Field Studies

Field studies conducted in several states during the 1910s and 1920s were the first real empirical investigations of adoption in the United States. They aimed to gather basic statistical data on how many and what types of adoptions were occurring, drawing primarily on agency and court records. How many adoptions were there? At what age were children adopted? By whom? Who arranged adoptions? Field studies had two main purposes: to determine whether states’ regulatory requirements were adequate and to discover whether those requirements were being followed or ignored. Field studies did not contact families after adoption decrees were issued or follow up on children later in life, as outcome studies did. What they did was link child welfare and the promise of safety in the adoption process to policies promoting extensive regulation by professionals, agencies, and courts.

Chronological List of Field Studies


U.S. Children's Bureau, Illegitimacy as a Child-Welfare Problem, Part 2: A Study of Original Records in the City of Boston and in the State of Massachusetts, eds. Emma O. Lundberg and Katharine F. Lenroot, Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes Series No. 10, Bureau Publication No. 75 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921), chap. 3.


Helen Lucile Pearson, “Child Adoption in Indiana” (M.A. thesis, Indiana University, 1925).


Neva R. Deardorff, The Children's Commission of Pennsylvania Studies Adoption, 1925, from “'The Welfare of the Said Child...'” Survey Midmonthly 53 (January 15, 1925):457-460.


Neva R. Deardorff, “Scrutinizing Adoption,” Catholic Charities Review 10, no. 1 (January 1926):3-8.


Lawrence C. Cole, “A Study of Adoptions in Cuyahoga County,” The Family (1926):259-264.


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


Elinor Nims, The Illinois Adoption Law and Its Administration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928).


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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
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