December 30, 2013

Margaret Waters: Infamous Baby Farmer

The Execution of Mary Waters (from
On October 11, 1870, Margaret Waters, also known as the Brixton Baby Farmer, was hanged for murder in the Horsemonger Lane Goal, London, England, the first ever baby farmer to be executed.

Born in 1835, Margaret Waters took up baby farming to support herself after her husband died.  She would take in other people's infants for money but she soon found it more profitable to drug the babies with opiates, (which suppress the appetite)and then leave the babies to slowly starve. To dispose of the babies, she would wrap their bodies in brown paper and dump them on the streets, a common site in Victorian Britain due to the high cost of burial. At the time of her execution, she was thirty-four years old.

She is believed to have killed up to nineteen children. Waters was charged with five counts of willful murder, neglect, and conspiracy, Her sister, Sarah Ellis, was convicted in the same case for obtaining money under false pretenses She was sentenced to eighteen months hard labor.

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December 1, 2013

Author's Notes: What was a Baby Farm?

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.

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