November Adoption Awareness Month – Day Two

02 Nov

 “B” for “Butterbox Babies“…

To understand the history of adoption is the first step to reforming adoption so that adoption can truly evolve to what it is supposed to be – finding a home for a child who needs one because family preservation failed…not for finding a child for a home which is what domestic infant adoption has become…

Looking back for the second day – Canada’s Georgia Tann…William and Lila Young and the “Ideal Maternity Home”

Karen Balcom In her paper titled “Scandal and Social Policy: The Ideal Maternity Home and the Evolution of Social Policy in Nova Scotia, 1940 – 51” describes the story that unfolds about The Ideal Maternity Home (IMH) which operated in a small village called East Chester in Nova Scotia, Canada. IMH was the brainchild of William and Lila Young and started in 1928. Their ‘clients’ were unwed mothers. The community widely supported the Youngs but the Department of Public Welfare started having grave concerns over the fee structures charged to the unwed mothers, the adoptive parents, as well as the standards of nutrition, medical care and cleanliness calling the conditions abysmal.   

The paper above covers what was happening in government at that time, how babies were adopted via black market to both Canadian and USA adoptive homes and what Bette Cahill uncovered regarding the deaths of at least 100 babies that died and were buried in Butterboxes with reports of more babies disposed of other ways.  Although the paper is quite detailed the story is a fascinating and compelling read, coupled with recognition for the three men who stepped up and stood their ground against strong opposition from many different areas who eventually managed to stop the horror that was happening. Truly they deserve recognition for the role they played in creating a better level of social services in Nova Scotia and Canada.

 The Youngs advertised in newspapers across Canada and the Northeastern States that the “Ideal Maternity Home” had “lovely healthy white babies for adoption with excellent health backgrounds and healthy bodies”.  Adoptive parents were required to provide references and proof of financial stability but nothing was ever checked. Adoptions could be completed on babies 2 or 3 days old and if you were from the states it took another two weeks to get travel documents. There was no follow-up after the adoption and there were no investigations prior to the adoption.
On page 12 of Karen Balcoms paper she writes about the book published in the 1992 by Bette Cahill “Butterbox Babies: Baby Sales, Baby Deaths and the Scandalous Story of the Ideal Maternity Home” and about an early draft report written by Mr. George Davidson:
In Butterbox Babies, Cahill explored disturbing rumours that the Youngs deliberately starved and neglected babies with some physical or mental defect who could not easily be placed for adoption. She records the long-standing suspicion that at least 100 babies are buried in unmarked graves near a local cemetery in Fox Point, Nova Scotia, and that other bodies were either dumped at sea or thrown into the Home’s incinerator. The Youngs were never convicted of the murder of an infant, and there does not appear to be documentary evidence in support of Cahill’s most disturbing allegations. But there is solid proof that there were serious deficiencies in sanitary conditions and medical standards at the Home and that many of the children in the nursery were neglected and malnourished.  In 1945, one potential adoptive mother, appalled by what she had seen, reported her experiences to an adoption worker in New York. Describing the nursery at the Home, she reported that:
The smell and stench of stale urine overcame her to such an extent that she was ready to fly from the place. The cribs had three children in each one. The floors were bare, and she noticed that the children who should be getting solid foods were getting pabulum in their milk bottles. No child was getting personal care and all looked undernourished, pale and soiled.

In an early draft of the Report on Public Welfare Services in Nova Scotia, George Davidson of the Canadian Welfare Council reported that: Although the Home confines upwards of a hundred mothers or more a year, and cares for as many as seventy babies at a time, there is a total lack of qualified medical supervision, and a serious inadequacy of properly qualified, fully trained nursing care. The room in which the babies were kept was, on the occasion of the survey visit, distressingly overcrowded, with the obvious result that it was impossible to prevent the spread of colds (and this would apply to similar infectious diseases). . . . On at least one previous occasion, infant deaths at this institution have reached epidemic proportions, and it is the opinion of this survey that nothing except great good fortune has prevented similar tragedies from recurring on more frequent occasions.
These passages are disturbing, even heart-rending, and could be supplemented by many similar examples. From at least 1935, when the Youngs were unsuccessfully prosecuted for manslaughter in connection with the death of a mother and her infant, provincial officials were aware of some of the Home’s problems and shortcomings.


Bette Cahill updated and expanded her book which was published in 2006 titled “Butterbox Babies: Baby Sales, Baby Deaths – New Revelations 15 Years Later



Posted by on November 2, 2010 in Ethics, Uncategorized



2 responses to “November Adoption Awareness Month – Day Two

  1. Von

    November 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Excellent post on the true history of adoption..keep it rolling!


  2. Sunday

    November 3, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I remember seeing a movie about this…very sad.



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