Tag Archives: Florence Crittenton Association of America

Crittenton General Hospital: A rare photo and its meaning

One of the unexpected outcomes of the American adoption experience is how the stigma of illegitimacy and out-of-wedlock pregnancy created a virtual cloak of invisibility around the birth of adoptees and their presence in the general population. That shame and stain of illegitimacy lives on in the form of laws that discriminate against adoptees who are denied the human right to their birth records and equal treatment under the law.

Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit is shown on Jan. 24, 1974, in this photo from the Detroit Free Press, two months before its closure. I was born here, as were thousands of other babies who were place for adoption. (Click on the photo to see a larger image.)

I was born at Detroit’s Crittenton General Hospital, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that served unwed mothers and ultimately where thousands of infants were relinquished into the adoption system. The facility opened at Tuxedo and Woodrow Wilson in 1929, at a time when Crittenton homes and hospitals served the needs of “problem girls” and gave them a place to give birth and bond and stay with their children. 

By the late 1940s, the Florence Crittenton Mission, later Florence Crittenton Association of America, had transformed its maternity homes and hospitals into temporary residences for thousands of single moms, who gave up their children at these facilities across the country. The infants today sometimes call themselves Crittenton babies, and I am one of an uncounted group who today still face legal discrimination accessing their birth records.

The photo seen here was taken on Jan. 24, 1974, two months before the hospital closed permanently on March 22, 1974. The building was demolished a year later. It closed due to financial strains, the decline of adoptions, and the gradual economic decay of Detroit.The story in the Detroit Free Press that accompanied this photo that I bought failed to mention the hospital’s historic role serving unwed mothers and then relinquishing those infants to new families.

The story from Jan. 24, 1974, in the Detroit Free Press, makes no mention of the hospital’s pivotal role delivering thousands of infants like me for adoption. (Click on the image to see a larger picture of the text copy.)

I was one of those infants, born about a decade before this picture. This journalistic oversight was not accidental—it fits into a larger pattern of hiding adoption from the public and erasing the story of adoptees from American history.

In 1967, the Crittenton General Hospital opened a new facility in Rochester, Michigan, in the suburbs, and became a general hospital that did not serve single birth moms and their children like all previous Crittenton missions and maternity homes. The two operated under the same names, but only the Rochester facility remains, still bearing the Crittenton name. Nationally, it is a name tied forever to the service of single, pregnant women, and later adoption.

Today, the Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester also has whitewashed its past and does not acknowledge who it once served, how that hospital helped to hide illegitimacy from the public, and its pivotal role transferring babies from a birth mothers to adoptive parents during the boom adoption years after World War II, through 1975.

The stigma surrounding illegitimacy drove the institution of U.S. adoption in the decades after the war and helped turn it into one of the largest social engineering experiments ever in U.S. history. That stigma is deeply woven into how state laws impact birth parents and adoptees today.

The new hospital in Rochester claims, after many efforts to contact its communications team in 2016, that it has no records of the number of adoptee births at the Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit—its predecessor. The hospital spokesperson did not return multiple calls and repeated emails for interviews and records. The only two documents the hospital shared were photocopies of short institutional histories, which did not outline the hospital’s important historic role as way station for birth mothers and adoptees. The summary documents did not offer a count of patients served or babies delivered by single mothers.

There are no records of the number of adoptee births kept by the National Crittenton Foundation, the mission’s successor group now located in Portland, Oregon. The official repository of all National Florence Crittenton Mission records, at the University of Minnesota Library, also did not have any documents that showed how many babies were born in Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit or in the multiple maternity homes in the city that opened first in 1900.

From a public health standpoint, it is practically scandalous that we still, to this day, have no accurate record of the number of adoptees who were relinquished in the United States. The U.S. Census in its last two counts failed to account for all adoptees in the way it counted adoptees and foster children, which missed entire generations of adults like me. The lack of data ultimately undercounts adoptees, and thus undermines their efforts to restore adoptees’ rights to receive copies of their original birth records in most states, where they are denied access unlike all non-adoptees.

Where Detroit adoptees were born and ‘relinquished’

The Florence Crittenton Maternity Home, at 11850 Woodrow Wilson, in Detroit, was located next to the Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit. The maternity home, as shown in in this photograph, was under renovation and construction. Women who stayed in the home would deliver their infants next door, at the hospital, located at 1554 Tuxedo Avenue.

I was born in Crittenton General Hospital, one the nation’s largest hospitals created to serve unwed mothers and their infants and later a major health center delivering infants relinquished for adoption. It was located at 1554 Tuxedo Avenue, and closed in 1974. This photo dates from 1929.

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.)