The following contains information from correspondences between The Willows and a Wisconsin couple hoping to adopt a baby in 1936. It was provided to me by Perry Greer, born at The Willows in 1939. Thank you, Perry!!
Perspective adoptive parents would send a deposit of $5 (in 1936) and a reference letter from their banker, minister, and family physician included with their adoption application. Once received, The Willows would investigate the home. Because of the long waiting list, it would be months between the application submission and the home investigation. Once the home was approved, the baby had to be selected within a year. The total adoption charge, including the deposit, was $40, paid at the time when the baby was taken home from The Willows.
The Willows would select two or three infants for a couple to see, matching the babies background with that of the parents. If the adoptive parents were large, the babies would be selected from large birthparents. If the adoptive couple was brunette, the babies chosen would have brunette birthparents, etc. A Willows employee (nurse) would silently choose a baby from the three that they thought was best suited to the couple and show the couple that baby first. The adoptive parents would almost always choose the first baby they viewed. There was a high demand for blonde, blue-eyed baby girls.
Once a baby was chosen by the adoptive couple, the infant would be examined by a baby specialist. The couple would then be informed of the baby's health. If the infant needed to be boarded at The Willows due to the adoptive parents schedules, traveling and preparation time, etc., boarding fees were $1 a day. Many families wanted to receive their infant before the Christmas holiday. Within a year after the baby was placed, The Willows would send a Petition to the adoptive parents, requiring them to sign it in front of a Notary Public.
I have received copies of the following correspondences from the Minnesota Historical Society. Theses letters date from 1925 to 1941, and include information not only about The Willows but also about The Cradle Society or The Cradle Hospital in Evanston, Illinois. The letters are many, and can be quite lengthy.
About four years ago we got a law passed providing that maternity hospitals must have a license from the State Board of Charities and Corrections. Our State Board has been trying to build up the standards of these commercial maternity hospitals and has really done quite a good deal to establish good medical care for the girls and their babies and has reduced the evil of exploitation and extortion.
The Children's Bureaus of various surrounding states have written letters to the State Board of Charities and Corrections and also to our local social agencies here in Kansas City objecting to the fact that these commercial maternity hospitals run advertisements in their respective states and especially to the fact that they advertise babies for adoption.
Our State Board made a rule a couple of years ago against these hospitals advertising that they would secure the adoption of babies for unmarried mothers but the hospitals divided their advertisements and advertised for cases of unmarried mothers and run special advertisements to the effect that they had babies for adoption. Recently the Board has made a new ruling which forbids these hospitals from running any advertisements about babies for adoption at all.
In Missouri all adoptions have to be legally consummated by the Juvenile Court and the custom has been for people from other states who wish to adopt babies from these commercial maternity hospitals to come to Kansas City and then take their babies home to their respective states.
This practice has resulted in making some bad placements. In a few instances, children have been given to foster parents that had been disapproved as unfit for foster parents by the Children's Bureaus of their own states.
Now our State Board of Charities and Corrections and the local Judge of the Juvenile Court of Kansas City wish to handle all these children so as to cooperate with the Children's Bureaus of the surrounding states. The Judge expects to establish a rule that any prospective foster parent who wishes to adopt children in Kansas City must first get the approval of the Children's Bureau of their home state before they will be given any child from here.
The Judge of the Juvenile Court has asked me to furnish him the exact names and titles and addresses of the Children's Bureaus in the surrounding states so that he can inform applicants from others states that if they wish to adopt children here they must first consult these Children's Bureaus and get their approval.
The success of this new plan will depend to some extent on whether the Children's Bureaus of the various states will take the pains to investigate the cases and to give our Judge an opinion as to the worthiness of his applicants that come from their respective states.
Will you be willing to report on the worthiness of people who make application from your state to adopt a baby in Kansas City and will you furnish me the exact name and title and address of the person to whom application should be made by people who want approval from your department?.
This system will give you an opportunity to know where children are placed and to keep track of them, if you wish to. If you do not give this cooperation, I presume that the Judge will continue to give children to those who apply from your state and use his own best judgment about whether they are worthy.
I hope sincerely that you will reply favorably to this request and that we may hear from you at your earliest convenience.
Yours sincerely, L. A. Halbert, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
My dear Mr. Halbert: I hasten to reply to your letter of August 10th, in which you ask our cooperation in investigating homes in Minnesota, wherein application has been made for the adoption of a child.
We are delighted to learn that you have succeeded in securing this cooperation from your local Judge and shall be only too glad to make such investigations when they are reported to us. Requests of this kind should be sent directly to the Children's Bureau of which Charles F. Hall is Director. We will make every effort to reply promptly but trust that you will realize that when the investigation is in the rural community it may be necessary to allow us a few weeks in order to arrange for the investigation.
Assuring you of our hearty cooperation, I am, (no name), Sincerely yours, (no name), Assistant Director.
Judge Portfield agrees with us that the plan which will require of you the least waste of effort on your part is for us to receive our inquiries and complete our applications including not only our Blanks but also our required letters of reference. You understand, Mr. Hall, that this is not merely a formality leading to the recognition of the acceptability of applicants, but also assisting us in helping patrons select a child that will develop suitably in their home.
Having completed our applications as usual, we will write you names and addresses of the applicants with also the names and addresses of the signers of the reference letters and the titles, professions or business of the respective parties.
Now I do not know your methods, Mr. Hall, sufficiently to know what your procedure will be but judge it will include a personal visit to the applicants in their home by one of your visiting inspectors. We wish you to know that our adoptions are of babies from birth up to a few months old, they rarely remaining in our care for longer than six months or a year. This means that we do not need to require the usual three months trial placement that is necessary with older children. In fact we consider that a probationary period of an infant in the home is detrimental to the welfare of the infant itself. In other words, our approval of homes should be final when the child is taken. This makes our work a little more exacting and means a higher grade of references, and greater assurance that the home is a satisfactory one before the adoption, than is often found necessary in the placing of older children.
In other words, Mr. Hall, we shall appreciate careful and exacting judgement upon the part of your inspectors, remembering that the child's welfare is of primary importance. There are always other good homes awaiting babies if the particular applicant we refer for your investigation is not dependably desirable, even if it requires us to keep a child somewhat longer to find a desirable home for it.
In placing children of the exceptional class that we get Mr. Hall, there is one important thing that I would like to emphasize and that is, the matter of the confidential handling of the adoption. Frequently patrons do not desire it known that the child comes from the Willows, which may brand it as born out of wedlock. And again there are occasionally patrons who wish to take a child in such a way that the public shall not know but that the child is of their own flesh and blood. In case the inspection can be satisfactorily and safely made, you can of course work, particularly in this latter case, to the advantage of the child's future as it grows up in the country or smaller community. In referring our inquiries to you we shall try to differentiate the ones on which confidential handling is desired, and your inspectors will, understanding this from you, no doubt respect the wishes of the applicant.
Just one more point I want to emphasize, and that is the fact that we will much appreciate the promptness with which your department can pass on applicants. That will naturally reduce the length of time babies are kept in our Nursery, it being our intention to place them at the earliest moment, that they may become institutionalized to the least extent possible. Many of our patrons desire the new, fresh, fine looking baby from ten days to thirty days after birth.
As a matter of fact many applicants from various parts of the country come to us for two reasons: they want the younger and high-grade babies, and because they find we reduce the red tape and delay to them to the utmost possible. I should not be surprised, Mr. Hall, if you should find that the applicants for our babies average considerably higher than you would expect. An important reason is that most of our inquiries are directly or indirectly through our medical friends, who get our literature regularly and know our work so well.
Now, Mr. Hall, I believe I have gone over the points necessary. Our secretary, Mrs. McEwen, who is in charge of our Adoption Department, now has one or more applicants who would like to refer to you. She will ordinarily handle the correspondence with you, and she is enclosing her letter and names of applicants and signers of reference letters herewith. We are also enclosing herewith a Blank that we have our applicants fill out for our own information.
Thanking you for any assistance you may render us and assuring you of our co-operation with you, I am
Fraternally yours, E.P. Haworth, Supt., The Willows
My dear Mr. Haworth:- Your letter of October 6th regarding investigation of Minnesota homes for purposes of adoption of children is at hand. Also was received the letter of Mrs. Nellie McEwen asking for investigation of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Warner C. Workman, Tracy, Minnesota. The reply to your letter has been delayed due to the fact that I have been out in the State on business of the office and have only recently returned.
In your letter you say that Judge Porterfield reports that we have agreed to co-operate with him and any local institution in Kansas City in the investigation of applicants for the adoption of babies. I believe you have reference here to our reply to Mr. L. A. Halbert, Executive Director of the Kansas City Council of Social Agencies stating that the State Board of Charities and Corrections of Missouri and the Judge of the Juvenile Court of Kansas City wished to handle adoption cases so as to co-operate with the Children's Bureaus of surrounding states. The letter further said that the Judge asked for the names, titles and addresses of the Children's Bureaus of the surrounding states so that he could inform applicants from other states, that if they wished to adopt children there, they must first consult the Children's Bureaus and get their approval. We said in our letter of August 12th, 1925, "We are delighted to learn that you have succeeded in securing this co-operation from your local Judge and shall be only too glad to make such investigations when they are reported to us.".
May I say in this connection that we had in mind, making investigations when requested by the State Board of Charities and Corrections or by the Judge of the Juvenile Court. We did not have in mind making investigations at the request of individual, corporation or agency not certified to act as a child placing agency in Minnesota. The Minnesota Law provides that "When a petition to adopt a child is filed, the Court shall notify the State Board of Control; it shall then be the duty of the Board to verify the allegations of the petition; to investigate the conditions and antecedents of the child for the purpose of ascertaining inquiry to determine whether the proposed foster home is a suitable home for the child." The procedure we have in mind is that where residents of Minnesota may select a child for adoption in Kansas City of Missouri and have duly filed their petition in court that they may adopt the child, then on notice of the Court, or in similar cases, to the State Board of Charities and Correction, the Children's Bureau will be pleased to investigate the home of the applicants and forward to the Court or the State Bureau of Charities and Corrections, its report.
The Minnesota Law as quoted above providing for the adoption of a child, seeks to protect not only the child, but also the petitioners, the foster parents. In the procedure that you suggest, there is nothing to protect the foster parents as to whether the child they seek to adopt is a proper subject for adoption. The child may be one of incest relations or one who is the issue of insane or feeble-minded parents. The Children's Bureau of Minnesota is as much concerned with the inheritance of the child as with the fitness of the home. Where foster parents will take a child as this, they are buying a "cat in a sack" and may be bringing into Minnesota, children who may be future dependents on the bounty of the State. I am glad to note in your letter that you say those investigations are "more than a mere formality." Also that you believe "the approval of homes should be made before adoption rather than after adoption" and that you believe "this work is exacting and means a higher grade of references." These principles are not only fundamental in the Children's Bureau, but we require a great deal more as suggested above. I may say as to your comment, that a home should be approved before adoption rather than after adoption; it is not only mandatory by law that this be done in the State of Minnesota, but that there can be no interference with a child in his home after adoption, that the matter is settled by the adoption.
Another matter may I bring to your attention concerning this phase of work? A regulation of the State Board of Health that is adopted by the State Board of Control provides that: "No woman pregnant with child shall be admitted or received in any licensed maternity hospital or other institution, subject to the supervision of the State Board of Control or the State Board of Health, or both, for care and attention incident to her confinement, unless prior to her admission therein, she agrees to feed such child from her own breasts during the period she may be confined in such hospital or institution."
The State Board of Control has also by resolution stated that every such child shall be nursed by its mother for three months. We cannot agree with your policy of haste wherein you say that promptness on our part will tend to reduce the length of time babies are kept in your nursery, it being your intention to place them at the earliest moment, that they may become institutionalized to the least extent possible, stating that "many of your patrons desire the new, fresh, fine looking baby from ten days to thirty days after birth." Such a practice as this is rather abhorrent to the standards and principles upon which Minnesota deals with these cases.
Therefore, I will again say that we are anxious to co-operate and will make investigations on the request of the Court or of the State Board of Charities and Corrections, or of any agency duly certified to place children in the State of Minnesota, where a petition has been made to adopt a certain child by people who are residents of the State of Minnesota. You may say that the objection of this plan is that people, as stated in your letter of October 6th, "decide to adopt babies from your institution because you reduce red tape and delay and that they are enabled to take care of this whole proceeding in one trip." The life of a child and the importance of such a proceeding to the adopting parents is of more consideration than a day's time and it is well worth two trips, if necessary, by worthy people who are desirous of adopting a child that is a fit subject for adoption.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Mr. L. A. Halbert, Executive Director, Council of Social Agencies and also to Judge Porterfield, Judge of the Juvenile Court of Kansas City.
Very truly your, Charles F. Hall, Director.
My dear Mr. Hall: Your favor of the 15th inst. at hand and we have read it carefully and with serious consideration. I can assure you we appreciate the study and serious thought you are giving your work, and believe our own serious study of our own particular specialized field of effort will also commend itself to your consideration.
We find, Mr. Hall, that the various neighboring states have laws purporting to nearly the same end and in the main are quite similar. Your own laws as quoted in your letter (a copy of which laws we would be very glad to have for our files) have some unique variations that we are gald to understand, and thus be able to harmonize ourselves, and perhaps I should say, explain our harmony and purpose thereto.
We received our instructions regarding change in methods of adoption direct from Judge E. E. Porterfield of the Juvenile Court, so naturally expected that the correspondence with you and other welfare departments had been through him and his assistants. I take it from what you say that at least in your case the matter was referred to you through Mr. L. A. Halbert, Council of Social Agencies.
After receiving our instructions from Judge Porterfield we had an interview with him, explaining the methods we believed would be most practical in handling out-of-state applications from the standpoint of eliminating needless work by our local court and welfare agencies of the various surrounding states. I take it, Mr. Hall, that the Willows Maternity Sanitarium will have the major part of the out-of-state applications for babies due to our wide acquaintance and connection with the medical profession in the surrounding eighteen states. So far as I know other institutions in the state lack the wide acquaintance and favorable co-operation to bring in the wide patronage the Willows enjoys, both in the receiving of patients and placing of its babies, and because we do have so many applications from other than our own state, we naturally desire to relieve local officials of work that we can successfully do for them without in any way prejudicing the interests of our babies. In other words we do not desire a favorable report on the adoption of a child into any particular home from the fact that we turn the application over to some one else to pass on. The child's interest are primary from our standpoint. Having found, however, that applicants are satisfactory patrons for adopting a child, then it becomes a matter of selecting and adjusting the child and the home, matters in which we are in peculiarly good position to act since our children are from uniformly high-grade parentage. You can understand we are in a unique position for the helping the higher-grade patrons due to the unusually high-grade parentage from which our children come, the mere fact of illegitimacy from this class of parents being, of course, the occasion of the possibility of adoption, but not prejudicial to the individual child to be adopted.
Our Hospital, Mr. Hall, being purely a pay place (though offering semi-charity to a large number of unfortunate girls of limited means) does not get the low undesirable element as patients. It does not handle the riff-raff of society, the sporting element nor degenerates. In drawing its patronage from such wide territory it gets a very select class of better unfortunates. And we make it our business to try to adjust the child in the home. That is, to find a child for each individual home that will fit into and develop in harmony with the home life the applicants have to offer.
Of course adoptions of our children will necessarily be made under the laws of the State of Missouri, and this necessitates parties to come within the state to adopt. This means we never take children outside of the state. In fact never take a child away from the hospital for adoption at all. We had no intention of asking investigation of applications we have as a personal matter but rather as a preliminary of our Juvenile Court acting on them. All applications have to be turned over to the children's representative under a law called Guardian Ad Litem. Of course we can save him the work of writing you by sending the application direct and possibly a couple of days time, which is our purpose in sending the application ourselves. It was agreed by Judge Porterfield that this seemed to be a practical method and we and the Judge decided that it was not advisable to send application to out-of-state welfare boards for investigation until the application was somewhat completed and made authoritative. Of course, if you want Mr. H. H. Thurston, Guardian Ad Litem, to send the applications to you, we shall be glad to abide by your request. I take it you have in mind not being sent on "wild goose chases" to investigate applicants who will not proceed to the point of adoption of a child. You are absolutely right in this and we will gladly do anything we can at your suggestion to help safeguard on this point. While you do not mention this as such we feel confident that it is a matter that is pertinent to you.
Our law evidently was not framed with the thought of placing infants out on trial. Older children, of course, are placed on trial and rightly so. Like your own laws ours makes the adoption final so far as I can understand it other than the question of defectives. It safeguards your citizens, as well as other citizens, against a child that develops and proves imbecilic, or otherwise seriously defective (I have forgotten the wording of the law) within the period of five years after adoption. This law is probably better than your own law in that an infant might not in all cases show imbecility until it was some months, or perhaps two or three years, old. This law means that the child can be returned to its mother (since we take no responsibility for deformed or defective children.) In cases of incest as suggested by you, will say that we assume no responsibility for the adoption of these children where they can be discovered, and the fact that the mothers are with us usually for some weeks or months generally makes these cases discoverable when not explained. The facts usually leak out anyway. Contrary to the inference of your state law, and your and my fear, on this matter, however, I note that recently biologists have indicated that there need be no fear from what is known as inbreeding although I do not know how well grounded their theories are on facts.
If you can trust the judgment of these applicants for protecting themselves in the grade of child they get when they come to us, and can accept our judgment and believe in our veracity and uprightness in dealing with your patrons, we shall be glad to know what we can do in co-operation with you. Of course, our judgment is not infallible, and we even think sometimes that nature makes mistakes in some of its work, but we shall be glad to do what we can even as we have been doing in the past twenty years. Our effort has always been that of co-operation with any public official or social agency with which we have had occasion to deal.
Relative to the mothers nursing the babies, will say that this is our general practice at the Willows, only with the higher-grade patients such as we have, we cannot insist on their remaining for an indefinite, or definite extra period with us. The grade of work we are doing would make this procedure prohibitive from the standpoint of expense for the patients themselves, and of course we have no source of support other than from the patients. On the other hand the mothers themselves are usually forced to return home at the earliest moment to safeguard their reputation and social standing from suspicion among their friends and relatives. The higher the grade of patient is as you can understand, the more complication she is likely to face, especially since ours are middle class people and not people of unlimited means.
Another danger in requiring mothers to stay for a prolonged period and nurse their babies is that you force the development of the mother love and maternal instincts. Some would infer that this should be done and every effort made to force the mother to keep her child. Perhaps this is justified in many cases but is not true with the larger part of our patients. For as you can understand, Mr. Hall, to force a mother of high standing, with education and exceptional opportunities for service in life, to become attached to her child in such a way that she can never go back into her former straight-out life again is neither advantageous to her nor to society in the long run. We get many fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old girls and who can say they are old enough to be mothers and act as mothers for their babies? And on the other hand what real responsibility can we say they have for their unfortunate condition? At the present time we have one or two thirteen year old girls in the house although these are rare with us.
Our experience has been that the earlier we can get these babies placed in homes the better for the babies, providing, of course, that they are kept long enough that the mother and the family can make a final decision as to whether they will give the child up for adoption. Of course, if the child is up for adoption, the sooner the mother is separated from it so she will not develop the mother love for it and grieve over it all her life or try afterwards to interfere with the foster parents' control over it, the better it is for all interested parties.
I can understand the standard and principles upon which the Minnesota Law is dealing with its cases as suggested by you. There is a side to that, however, Mr. Hall, I would suggest. You see our work has been developed more from a standpoint of the medical profession and their work and needs than from the peculiar angle of the social worker. We have found that if such a place as ours does not exist, many of these higher-grade patients either are forced into the hands of the abortionists out of self-respect, or at the end of their pregnancy term will have to go to some irresponsible cheap rooming house, or to some old granny or outlaw midwife, to be cared for through confinement with the attendant demoralization and serious death rate of both children and mothers. The social worker usually does not come in contact with these cases unless there is some miscarriage of plans for they are likely to have means to get through the trouble under one method or another, and either dead or alive. Such matters are naturally hushed up as injurious to the rest of the family involved. It has been found by some students of this phase of medical and social work that the matter of recognizing social and moral standards and protecting them in the way The Willows does reacts favorably on society at large as well as in the individual cases involved. Of course, I am not recommending this as a universal system, Mr. Hall, but I believe you will find out of the 25,000 doctors we circularize at least 24,500 of them would agree with our methods unless they happened to be doing aberration work under cover. And we on the other hand find that many social worker when they come in contact with a high-grade case, agree with us as evidenced by the fact they refer the case to us for care.
Personally, Mr. Hall, I should regret it very much in case a sister of mine, or a daughter of mine (and I have two little girls almost old enough to face the socio-moral problems herewith involved) should become of the unfortunates of society, requiring maternity services while yet unmarried, and find that society forced absolute exposure of the matter or on the other hand the necessity of resorting to the abortionist. And I believe if the matter came home personally to you in some way you would feel just as I do. And yet we find many doctors having these problems in their homes, ministers, lawyers, merchants and other excellent people whose social and moral influence in the community can ill afford to be impaired by the public learning of a misfortunate like this happening in their family. To give you a better understanding of the work we are doing, I am enclosing herewith a copy of our "Interesting Willows Statistics" which, if you will take time to look through carefully, I believe will give you a better understanding of our work than I can give you by letter.
I trust you will pardon me for this lengthy explanation of the principles underlying our work and methods but your letter rather opened up the essay and seemed to invite it. As a matter of fact our state laws are framed, although without any counsel of mine, on a basis that permits the handling of unfortunate girls under our methods, and we believe it is fortunate for society as evidenced by the large number of patients and patrons The Willows is able to serve from year to year.
Now, Mr. Hall, with reference to people making tow trips from Minnesota to get a child, I fear that will be impractical. I understand that many people of means would make half a dozen trips if necessary, money and time not being matters of consideration with them. On the other hand some very excellent people in the surrounding states, and who can do wonderfully well by children, would not, perhaps even could not, afford to make a second trip to our Home with the uncertainties such would involve. Our method requires that we approve of adoptions before the adoptions are enacted and we are more than glad to co-operate either by sending applications direct to you, or through Mr. Thurston, to get our investigators' decisions of whether they are desirable homes for babies. Any additional safe-guarding we can give our babies we are glad to offer.
We shall take this matter up with Judge Porterfield, to whom we are directly responsible in our adoptions, and any decision you and he come to regarding the investigation of Dr. and Mrs. Warner G. Workman of Tracy, Minn. and applicants we shall have for you from time to time, we shall abide by.
Thanking you sincerely for your letter and the spirit of co-operation you have indicated your willingness to exercise in our behalf, and trusting we shall soon have details ironed out until there is complete understanding of how to proceed, I am,
Fraternally yours, E. P. Haworth, Supt
I have talked the matter over with Judge Porterfield and we are in sympathy with your idea of trying to maintain a high standard of care for the children and of justice to the foster parents. We recognize the justice of the request that information about the child should be furnished. We will try to conform to your wishes in these matters. The Judge plans to make the requests through his child placing agent, Miss Mary Hudson, instead of having Mr. Haworth ask you for the information. We hope to satisfy your desire for information about the children by having Miss Hudson look up the facts about the children and their parentage and furnish you a report on each one that it is proposed to place in Minnesota.
I am sure you would be satisfied with the reports of Miss Hudson. She has had two or three years experience with the New York Charities and Aud Association, under Homer Folks, and understands the best method of child placing. She has a university training and a part of her work while she was with Mr. Folks was in tracing the histories of a large number of children that had been placed out and grown to maturity. The results of this research work are included in the book on "How Foster Children Turn Out." Miss Hudson's reports to you will be absolutely reliable.
Mr. Haworth will want to have the cases of the girls handled in a confidential manner, so as not to embarrass the girls, and Miss Hudson will facilitate this desire as much as is consistent with a proper study of the circumstances of the child and the mother. We have realized that some help should be given to the unmarried mother in solving her personal problems, and the policy of Miss Hudson in investigating the antecedents of the children will help us to start a little work in favor of the mothers.
It will be impossible for us to realize your standards completely, but what we are doing and proposing to do is a great gain over what we have had, and we earnestly request your patience and indulgence so that we may progress without getting into a court fight with these maternity hospitals. After we have worked these new policies for awhile our position will be very much stronger. Our laws are not as strong as yours.
Yours sincerely, L. A. Halbert, Executive Director.