U.S. Children's Bureau

Source: U.S. Children's Bureau, Child-Welfare Exhibits:  Types and Preparation, Miscellaneous Series, No. 4, Bureau Publication N. 14 (Washington DC:  Government Printing Office, 1915).

Large wall panels such as those above and below were regular features of child welfare exhibits sponsored by the U.S. Children's Bureau during its early years. As a method of popular education, they aimed to reach parents and citizens with messages about everything from the life-saving qualities of breast milk to the dangers of poverty, ignorance, and bad surroundings.

Source: U.S. Children's Bureau, Child-Welfare Exhibits:  Types and Preparation, Miscellaneous Series, No. 4, Bureau Publication No. 14 (Washington DC:  Government Printing Office, 1915).

The U.S. Children’s Bureau (USCB), was established by Congress in 1912 and is perhaps best known for its campaigns to reduce infant mortality and eradicate child labor. The first federal agency to be headed by a woman, Julia Lathrop, it was also the most important home in the federal government for advocates of adoption regulation. The USCB encouraged reforms in state adoption laws, disseminated original research, and sponsored conferences on child placement issues and priorities. The first major conference on child welfare standards, for example, took place in 1919 under USCB auspices. Its published summary included a resolution on desirable practices in child-placing and supervision drafted by Edmond Butler, Executive Secretary of New York’s Catholic Home Bureau, the first Catholic agency to use family homes rather than congregate institutions. In adoption, as in many other issues related to American family life, child welfare was the paramount concern of the USCB. It worked closely with organizations like the Child Welfare League of America to extend the power of government and allied professionals over the adoption process. Minimum standards were a typical strategy.

The work done by the USCB on adoption was often galvanized by scandals related to baby farming and black market adoptions. USCB field agents documented deplorable conditions in maternity homes and orphanages and spearheaded investigations of placing-out and interstate traffic from the 1910s through the 1960s. Although the USCB itself provided no adoption services, thousands of adults seeking children wrote to the USCB in hopes of realizing their dreams. Each inquiry was answered promptly and respectfully; letter-writers were referred to local or state agencies whose staff and standards were deemed reliable. From its inception, the USCB worked to educate the public about the importance of regulating adoption. Pre-placement investigation, post-placement supervision, and lengthy probationary periods, according to the USCB, were the minimum standards necessary to safeguard children and adults and insure that adoptive families turned out well.

Today, the U.S. Children’s Bureau is located in the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Source: U.S. Children's Bureau, Baby-Week Campaigns, Revised Edition, Miscellaneous Series, No. 5, Bureau Publication No. 15 (Washington DC:  Government Printing Office, 1917).

Cartoons for baby-week, sposored by the U.S. Children's Bureau, appeared in many newspapers. This one depicted babies asking for love, intelligent care, protective laws, birth registration, and “fathers who think,” among other things.


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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
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E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
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