Margaret A. Valk, “Adjustment of Korean-American Children in Their American Adoptive Homes,” 1957

This was an early effort to track the outcomes of mixed-race international adoptions arranged under the auspices of the International Social Service, American Branch. Until the late 1950s, children born in Europe predominated in international adoptions, but by 1961, 59 percent of “immigrant orphans” admitted to the United States came from Asia. Korea was by far the single most important sending country” and these adoptions were widely publicized in magazine stories about children fathered by U.S. military personnel, the activities of Bertha and Harry Holt, and the debate over proxy adoptions.

Unlike most international adoptions at the time, which were arranged by proxy, this study documented what had happened to 93 children whose adoptions involved American agencies cooperating with the Korean government. All of the children had American fathers and were therefore considered mixed-race: 14 were “Korean-Negro,” 75 were ”Korean-Caucasian,” and the remaining 4 children had fathers of Mexican or American Indian descent. (Children of “pure” Korean parentage were not included in this study.) In spite of the fact that these were transracial adoptions, agencies tried not to violate matching any more than necessary. They placed half-white children in white homes and half-black children in black homes.

Valk’s outcome information was based on progress reports provided by local agencies, letters from adoptive parents, and conversations with the social workers supervising these placements. The report included both demographic statistics and narrative detail.

Most of the adoptees had been transferred to American families from orphanages in Korea, where they had lived since infancy. More than half of the “Negro” adopters were professionals, especially teachers and ministers, as were a substantial minority (40 percent) of the “Caucasian” adopters. Most of the families had incomes described as “modest,” earning $4500-6500 annually, and half already had adopted children or children of their own. Humanitarian and religious motives for adoption were as typical as they were striking.

Valk’s description of the children’s early adjustment featured sleep disturbances, eating disorders, and language problems, but these disappeared quickly, especially among children adopted at very young ages, as most had been. Children adopted at age six or older were rare, but there were a few reports about their special difficulties with physical affection, attributed to the fact that Korean children were unaccustomed to kisses and hugs from their parents. In general, even these older children made efficient transitions to American childhood. “At the present time, we can say that all indications are that these children and their adoptive parents are happy.” Valk credited the involvement of professional agencies for the success of these placements and pleaded for an end to risky proxy adoptions, in which amateurs arranged adoptions, sight unseen.

Since almost all of the children had been living in their American adoptive homes for less than two years, it was still early to assess outcomes. The report ended by predicting that the children would probably encounter “adverse attitudes” in the future, “especially during the courtship period,” and suggesting that parents who adopted Korean children would need more help negotiating adolescence than “parents of children whose national origin is not so obviously different.” Concerns about the marital and reproductive destinies of all children adopted across racial and national lines were extremely common, suggesting the enduring legacy of eugenics in adoption history.


Document Excerpt

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
Site designed by:

To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman