Executive Director of Family and Child Welfare Departments, Catholic
Charities, Rochester, New York, expresses here the moral condemnation
that was frequently leveled against unmarried fathers on the rare
occasions when they were discussed early in the twentieth century.
In the era before reliable blood or DNA testing, paternity was “putative”
rather than provable.
Case work with the unmarried father is a subject which any case
worker would approach with humility, not only because of the serious
nature of the problem, but because when thought of as a separate
categorical field, it is a seriously neglected one, and there is
therefore less precedent to guide us in our approach.
Why should this be! For centuries, at least since the days of St.
Vincent de Paul, much loving care has been given to the unmarried
mother and her child, and still how incomplete is the picture. . . .
As to the social aspect of the problem, the man is often a more
serious menace than the girl. Have any of you kept a file of putative
fathers in your own agency and seen how often the same name is mentioned
in different cases, or how often the names of two brothers may occur?
I recall a young business man whose name is mentioned three times
in our file, and this does not by any means limit the harm he may
have done. The ease with which many of our young men and women forestall
the consequences by use of contraceptives, or conceal them by resorting
to abortions, makes illegitimacy no longer an index of immorality.
There are few social workers today who do not agree that the putative
father should be located and given an opportunity to acknowledge
paternity; and if he refuses to do so after an understanding and
objective interview, and there appears to be sufficient evidence
to prove a case, then he should be brought before a court which
will, after hearing both sides, adjudicate, and if the decision
be favorable to the girl, order a financial settlement, either in
a lump sum or in small payments. There are still, however, some
institutions that oppose this practice, feeling that charity is
better served by ignoring the question of paternity entirely. . . .
No greater injury could be done to both mother and child than in
the case in question [ignoring the birth father]. The child has
been deprived of the social, educational and religious advantages
of being born into a normal family. The mother, aside form the burden
of bearing the child, must face, except in communities where public
respect of chastity is lax, greater or less ostracism. . . .
Now to repay this debt the man may marry the mother. However, this
is not always possible, and often undesirable. Still the obligation
remains, and by supporting the child, and if possible the mother
also, it must be paid.