“Juvenile delinquency: interstate adoption practices–Miami, Florida: hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, eighty-fourth Congress, first session, pursuant to S. Res. 62 … November 14 and 15, 1955”
Better known today as the Kafauver Subcommittee. Senator Estes Kefauver was appointed the Chairman of the subcommittee. It is important to note that Senator Kafauver was an adoptive parent of a son and had a special interest in adoption practices, in his opening remarks wondered “why there are no Federal safeguards to protect the child“. At the time of the hearing it was also noted that there was about 90,000 domestic infant adoptions per year.
“Let us review for a moment the situation which created the adoption problem. On one hand, we have anxious couples, hungry for a child. Between them and the child is an agency with rigid requirements and a huge waiting list. The agencies have 20 requests for every child available. The result for the anxious couple is red tape and a long delay.
On the other side of the picture we have the young unmarried mother, anxious to leave her own community, but often lacking the money to do so. Her shame is so great and her emotional framework so shocked that she is susceptible to the first idea that promises to alleviate her situation.
It is at this time of greatest need that some private or public agency should render skilled and professional assistance to the young mother. Instead, all too often, an unscrupulous individual is the first one to reach the mother. His only concern is to obtain a child he can sell. The psychological and social consequences of such behavior is not his concern. To him the highest bidder can have the child.
To the unmarried mother he offers medical care and removal from the home community as price for the child. Once he has obtained the child, he offers it to anxious couples for fees ranging up to $3,000.” (page 3)
Page 4 starts off with this statement “One of the reasons we are sitting here today is because the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred to us two bills aimed at stopping this interstate sale of children.” Further down the page comes with revelation. “We are also concerned because 33 of our 48 States do not have laws to prevent within the State sale of babies. Seventeen of our States have absolutely no teeth in their regulations governing who may or may not set up an adoption agency; that is, we found in some States that people with criminal records, immoral people, have established informal placement agencies, handled the placement of children, which on its face is a very bad influence.”
I am still shocked that 33 out of 48 states had no laws on the books against baby selling – just shocked. And while today you might be thinking that $3,000 isn’t all that much money to pay for an adoption, if you convert 1950’s dollars to today’s dollars (or actually 2005 dollars) it equals $25,000. The average yearly income in 1950 was $3,210.00 and the average house sold for $8,450.00. Gas was 18 cents per gallon…source The People History page here.
The subcommittee hearings transcript is lengthy, and I have only read sections of it and pertinent story lines will show starting page numbers – some testimony covered multiple different storylines so can be confusing. Yet what they uncovered is shocking and yet believable. It has made me thankful once again that my adoption was clean and I can’t imagine how those whose adoptions were black-market must feel, and should be a warning to prospective parents today on the how important doing everything possible to make sure their adoption is conducted ethically and legally – no exceptions. The harm done through the black market adoptions from that era is still felt by so many in their senior years – to know you were a black-market adoptee, and most will never know who they were born to be. To know your mother was treated as nothing more than a source for the product wanted has to be agony, and knowing there are either no records because the adoption wasn’t done through the courts, or, if through the courts they are sealed, so there is no recourse to do anything about it. Yet, it makes you wonder if that is not one of the reasons why people fight so hard to thwart adoptee rights legislation.
What also made it so interesting to read is that names talked about today are part of the testimony of these two days in Florida. Bessie Bernard and Irwin Slater who were convicted of baby selling in New York are mentioned in the testimony (page 189) of how the black market worked moving babies from Florida to New York. Apparently, New York had made it a misdemeanor on April 12, 1949 to accept compensation for placing children without being properly licensed and the reason they were brought to trial.
One newspaper account I found here about one of the adoptees life and finding out her adoption was through Bernard/Slater and their trial opened with this: “In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Alexander Herman told jurors that Slater started out exclusively obtaining babies for people in New York but that “their New York market developed and grew to such a point that they had to go far afield to find a breeding place for their product. Slater established headquarters in Florida. He advertised in the local press to create this supply.””. Another account made up of multiple newspaper articles on the story and trial can be found here and is also worth reading. Both articles paint a picture of greed and callous disregard for both the mothers and the babies.
Yet Bessie Bernard and Irwin Slater aren’t the only names known today that were testified about in that subcommittee hearing – Dr. Catherine Cole is also a prominent figure in both the testimony of a newspaper journalist who went undercover posing as a prospective adoptive parent (page 184), and testimony by Miss Claudia Harney, executive secretary for the Catholic Charities Bureau about one baby who was being placed for adoption whose mother didn’t want that, and the baby was being adopted (for sale as she put it) as one baby of a twin set. Also by Mrs Esther Henshaw, Director of Vital Statistics for Dade County, who then finishes the story about Dr. Cole coming in and trying to register two unrelated babies as twins on a birth certificate born to someone who wasn’t their natural mother, it states that she was convicted but it was appealed to the State Supreme Court and later thrown out (page 192). Dr. Cole also testified to the subcommittee as well (page 213). Interesting testimony to say the least, and the above are simply small tidbits from many – well worth reading on a rainy day.
Interestingly enough another newspaper article I read here states this about the subcommittee hearings: “Those hearings were convened partly in response to the misdeeds of Georgia Tann, the director of a respected children’s home in Memphis, Tenn. Authorities discovered in 1950 that, for more than a decade, hundreds of the homes’ children had been part of adoption-for-profit schemes.”