The following excerpts are from an article
July 2, 1950The Sunday Tribune
regarding Kansas City's simplified adoption system. I will not post the entire article, just those parts I feel are relevant. (A big thank you to Diane Ward!)
The adoption court in Kansas City places about 1,000 babies a year, thus making it one of the largest and possibly THE largest child placement agency in America. In contrast to the scores of orphanages, maternity homes, hospitals and other institutions or homes from which children may be adopted in most cities, Kansas City has only four. They are the Eastside, Fairmount, and Willows hospitals--maternity homes exclusively for unwed mothers; and the Florence Crittenton Home for Infants.
Any applications that are sent direct to the maternity homes are automatically referred to the adoption department of the Juvenile court. The court's own caseworkers make all the investigations and recommendations for placement. There is only one adoption agency (the court), one adoption Judge (Ray G. Cowan), and one adoption director (Mary Lou Fenberg) whose recommendation to Judge Cowan is required in every adoption proceeding. There are 15 staff members under Mrs. Fenberg who are assigned to the adoption office to interview adoptive parents and unwed mothers. The others are full time case workers who are assigned to the four maternity hospitals to investigate the backgrounds of both the mothers and fathers of the illegitimate children, and to check on the health and physical development of the babies. The Kansas City adoption court has become nationally famous for its job of matching babies to parents.
Qualifications for adoptive parents are high. The theory is that with nearly 100 applicants for every available baby, the agency can be choosy. Wealth is not a prerequisite, though the court requires that applicants offer proof of enough financial security to provide comfortable standards of living and education for the child. Also, couples who want a Kansas City baby must be regular church goers. Just belonging to a church isn't enough.
Unfortunate girls who can't afford to pay for their confinement and care are usually referred to the Crittenton Home, but for the most part, those who enter the other three hospitals are girls and women from respectable family backgrounds.
June 21, 1975
Lawrence Journal World
Former KC maternity hospital target
Adoptive 'graduates' probe past
TULSA (AP)—The longing of an adopted person to know his real life history has drawn a group of "graduates'" of a former high-society Kansas City maternity home into a fight to open sealed records. In particular, "Willows Graduates Adopted" (WGA) is taking issue with the Jackson County, Mo., bureau of vital statistics. The bureau, according to the Tulsa-based group, has thrown roadblocks into efforts of persons born at The Willows to obtain original birth certificates which would provide names of at least the mother.
Margaret A., the original name of a prominent Tulsa woman who was born there Aug. 28, 1925, has launched the effort. Her work has led to forming the volunteer group and now they are asking for anyone who was born at the home before it closed, or parents of children born there, to write them at P.O. Box 52621 in Tulsa.
"The bureaucracy has denied the right of all other adoptees to their original birth certificates," she said of the Jackson County office. "They're too busy, records are too long or are across the street in another building, you have no right to them. If you are able to go to court then you can get them."
If persons who were born there will contact the organization they can be told the procedure to get the records legally and without exorbitant expense, she says.
The Willows operated in Kansas City from 1905 until it closed in 1969 and its records were presumably burned. An estimated 25,000 to 35,000 babies were born at the home and their records sealed in Jackson County. However, the records were sent to state offices at Jefferson City and can be opened there on a court order from the person's home.
Margaret A., who says she is luckier than most of them; has learned she was the daughter of a Dorothy A. and a Kansas City man whose name was not placed in the record.
"This was the racy, roaring '20s in wild, rich Kansas City," she says. "The Willows was like the Ritz or the Waldorf of homes for unwed mothers. It had a lot of snob appeal and the owners were members of Kansas City society."
The original owners, she says were Edwin and Cora May Haworth, in conjunction with Dr. John W. Kepner. "Operation of The Willows was very strict. Not just every unwed mother could get in. They were recommended by. prominent doctors throughout the United States, and not everyone qualified to adopt the babies. Some prominent entertainers were refused simply because they were in that ugly, dirty entertainment business."
The mothers-to-be, mostly from Midwestern states, were met at the railroad depot and taken to the home in large cars. They remained there in seclusion until after the baby was born.
"They had all types of entertainment and the girls became close friends, their babies were delivered in the hospital there," the Tulsa woman said. Applicants to adopt babies were screened as carefully as the mothers. "They were very strict," she said. "The applications for adoptions had to contain recommendations from their home cities, including bankers, lawyers or other substantial people in the community."
The Tulsa woman was determined years ago to learn her parentage. She was fortunate because her parents had not had her birth certificate amended in Missouri, she says, but was brought to Oklahoma. She has her original birth certificate, which contains only her natural mother's name and the state where the natural mother was born—Kansas—her occupation, her age and the name she wished to give the newborn child.
"I have my original birth certificate only because my birth certificate was never amended in Missouri to my
adopted parents' name. My adopted mother wanted me to know where I came from after she died, so she took the original birth certificate to Oklahoma to have it amended for adoption and kept it for me," she said.
Her natural mother wrote a letter to her adoptive parents outlining the heartaches she had. "I have waited, yet hated for this day to come when I would have to give up my own flesh and blood," she wrote. "No one but a mother could possibly realize what it means. I think if you could trace back the child's parentage, that you would find nothing that would mar the child's life."
Another woman who was brought to Tulsa by her adoptive parents was not as lucky. Her original certificate was amended in Kansas City and she had not been unable to track down the original until Margaret A. got in touch with her through a mutual friend. Just a few days ago the two women drove to Jefferson City, armed with a court order from a Tulsa judge, and promptly got the certificate. Margaret A. may or may not be able to find her mother—but she is trying constantly. "But at least, I know," she says.
June 22, 1975
Kansas City Star
Kansas City, Missouri
By Bleys W. Rose
Kansas City Born Adopted Seek Birth Secrets
About 75 persons born at a defunct Kansas City home for unwed mothers are going to court and then to Jefferson City to discover who their parents are. Miss Margaret A., a Tulsa resident who was born in 1925 at the high class Willows home at 2929 Main Street, is leading the effort aimed at loosening the glue on confidential records of adoption. Miss A. says she’s been unable to obtain original birth names and names of natural parents from the Kansas City bureau of vital statistics. So she’s off to Jefferson City armed with a court order requiring disclosure of the sealed records.
“I’m not surprised at all to learn that this is an organized effort,” said Charles Bell, director of the Missouri bureau of vital statistics. “Last week we had five of these requests in one day. This has never been a problem because nobody raised the issue before.”
The issue for Miss A. and her organization, the Willows Graduates Adopted, is their right to original birth records. Adopted persons traditionally have been denied access to adoption records, except for medical or inheritance reasons, to protect the identities of parents and children involved. At age 50, Miss A. figures she is old enough to handle meeting her natural parents. Mrs. Robert W. is her married name, but Margaret A. is the one she displays on her original birth certificate and prefers when discussing her case.
“Now what could be easier to understand than the desire of an adopted person to find out who his mother and father really are?” she said. “When you were a child, didn’t you want to know if you belonged to your parents?”‘I just knew I was adopted because I’d ask leading questions that they (the adoptive parents) couldn’t answer. It’s curiosity that keeps an adopted child from putting the question out of his mind.”
Miss A.'s curiosity has caught the attention of about 100 persons who either were born or gave birth at the Willows. They are asking her assistance in establishing contact with their kin. She estimates that between 25,000 and 35,000 babies were born at the home from 1905 to 1969. The home, owned by Edwin and Cora May Haworth, offered a hospital for prenatal and postnatal care and an adoption agency.
“Let’s get it straight that it was no baby mill,” Miss A. said. “They were fine, upstanding people who ran the home and only the most socially prominent Midwestern women were taken in. “It had a lot of snob appeal. The Willows was like the Ritz or the Waldorf of homes for unwed mothers. It cost more to go there than it did to attend a finishing school.”
She said pregnant women were met at the railroad station and escorted in limousines to the steps of the Willows. The women remained at the home for up to eight months and the babies selectively were put up for adoption.
“Operation of the Willows was very strict,” she added. “Not just every unwed mother could get in. They were recommended by prominent doctors throughout the U.S. and not everyone qualified to adopt the babies.”But the Willows fell victim to changing attitudes before it fell to the wreckers ball. “Very simply, there was no longer a need for such a home,” Miss A. said. “When the pill and abortions came along, they did away with these maternity homes.”
She said the Willows had a “basement full of birth records” that no local bureau of vital statistics would accept for inclusion in their files. Robert Gregory, administrative assistant in the Kansas City bureau of vital statistics, doubts the records would have been much use. “The best of our information indicated that they contained no medical data and were of little interest to us back then.”
So after the Willows closed in 1969 the records were piled in the backyard and burned. “A lot of things have changed sine then,” Miss A. said. “People no longer feel the need to hide their head in a bucket.”
Bell, the state vital statistics director agrees. “Judges used to be pretty hard nosed about giving out court orders,” Bell said. “They thought permitting access to this information would do injustice to the child and to the adoptive parents.”“Now there is quite a change in thinking on this issue. Whether we agree with it or not, we must comply with a court order.”
And what of Miss A.’s own quest for her parents? She says she knows this much: “I was more lucky than most Willows ‘graduates’ because my adoptive mother had my original birth certificate amended in another state. After she died, she wanted me to know who my real parents were. The certificate says I was born Aug. 28, 1925 to a nurse named Dorothy A. My mother would be 76 years old now and I still haven’t found her; so I don’t know if she’s even alive. But I at least know who she was. I know my real father would be 83 and that he was a prominent banker in the Kansas City area. I still don’t know his name. To be honest with you, I’ve been too busy with the other Willows graduates that I haven’t been able to devote the proper amount of time to finding my mother."