the early twentieth century about children’s health and welfare
often noted that the separation of mothers and infants was one of
the gravest dangers faced by illegitimate
children. This led to a number of state laws prohibiting infant
placements for specified periods early in life and encouraging ,
or even mandating, breast-feeding. Combined with prevailing beliefs
in family preservation, efforts to keep unmarried mothers and their
babies together contributed to the anti-adoption ethos of the Progressive
The Study Included:
Analysis of records of illegitimate children under the care of Boston
agencies and institutions during one year.
Analysis of records of illegitimate children under the care of
certain State agencies and institutions during one year.
Data in regard to illegitimate infants born in Boston in one year.
Analysis of bastardy cases and cases of non-support of illegitimate
children before the Boston courts in one year.
The information was obtained entirely from public records and records
of agencies and institutions. . . .
Illegitimate Infants Born in Boston in 1914:
One out of every 23 children born in Boston during 1914 was illegitimate,
the percentage of illegitimate births being 4.35.
Comparing the illegitimate births and deaths in 1914 with the legitimate,
the proportion of illegitimate infants who died before they reached
the age of one year was more than three times that of legitimate.
Out of every 1,000 illegitimate children born, 314 died during
their first year; out of every 1,000 legitimate children, 103 died.
Among the illegitimate infants, the death rate for the principal
gastric and intestinal diseases was nearly six times as great as
among the legitimate infants. Comparing age at death, the greatest
proportionate excess of illegitimate over legitimate deaths occurred
between the ages of 1 and 6 months.
All but 90 of the 847 illegitimate infants born during the year
were known to have received some hospital or agency care before
they became a year old. Over half of all the babies were
known to have been assumed by agencies for prolonged care during
their first year.
Of the 403 infants known to have lived 6 months, only 30 per cent
were with their mothers all of the time. Twenty-five per cent had
been with their mothers less than one-fifth of the time.
41 per cent of the mothers were under 21 years of age; one-eighth
of the entire number were under 18 years of age.
9 per cent of the mothers had been diagnosed as feeble-minded,
psychopathic or sub-normal, or insane; in addition a considerable
number were reported as feeble-minded, but had not been examined
18 per cent of the mothers were known to have had previous illicit
sex experiences, although only 8 per cent had had previous illegitimate