The Baby Scoop Era

The Baby Scoop Era is the period immediately after the Second World War to the early-mid 1970s when hundreds of thousands of young, unmarried women were either forced to relinquish or excessively co-erced into giving their babies away for adoption. Many of these new mothers were not even allowed to see the child they had just given birth to. Many of these young women were told there was no other option other than to give up their child – this really can be called only one thing – baby stealing.

There is a little variation between countries, but largely this forced adoption was carried out by religious organisations or the State. The Catholic Church, the Salvation Army and other religious organisations were known to have run “Unwed Mothers’ Homes”. The young pregnant woman (or teenager) would arrive or be taken to one of these Homes during her pregnancy, and remained until giving birth. Often she was allowed little or no contact with family and friends during this period. Some young women remained for a period after the birth (and I had read of at least one case where this was years afterwards).

The women/girls were frequently put to work in these Homes, duties such as laundry or sewing. Clearly the set up was a form of imprisonment and slave labour by any other name. It was society’s ‘punishment’ for females daring to have intercourse outside marriage, and certainly a percentage of these young mothers would have been impregnated by rape. During this period, unmarried pregnant women were seen as deviant or immoral and the practise of forced adoption was promoted as being ‘in the best interests of the child’.

The estimated numbers* are truly staggering.

* Please note that these figures were not extensively researched by me, and represent a guide only.

For mothers, adoption is frequently ‘bad enough’ when wanted and consciously decided upon, and even those who make the decision willingly and in an informed way may still suffer some form of separation anxiety. For the mothers coerced, pressured, shamed, lied to about adoption (and the usual instant separation at birth) the trauma can be severe and lifelong. These women and girls were told at that time that they “would get over it” and “could start afresh”, meaning find a husband and “start a real family” – however a recent survey found that 35.3% of these women suffered subsequent infertility, most likely due to some of the appalling conditions and facilities of these Homes. Large numbers of these women and then-girls did not in fact, “get over it” at all.

For adopted children there are large numbers (but not all) that feel unwanted, rejected, discarded and insecure after finding out they were adopted. It is hard to reconcile the emotional level to any logical level, that circumstances were not favourable for their mother to keep them at the time. Buried resentment can later make the adoptee not want to reunite with their mother, even if she wants to reunite with her lost child.

The forced adoption era has really only become more generally known in recent times, probably the last decade or less. I can only hope that it will make reunions more likely, and with less blame or resentment. The internet has certainly made more reunions possible and there are a number of forums on which to leave messages. I wish them all the best.

Linda Radfem wrote a post last year that touched on the Australian Aboriginal children that were taken away and raised by white families (known as the “Stolen Generations“). This was primarily to anglicise the children and destroy their cultural connections. The Stolen Generations recently received an apology from the Government, now the mothers of the Baby Scoop Era await the same. The Church and State should be ashamed of themselves.

I came across this quote which I think sums up The Baby Scoop Era perfectly:

“Adoption is not about unwanted children.
It is about unwanted mothers.”

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Further reading:

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21 thoughts on “The Baby Scoop Era

  1. Those of us of a certain age … I remember my Aunt, now 89. She was in her 30′s. It was all kept a deep dark secret until the year 2001.

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  2. Good work. There was a powerful segment about it on Four Corners the other night. Also, google Magdalene Laundries.
    My unmarried mother was pressured to adopt me out in 1966 but fortunately she was older and better established than a lot of other poor women. She also had the staunch support of her mother who had been widowed at 39 and then raised four kids alone, and her grown up sisters who saw nothing wrong with a single woman having a child. A beautiful example of sisterly solidarity and women working cooperatively.

    I also wonder if the baby scoop era was also about giving men access to children. I’ll ponder that a bit before I say any more.

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  3. There certainly could be some of that Linda. Although I do not think it the primary reason, which is summarised in the Moor thesis (I am only skimming through it). The reasons are to uphold marriage, the nuclear family, in part to limit the underclasses, limit the payout of welfare – all engineered and sanctioned by Church & State, who are patriarchy and are anti-woman. And as we know, the Church (Catholic primarily) turn a blind eye if ‘a bit of paedophilia happened here and there’.

    From page 95 of the thesis (p106 of the PDF pages) an extract of an interview with one of the mothers:
    My daughter was adopted at 16 months…she was placed with a family where the father has now been convicted and found guilty of being a paedophile…I feel my life and my daughter’s life has been partly destroyed

    In Moor’s and other surveys done of the mothers, most actually wanted to keep their babies, and were lied to or strongly co-erced into giving them up – that I think is biggest scandal of it all, the baldface lying by Church & State.

    Over the years I had come across snippets here and there, but not really investigated the whole scandal. Like most people I guess, I had been under the impression that the unwed mothers had ‘more or less’ willingly given their babies away for adoption, primarily the stigma of being unmarried and the limited resources of bringing up children as a single mother.

    Another snippet which I also found, was that the Church (probably in cohoots with State) were running a bit of a racket with the children in care – they would ship them (British kids) off to parts of the Commonwealth (I think Australia mainly) to become unpaid labour of the Church. My theory is that the babies snatched during the period, who were not adopted or deemed worthy of adoption, also ended up in the UK care system, and when they got old enough also became part of this child slave labour force. State-sanctioned child trafficking in other words. If I guess where your thinking is on this, then it is possible that many girls ended up being prostituted (given that the UK had already done that in New-Oz, shipped females over there for the express purpose of being prostituted or enwived, fuck-objects one way or another).

    Both the Church & State have a hell of a lot to answer for in all this.
    Also, as Moor says, this is also a piece of Herstory that needs to be recorded.

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  4. Also from the Moor thesis, another snippet of an interview (p107 or 118 of PDF). The interviewee obviously has not put two and two together on the incest-rape (CSA):

    I found out in recent years that several of my aunts on my mother’s side were pregnant outside marriage – one as young as 11!

    Radfems instantly recognise this as some older male, usually a family member or around the family somehow, raping an eleven year old.

    Moor identifies as a Marxist Feminist, but if you read her thesis, it is fairly comprehensive, and she seems like a Radfem-in-denial! She even quotes from Dworkin, MacKinnon and Jeffreys, and throws in anti-porn analysis into the mix. So I say radfem!

    The thesis is a good read to find out about many of the underlying factors contributing to this situation.

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  5. Yes lots of British children were trafficked here to be the slave labour/rape objects of the good men of the cloth. As with Aboriginal children, boys were used for out door labour and raping, girls were used for domestic labour and raping. I believe single men were known to try to “adopt” young homeless girls. It’s my understanding that British mothers often surrendered older children voluntarily, but only as a temporary means of child care while they worked to earn some sort of a living to support the children. Usually when they came back for them the children had been trafficked already and they were told they had died. The children were then told that their mother had not wanted them. These children were included in the national apology a couple of years ago.

    And still it’s not ok to criticise the church or religiosity. I’ve noticed even some of the bigger mainstream feminist blogs do not allow open derision of religion. Even Twisty has a contingent of christians among the blametariat.

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  6. Pingback: The Baby Scoop Era – young mothers « Radfem Groundhog Day

  7. Thanks for writing this, Davina.

    I don’t think my mother ever got over it. I spoke to her on the telephone a few times, and it was obvious that she still felt guilty…as if she had done something wrong. I know she did some time in a Crittenton home. She didn’t suffer “secondary infertility;” she married and had two other daughters later.

    She said she had never told them about me because she felt that would be giving them permission to have sex before marriage. The torment and fear and shame and pain she went through…yeah, that’d make anyone wanna run out and get laid.

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  8. Sunshine and Oranges is a film that outlines the work of one woman, Margaret Humphries, a British social worker, who exposed and helped adults who had been sent by the state and religious institutions to Australia. Barnardo’s were particularly active in this. It does concentrate mainly on boys though. I also read an excellent book based on Margaret’s initial work that more comprehensively outlines the experiences of girls as well – although sorry I can’t remember its title.

    There was also a film made about the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland run by the Catholic Church, that basically snatched unmarried mothers babies and then kept them prisoner for some years to make them work and pay off their “debt”. This was widely shown in the UK both in cinemas and TV. It really highlighted the issue to a lot of people who had no idea that this had taken place.

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  9. Pingback: Radfem2012 and the ‘problematics of Pretend Radfems’ « Radfem Groundhog Day

  10. Over one third infertility so too high to happen by chance. The attitude to single mothers in those days was very severe, they were viewed as moral deviants. The chances are some of these women were sterilised by doctors when undergoing childbirth.

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