and often undesirable. Still the obligation remains, and by supporting the child, and if possible the mother also, it must be paid.


Source: Kathleen d'Olier, “Case Work with the Unmarried Father” (paper presented at the Twenty-third National Conference of Catholic Charities, 1937), 120-121.

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