Please stop spreading misinformation on adoption history

03 Dec

I know I’ve talked about it before, but I continue to see both adoption agencies and adoptive parents speak on what adoption was like back in the 50’s and 60’s.  They blithely state misinformation, as if, it was fact.

People think of closed adoption as it was in the fifties and sixties, when adoptive parents were counseled to basically pretend that the family was biological… but that is not the way you are going to approach this situation.  You will be open with your child about how you became a family, and you will always speak respectfully of his/her bio-family, even as you wish that things were different. (source)

No, they weren’t counselled to pretend that the family was biological any more than adopting parents are counselled that today.  Just like today, there are people who adopt and don’t tell their child they’re adopted, some didn’t in the 50’s and 60’s either.  There have been families in every decade who have mistakenly decided not to tell their child they are adopted.

What some adoption professionals and adoption agencies did try to do in the 50’s and 60’s was to place infants in homes where they matched the adoptive parents in looks and intellect so they appeared to be a biological family, this had been the trend most of the century.  The concept of confidentiality and anonymity was also a big part of the landscape that aimed to protect the adoptive family in the 50’s and 60’s.  Both of those practices are a far cry from being counselled to pretend they were biological families.

By midcentury, anxiety about telling was a big enough problem that many agencies required adopters to pledge, in writing, that they would tell. How-to-tell conversations became routine parts of the adoption process. Telling became a central ritual of adoptive family life.

Why were adoptees supposed to be told? The reason had less to do with honesty than it did with emotional inoculation against stigma. Parents would be wise to tell children about their adoptions with kindness and love before they learned the truth from unfeeling relatives, nosy neighbors, or cruel classmates. Behind telling was the hope that convincing children early on of their selected status would protect them from the painful realization that many people considered adoption second-rate. (source)

The 50’s and 60’s was also part of the era that first amended birth certificates and sealed the original from public scrutiny.  A practice most adoptive parents today still want, so would you say adoptive parents today are pretending they are biological families with the amended birth certificate, or would you say, they do that to protect the child and the family from unwanted stigmatization?

While the 50’s and 60’s were predominantly closed adoptions, open adoptions started in the early 1970’s and continued to gain traction.  Associations were formed; the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) was formed by Florence Fisher in 1971, Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) was formed in 1976 by Lee H. Campbell that by 1981 was nationwide, the American Adoption Congress was formed in 1978.

Did adoptive parents in the 50’s and 60’s know what parents today know about the seven core issues adoptees may face?  No, because that level of information wasn’t available. Did they have an idea there could be issues or a need to search?  Those with common sense did, others, perhaps not.  The same can be said today, why adoption forums discussions have those who accept being adopted comes with common feelings to process, and those who don’t believe that.  Those who believe an adoptee searching has nothing to do with their relationship with their parents, and those who still believe only maladjusted adoptees search.  The difference?  Parents from the 50’s and 60’s who may not have realized all the different ways being adopted can be hard, or the need to search has nothing to do with their family, get a pass because the studies weren’t available.  Today’s parents won’t be given that grace when the information is readily available to all, and yet, is still disregarded by some.


Further reading:

Kitte Turmell, “How We Told Our Adopted Children,” 1950

The Development of Adoption Law by Alice Bussiere, JD

Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption By E. Wayne Carp



Posted by on December 3, 2016 in Adoption, adoptive parents


Tags: , , , , ,

4 responses to “Please stop spreading misinformation on adoption history

  1. beth62

    December 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    IMO, If a person cannot obtain their original record of birth from the Dept.of Vital Stats, like the non-Adopted – that person has a legally closed Adoption.

    As-if. Pretending. What’s the difference?

    Closed doesn’t mean you haven’t been told you’re Adopted, or told anything about your origins.
    Closed means YOU are not legally able to obtain legal vital documents/information of YOUR birth.

    Different than the non-Adopted.
    Different. Not the same. Regardless of what you may know or have been told by someone.

    That hasn’t changed, only in a few states has it changed.
    The history of closed Adoptions is current practice – not history. Still the same as it has been, for what? About 60-70 years? It’s older than me! And it’s still the same, for the majority.

    What I question is, why have Adopted people mostly been given the task of making this historical change?
    Are we the ones that become most tired of this pretending?

    Pretending things have changed so much, to feel better about it presently, when it truly hasn’t changed much at all, if at all… why not spend that time and effort to make real changes instead?


    • TAO

      December 4, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Good comment Beth…people like to pretend that their generation is so different, better, than the last, yet, some of the very questionable practices today, remind me, of the 1950’s when a subcommittee was convened to question the adoption practices then.


  2. heatherrainbow

    December 5, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    1998: When they believe the lies they are told….

    I was promised an open adoption while barely recovering from a drugged up birthing process by a lawyer who represented the agency, and an agency social worker in my hospital room. I never contacted them or gave them my information prior to being hospitalized. The “open adoption” went closed after 1 1/2 years of pictures and “updates” (superficial non information forever evading my questions of when I could see my daughter.) I discovered later, they never told her she was adopted. She found out, quite by accident. She is 18 now, and moved away to college. Still no contact.


    • TAO

      December 5, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      Oh Heather, I’m so sorry…



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