This week, I finally received a copy of one of the few pictures that may be publicly available of the former Florence Crittenton Maternity Home of Detroit from the 1950s. This was the third Crittenton maternity home that the national organization opened in Detroit. It was located adjacent to the Crttenton General Hospital, where I was born.
The hospital provided both maternal health services and boarding for single, pregnant mothers. I and literally thousands and thousands of other adoptees were born in such facilities during the boom years of American adoption, from the 1950s through the early 1970s.
The National Crittenton Foundation of Portland, Oregon, in my home town, provided me the image of the maternity home, and I am grateful for their support and for meeting with me to discuss my upcoming book and the larger story of this foundation’s predecessors.
I have written at length about the original Florence Crittenton Mission and its successor agencies on my blog, documenting how this benevolent and originally Christian group that first served prostitutes and “fallen women” became an organization that sought to help abused, vulnerable, and single-parent women. Part of its original core mission was to fight and eradicate the stigma associated with illegitimacy and to keep mothers and their infants together.
The issue of illegitimacy, ultimately, drove the booming adoption system into which people like me were placed.
Most bastards born into this system–the word “bastard” accurately describes my status in life and my life story–were told we did not have the equal legal rights of all non-adopted U.S. citizens to know who we were by so-called “adoption professionals” and state agencies and legislatures. This inequality and human rights issue remains to this day, without much public interest outside of adoptee advocates themselves.
The national Crittenton organizations that succeeded the original mission evolved into adoption placement centers, starting in the late 1940s, as so-called “adoption professionals” such as social workers assumed greater control of maternity facilities that were ubiquitous in most large U.S. cities (see Regina Kunzel’s study of this movement: Fallen Women, Problem Girls). The Crittenton facilities, like my birthplace in Detroit, became essential facilities in a national movement to promote adoption as the “most suitable plan” to separate bastard babies like me from their birth mothers and biological kin and place them in new families.
According to the Child Welfare League of America, 98 percent of all babies, like me and thousands of others, who were born in Crittenton facilities or served by them during the peak adoption years were placed for adoption.
This story is my story, and also the story of thousands of others like me who passed through the halls of this building and its earlier maternity home facilities and maternity hospitals in Detroit and dozens of other cities. My forthcoming memoir and critical examination of the American adoption experience, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, offers a detailed look at the history of this now demolished hospital and how its legacy still remains today.
The former maternity home building is now run by Cass Community Social Services. You can see photos of the old maternity home, as it appears today, on Google maps.
(Editor’s note: I have updated this post on July 14, 2017, to reflect new information shared with me that the photo of the maternity home, seen on this page, was incorrectly identified as the hospital. I have updated this page to now include an image of the original Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit, dating from 1929.)