Arthur Alden Guild, “Baby Farms in Chicago,” 1917

Source: Child Welfare League of America Papers, Social Welfare History  Archives, University of Minnesota





During the fall of 1916 wretched conditions existing in several uncertified homes where children were boarded apart from their parents were discovered through the regular case work of the Juvenile Protective Association. . . . The Association then decided to make a thorough study of all baby farms, in the hope that the information would afford data upon which legislation might be secured that would require all homes where children were boarded apart from their parents to be licensed and supervised by some branch of the City or State Government.

One hundred and thirty-seven alleged homes were thus reported and later were investigated by the Association.

Some Examples of Conditions Found in Homes. Some of the worst moral conditions were found in the homes where the physical conditions were best and in good residential districts of the city. In one of the best neighborhoods of the south side, a home was found which was an unlicenced maternity hospital, a disorderly house, and a baby farm combined. It is not at all difficult to see the connection between these enterprises. 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. A warrant was taken out for this woman, she was tried and convicted.

Commercialized Traffic in Children. As a result of this baby farm investigation, it was found that there was a regular commercialized business of child placing being carried on in the City of Chicago; that there were many maternity hospitals which made regular charges of from $15.00 and more for disposing of unwelcome children; and that there were also doctors and other individuals who took advantage of the unmarried mother willing to pay any amount of money to dispose of her child. . . . One woman in charge of a baby farm sold a baby for $100.000 during the time of the investigation. It was found that she had required $25.00 to be paid at once and the remainder on the installment plan. Her trade slogan was, “It’s cheaper and easier to buy a baby for $100.00 than to have one of your own.” . . . Many children placed in this manner were taken by people who could not have secured children through certified child-placing agencies because they were immoral, or wished to procure a child for a fraudulent purpose.

Conclusions and Recommendations. Children such as those found in baby farms need better care and protection from the state than children surrounded by normal family influences. . . . It should be unlawful for any organization or individual to place, or assist in placing, more than one child during one year in the permanent care of another without first obtaining a license for the business of placing children from the State Department of Public Welfare. Organizations and individuals thus licensed should be subject to supervision by that department. . . .

The State should make it unlawful for a mother or any other person to give away the permanent custody of a child. . . . The exclusive power to issue a decree of adoption should be vested in the Juvenile Court. The court should require a thorough investigation of the adopting family before permitting a child to be placed with such family for adoption. The adoption should not become permanent until a satisfactory six months’ probationary period has elapsed. During the probationary period a visitor from the State Department of Public Welfare should make inspections to ascertain whether or not the child has been properly placed.

Traffic in children should be stopped. The passage of the laws recommended here would, of course, entail increased expense to the state. But money spent on such preventive measures would mean an ultimate saving and a better citizenship.

Source: Arthur Alden Guild, “Baby Farms in Chicago, An Investigation Made for the Juvenile Protective Association,” 1917, Child Welfare League of America Papers, Box 44, Folder 4, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.
Page Updated: 2-24-2012
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