Katharine F. Lenroot to Eleanor Roosevelt on The Cradle, March 4, 1944

The photographs below illustrate that The Cradle prided itself on the quality of its advanced pediatric care. Critics conceded that its medical services were superior, but they insisted that its achievements in preventing and controlling infections obscured glaring deficiencies in The Cradle's social service program, which lacked many minimum standards.

Source: Aseptic Nursery Technique As Used at The Cradle (Evanston: IL, 1941), p. 35.

In the milk kitchen, all food was carefully sterilized. The only exception was orange juice.

Source: Aseptic Technique As Used at The Cradle (Evanston: IL,  1941),  p. 46.

This picture shows the cubicles in which babies were changed. Each was supplied with individual air-conditioning, one method used to prevent air-borne infections.

Source: Aseptic Technique As Used at The Cradle (Evanston: IL, 1941), p. 50.

This picture shows a barrier unit featuring glass partitions between nurses and infants. Each section had its own air intake and exhaust. Air pressure was kept higher in the infant's section in order to prevent air from the nurse's section from entering when the glass window was raised.

Source: Aseptic Technique As Used at The Cradle (Evanston: IL, 1941), p. 50.

This picture shows the glass barrier between nurse and infant partially raised.

This excerpt illustrates that top policy-makers at the U.S. Children’s Bureau, remained sharply critical of the amateurs who founded the first specialized adoption agencies well into the 1940s. These agencies involved too much commerce and sentiment, Chief Katharine Lenroot charged, and not nearly enough social work. In comparison, she suggested that child welfare professionals were less enthusiastic about adoption and more likely to advocate family preservation over the separation of children from birth parents. In cases where children had to be placed in new homes, they were also much more rigorous about investigation, supervision, and other minimum standards.

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

I am sorry not to have replied earlier to Miss Thompson’s note of February 19 to Dr. Eliot asking for information with reference to The Cradle Society in Evanston, Illinois. I was away from the office most of last week and found that it had been held for my return.

The Children’s Bureau has had no official contact with The Cradle but I have met Mrs. Walrath and Miss Colby of our staff has personally known its program over a long period of time. We have a considerable amount of information about it in the files of the Children’s Bureau.

Mrs. Walrath founded the Cradle following her success in finding babies for members of her own family and several of her friends. She has received great personal satisfaction from her activities and has strenuously resisted the practices usually followed by qualified child-placement agencies. Instead she has relied almost entirely on her own individual experience and her personality.

Many people have been able to get children from The Cradle when they were not successful in obtaining children for adoption from other agencies. Experience has shown that when good social work has an opportunity to function the number of children eligible for adoption is usually smaller than the number of people desiring to adopt children. This is because there are often relatives or other resources within the family circle that can be developed. The Cradle places adoption on a commercial basis and accepts payment from foster parents who have received a child for adoption from The Cradle. The payments are substantial in amount. Only last week I talked with a professional person in another State who said that he and his wife desired to adopt a child but could not afford the price charged by The Cradle. I was also told last week that a New Jersey family had paid $1000 for a child. This method of finance has not been considered wise procedure by social agencies. It is, of course, the method of support utilized by commercial adoption agencies. To accept payment from foster parents places the social agencies in an almost impossible position for further evaluation of the home and for supervision during the period preceding the final adoption. Such a period of supervision has been found to be very necessary to make sure that the foster parents and the child are suited to each other. The Cradle, however, does not believe in such supervision nor does it believe in giving the foster family information about the history of a child placed with them. Foster parents are given a sentimental letter for use with the child if he should ask questions about his own people. This letter attempts to explain to the child that his past history should be of no concern to him for he is now a part of his foster family. It is generally agreed that every human being has a right to know on reaching a proper age what his antecedents are and this practice is believed to be a very serious aspect of The Cradle’s work.

A study was made of The Cradle by Mr Paul T. Beisser in 1941. He was at that time General Secretary of the Henry Watson Children’s Aid Society in Baltimore. His report confirms information the Children’s Bureau has concerning the superior medical program maintained by the agency. I understand that not only medical but psychological service is available.

For many years the social agencies of Chicago were greatly concerned about the practices of the agency. Finally, Mrs. Walrath turned to the social work field for help and applied for membership in the Chicago Council of Social Agencies. One of the requirements for membership was the employment of a social worker. Such a worker was employed but we understand she was not permitted to function in accord with her own training and experience. We are unacquainted with the qualifications of their present social service staff but understand they have two workers neither of which is equipped to carry on a skillful piece of work such as should be available in every child-placing agency.

Recently efforts to enact a more satisfactory adoption law in Illinois were opposed by members of the Board of The Cradle. One of the standards which it is felt are necessary in adoption laws is that the child should reside with the proposed adopted parents for a time before a final adoption decree is issued. Such a trial period has been proved to be a very important method of assuring the permanency and success of an adoption. This, of course, has not been in accordance with the practice of The Cradle. Adoption of Cradle children are often made before the child has lived in the home of the petitioners.

As you will see, the picture is a somewhat mixed one. I am told that a number of Cradle adoption have been eminently successful. However, I believe that on the whole this type of organization should not be encouraged.

Sincerely yours,

Katharine F. Lenroot, Chief


Source: Katharine F. Lenroot to Eleanor Roosevelt on The Cradle, March 4, 1944, U.S. Children’s Bureau Papers, Box 169, Folder 7-3-3-4, National Archives II.

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