Rollin Hartt to Helen Sumner, May 10, 1915

May 10, 1915

Dear Miss Sumner,

Since your visit and the talks we had about adoption, I have got at a side of the subject that may interest the Children’s Bureau as strongly as it interests me, and if you don’t mind a lengthy letter I want to go over it pretty fully.

At luncheon the other day, Mr. C.C. Carstens of the S.P.C.C. spoke of what he called the “Traffic in Babies,” and Mr. J. Prentice Murphy of our Children’s Aid Society said, “There’s a lot of that,” but the conversation switched off to other aspects of the child problem and it was not till next day that I could challenge Mr. Carstens to substantiate his phrase.

He did it by making two points:

1. That a group of experts who are investigating newspaper advertisements of babies for adoption find rascality in a considerable proportion of cases.

2. That unless there is opposition, the courts do not investigate before sanctioning adoption.

When questioned further, Mr. Carstens said he had had to prosecute foster-parents for neglect or abuse of adopted children. He spoke of men who adopt babies because their wives complain of loneliness and want children as playthings; all goes well till they discover that the playthings are also burdens. However, he was inclined to discount the statement of Mr. Robert W. Kelso (Massachusetts Board of Charities) that there are people who adopt infants in order to get work out of them later; he said such people began with an older child.

But he did say, just as Mr. Murphy had, that sometimes babies are got possession of as a means of blackmail, so that when a man comes back to his mistress after a year, she can confront him with an infant and a demand for money. Or a mother may get her baby adopted with the intention of visiting the foster-parents later on, begging its return, making “scenes,” and allowing herself to be bribed into quitting the annnoyance.

Mr. Cartens knows of white babies falling into the hands of negroes who have white wives. One such negro is now in prison after surrendering a nine-year-old white concubine.

Also he told of maternity homes that contract to get rid of the babies, and of baby-boarding establishments into which infants are put by mothers who stop paying and disappear, leaving them for the proprietress to dispose of. . .

Cordially yours,

Rollin Lynde Hartt


Source: Rollin Hartt to Helen Sumner, May 10, 1915, United States Children's Bureau Papers, Box 60, Folder 7346, “Adoption,” National Archives II.

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