Books and Articles on the History of Modern Adoption

My list includes books and articles on the history of modern adoption and adoption laws that deny U.S. adoptees access to their original birth records. These resources should be reviewed by any journalist writing about the issue of adoption to provide the historic context on the treatment of adoptees in the United States. 

E. Wayne Carp, Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998):
Pacific Lutheran University social historian Carp provides a historic overview of adoption since the early 1900s in the United States. He shows that openness, not secrecy, was the norm in U.S. adoption up through the 1950s. Sealed records were a post-World War II aberration resulting from the convergence of several unusual cultural, demographic, and social trends.

Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade (New York: Penguin, 2006):
Fessler sheds light on the hidden and stigmatized stories of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced and encouraged to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade—infants like me. The oral history stories reveal a double standard that has had negative long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption.

Ellen Herman, Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008):
University of Oregon history professor Herman’s study of American adoption explores its origins since the early 1900s in the United States, where children were transferred between households with little regulation. She reveals the role of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America to establish adoption standards in law and practice.

Kathryn Joyce, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (New York: Public Affairs, 2013):
Reporter Joyce explores how adoption has become a political rallying point among U.S. evangelicals, who promote transnational adoption of millions of “orphans” to be saved through adoption and conversion by devout Christian parents. Joyce’s study notes similarities with abuses in adoption practices during the “baby scoop” era after World War II and the present and how the Christian adoption movement has taken over national political discourse and policymaking in the United States.

Barbara Melosh, Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002):
George Mason University History Professor Melosh explores the history of adoption as a bold, new social engineering experiment in 20th century America, supported by the new field of social work. Melosh describes how social workers and society addressed the growing issue of rising illegitimate births by promoting adoption to millions of mostly single white women as the “best solution” for the infants, the birth mothers, and society—all creating families with biological strangers never before seen by any society on this scale.

Elizabeth Samuels, legal school and author of numerous law articles on adoption:
University of Baltimore Law Professor Samuels has published numerous legal articles on adoption law since 2000. Her research, published in widely quoted law review articles, documents how adoption laws were changed from the 1960s through the 1990s, sealing records and preventing adoptees and birth families from knowing their past and each other. She documents that laws that now create lifelong secrecy were never promoted by adoption experts through the 1950s. 

The Adoption History Project, published by the University of Oregon and an offshoot of Ellen Herman’s research on adoption, features many excellent articles on the history of adoption. These are essential articles for any reporter, policy-maker, or adoptee who wants to understand why the system is what it is today. The project has an excellent recommended bibliography. Adoptees, reporters, and policy-makers are strongly encouraged to consult this reading and resource list.

Harlow’s Monkey, by JaeRan Kim
Kim is a Korean-American adoptee and professor who works at the University of Washington Tacoma. She has a research focus on the historic and ongoing experience of transracial and intercountry adoptees. Her web site has numerous articles, interviews, and presentations. She also brings a social work/mental health, sociological, and child development research perspective to her work and to her blog–a perspective I do not share. However, I am listing Kim because my book on the American adoption experience does not cover the many topics Kim and others address very well, including an analysis of international adoptions by U.S. parents. Adoption has to be understood as a system that operates internationally and domestically, shaped by history, culture, religion, politics, race, and money. Her site is a good start to explore the very diverse voices and experiences of adoptees in the United States. 

Misinformation and Outright Lies: A June 2015 brochure by the U.S. Children’s Bureau on adoption laws promotes the myth and fallacy of adoptee records as sealed historically and ignores that some states still have open records. This recent U.S. government publication is a classic example of deliberate efforts to ignore and to falsify the actual historical record of open records for adoptees, which ultimately harms adoptees and their birth families.