A child's life saved: before(above)
and after (below) removal from a baby farm, 1917.
Photos from The Adoption History Project
My new book is entitled The Baby Farm, but what exactly was a baby farm?
The FreeOnlineDictionary notes two definitions:
1. a place that houses and takes care of babies for a fee.
2. a residence for unwed mothers that also arranges adoptions.
The term "baby farm" was common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when illegitimacy was severely stigmatized, it was felt that unwed mothers should be punished, not helped, and pregnant unmarried women were refused admission to maternity hospitals.
Originally, a baby farm meant family day care, but soon developed a terrible reputation when horrific abuses and death traps were exposed. The scandals that resulted prompted the child welfare laws we have today.
In its extreme form, babies were bought and sold like any other product. The Adoption History Project (see reference below) notes: "Baby farmers sometimes profited on both ends of the adoption transaction, first extracting fees from desperate birth mothers and then demanding large sums from adopters." Often the homes combined an unlicensed maternity hospital, a brothel and a baby farm combined. Here is an example, again from The Adoption History Project, of such an enterprise: "The woman who operated this home made a specialty of taking in unfortunate girls for maternity cases, she then made inmates of them and charged them for the board of their children; or she would dispose of a child for the sum of $25.00 or more."
Lest we think that baby farms were confined to big cities like New York or Chicago, there were 40 baby farms operating in Minneapolis alone in 1905.
References and additional reading: