Part 3: Exploitation, Sexual Predation

 

Today’s media feeding frenzy over the alleged sexual misbehaviors of both Presidential candidate Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton has opened a trap door to a very dark cellar of misogyny and sexual predation. Although these subjects have been explored in various forms and at great lengths throughout history, the most striking documentation may well be that of a hundred-year-old investigation of vice conducted in just one U.S. city – Baltimore, Maryland.

What makes this investigation so uniquely significant is that its multiple topics include Dr. George Walker’s study, The Traffic in Babies, laying bare the virtual killing of illegitimate infants. That study’s investigators – all men – posed as either fathers of pregnant-out-of-wedlock minors or married men responsible for pregnancies of minors. (At that time, age of majority was still twenty-one.) A woman had no protection from the lecherous advances of the males in her workplace; it was open season for sexual predators. Perhaps more significantly, society tended to circle its wagons around the perpetrators, punishing instead the victims and – in shocking numbers – their babies.

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The Survey, March 25, 1916

Under Cover of Respectability (Excerpt)

“The investigation disclosed one of the most serious features of the whole problem, to wit: That there are many well-to-do and prominent men who have wives and families but who do not hesitate to employ every possible means to induce the young girls in their offices to have immoral relations with them. We have many instances of refined and gentle girls who have gone into these offices and finally succumbed to the men about them. Many of these men are of middle life and over. have grown children and even grandchildren, and yet they do not hesitate to use their employes in this way.

“Most of the girl employes come from plain people, with small incomes and very modest homes. Their employers represent prominent men of wealth who are intellectually and socially far above the fathers of the girls or any men with whom they have associated. When such a man begins to compliment a girl and pay her a little attention. she is very much flattered and is prone to let him continue his advances. He furthers his intentions by asking her some day when they are very busy to lunch with him; then later, when they are not so busy, to lunch with him again.

“Finally, he takes her to dinner after the office work is finished. Then he asks her to stay in the evening to do some additional work, for which he pays her ‘ more than it is worth. or gives her a present. This course, with various digressions, is kept up until after awhile at an opportune moment his purpose is accomplished. His plan, though seeming to be an accident. has been carefully worked out from the first.

“In occasional instances the employers coerce the girls into yielding by giving them to understand that they will lose their places if they do not. There are several men whom we have on our list who have openly stated that they would not employ a girl who is strictly moral.

“Another thing that has been found in studying the office buildings is that usually there are several men in each building who look out for every young and pretty girl working there and try to devise some means by which they can get their clutches on her. This is worked through other girls in the buildings who act as go-betweens and introduce the girl to these men. A particularly vicious thing that has come under our notice is the continuous effort that has been made by these men to induce a pretty, quiet and perfectly moral girl of eighteen to come to their offices late in the after noon. The investigators were fully cognizant of this while it was being done, and knew all of the efforts and means that were employed. The girl was protected and has never yielded.

“In the whole course of the investigation there is nothing more reprehensible than some of the immoral practices of a number of Baltimore’s esteemed and prominent business and professional men. The practices of the red-light district are pale and mild compared to the acts of some of these so-called ‘Christian gentlemen.’ A few of them, not satisfied even with seducing the girls, carry it further and persuade and sometimes coerce them into perverted acts. “We are led to believe that of all occupations for women, the close association with a man in a private ofiice is one of the most likely to lead to immorality. Parents and guardians should be fully aware of this danger that a young and inexperienced girl is liable to encounter.”

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Predation’s Legacy

In addition to the moral implications of this investigation, serious as they were, the treatment of the resultant expectant mothers and their babies was like something out of a horror movie:

  • Men made the arrangements for the “disposal of” the babies
  • Doctors, midwives, nurses conspired to remove babies from the mothers as soon as they were born
  • Mothers not allowed to hold – or even see – their babies
  • Babies placed in one of two institutions, one of which had a mortality rate of anywhere from 71% to 100%
  • Some babies sold; no vetting of prospective parents
  • A few mothers allowed to work for their keep after delivery, allowing them to nurse their babies, which thrived.
  • Bottle-fed babies withered away and died within a few weeks.

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  • Deceased babies were buried crudely in small boxes in a mass grave (see Part Two).

Pattern Established

It was a male-dominated society, when ‘birth control’ consisted of douching with Lysol, which by law could only be marketed as a product for feminine hygiene, and men fled (according to the magazine ads) if it wasn’t used. One such ad infers that the man fled because a pregnancy resulted. The wonder, however, is why society conspired to cover up men’s sexual exploits by the horrible means described in The Traffic in Babies.

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The pattern of hiding unmarried pregnancies and separating mothers from their babies continued for decades, but ‘disposal’ mercifully took the forms of orphanage care, foster care, and adoption. However, laws governing all aspects of child welfare, designed by predominantly male legislators, have continued to protect men’s identities. So when states began to seal adoption files, intended to protect adoptive families from intrusion by the mothers, but shutting out adoptees from knowledge of their parentage, perhaps the only real beneficiaries were the ‘baby daddies.’ The parties who have suffered the most from adoption’s archaic laws are the adoptees and their mothers.

Part One: Punish Mothers • Dispose of Babies

Part Two: Unceremonious Burial of the Babies

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Part 2: Unceremonious Burial of the Babies

DEATH WITHOUT DIGNITY

In Part 1 of this blog, the willful and purposeful neglect of illegitimate infants in a Baltimore institution one hundred years ago pointed to a clear societal rejection of their very right to exist. Not only were their brief lives declared to have no value, but their deaths were treated with even less respect. Throughout Dr. Walker’s report, the term “dispose of” was used following that of “separating mother and baby immediately after birth.” The fact that the babies’ disposal wasn’t immediate but was stretched out over weeks or months did not change the reality that they were being discarded like garbage. And the complicity of doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, and even clergy of the three major religions served as tacit societal approval.

NOTES ON DEATH AND BURIAL OF INFANTS – From Walker Report

“When a baby dies in Institution No. l it is placed in a room in another part of the building; very often it remains there for two or three days waiting for the arrival of some of its comrades. One or two are pretty sure to follow within a short time. Two of the dead babies are placed in a small wooden box, 3 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. The heads occupy the respective ends—that is, they lie foot-to-head fashion. The bodies are conveyed in a buggy to the cemetery, always by the same undertaker. He places the box containing the infants at the side of a hole in which they are to be buried; he then notifies an attendant of the cemetery, and leaves. Soon the attendant comes and buries the bodies. The method of burial is as follows: A large hole, 4 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 8 feet deep, is dug. As they arrive, the bodies are buried in this hole until it is nearly full. The space accommodates from 75 to 100.

“The actual burial is simple. The box (when the hole is newly dug) is placed at the bottom, and four or five shovelfuls of earth, just sufficient to cover it, are thrown in. The opening of the hole is then covered with rough planks nailed together in the form of a door. As other bodies are brought, they are placed alongside the former ones and covered in the same manner. An investigator who was stationed fairly near stated that the whole procedure took about ten minutes.

“When a hole is filled with coffins up to within a foot and a half of the surface, earth is thrown in; and a new hole is dug for future burials. The burial place comprises a plot of ground, irregular in shape, that measures 57 by 60 by 51 by 39 feet. We estimate that in this place there have been buried nearly 5,000 children. This has necessitated digging up the bodies of those that have been buried for several years in order to make room for the newly-dead.

“The investigator went to the cemetery one afternoon just as the digging of one of these holes or graves was being completed. There was a large pile of bones, more than an ordinary barrelful, lying alongside the hole; and near this a lot of boxes, in various stages of decay, that had served as coffins. These boxes had been taken up and their contents thrown out—the remains of the bodies of infants (at this stage nothing more than bones) and pieces of decayed clothing.”

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Walker, George, 1869-1937; Maryland. Vice Commission. The traffic in babies; an analysis of the conditions discovered during an investigation conducted in the year 1914. Baltimore, The Norman Remington Co.. 

Part One: Punish Mothers • Dispose of Babies

Part Three: Exploitation, Sexual Predation

Part 1: Punish Mothers • ‘Dispose of’ Babies

Just when we begin to recover from the shock of learning about the hundreds of babies buried in a secret grave on the grounds of a convent in Ireland, we learn that many nations have similar ghoulish secrets. One secret grave – in a major city here in the United States – was found to contain the remains of five thousand infants. Not aborted fetuses, mind you, but full-term newborns permitted to die slowly and agonizingly within weeks of birth. You may be surprised to learn by whose arrangement these atrocities were committed and who were the professionals who orchestrated the removal of babies from their mothers and the “disposal of” the babies.

So strap on your seat belts and prepare for a really rough ride!

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – 100 Years Ago

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The Traffic in Babies

You’ll be able to read for yourself Dr. George Walker’s report, The Traffic in Babies, as sources will be provided further on for either downloading it in various formats or reading online. In the meantime, here’s an introduction:

SUMMARY OF STUDY

In order to learn the attitude of physicians, clergymen, nurses, midwives, superintendents of hospitals, and others, relative to the permanent separation of a new-born infant from its mother, we interviewed a number in each class.

Of the 49 physicians interviewed, 42 were willing to aid in the procedure and to charge a fee; many of them a double fee. All of these physicians were cognizant of their acts; they were not ignorant; they knew that when a child is separated from its mother at birth and put into an institution it has hardly a chance of living. Yet, for a fee, they were willing to subject a child to this gradual, starving death.

In this investigation 30 clergymen, including Protestants, Catholics, and Hebrews, were interviewed. Of the whole number only two interposed a serious objection; each and every one of the others was willing to help; some went much further and said that they would accept money for their services. One was willing to receive $100; another, $150; another, $250. Only one of two things can be said about all of these men: either that they are willing knowingly to aid in the killing of a child; or that they are ignorant of what they are doing.

Of 69 nurses interviewed, only four said they did not approve of separating mother and child.

Of the midwives, only two in the whole number refused. To the others the thing seemed right and proper and not even unconventional; one went so far as to consider choking the child as soon as it was born.

We found, too, a few so-called social workers and religious workers who jumped at the chance of arranging for the separation and were eager-yes, greedy-for the fee offered. In justice it should he said that members of the well-known charitable organizations were interviewed concerning the traffic, and they refused to take any part in it.

And the institutions! Day after day, month after month, year after year, they receive healthy, plump infants into their wards and watch them hour after hour go down to death. They know that practically all of those that immediately after birth are separated from their mothers will die; yet year after year they keep up this nefarious, murderous traffic.

We do not attempt in this study to settle the many complex problems relating to the illegitimate; but we believe that the facts show that society’s method in many instances is one of repression and virtual murder.

This is a harsh word, we grant, and we would fain substitute a gentler term; but, after all is said and done, that which we have recorded is virtual murder, and slow and cowardly murder at that. It would be far more humane to kill these babies by striking them on the head with a hammer than to place them in institutions where four-fifths of them succumb within a few weeks to the effects of malnutrition or infectious diseases. It is a few weeks of suffering, a few weeks of going down to death by a process that is slower than the hammer, but inmost instances just as sure.

Hedged in by our system of shams and our fabric of lies, we refuse to call this practice killing the babies; we dignify it by the softer name, the smoother phrase, of putting them into institutions where they will be cared for. But nearly all of them die; and many of us know that they die; and moreover many think it better that they die.

All this is done in the effort to preserve a family’s good name; to prevent a girl’s reputation from being smirched; to save a man from facing the consequences of his act. Altogether it is a well-organized hushing up, by a system of subterfuges and repressions, in order that certain individuals shall not have to face openly what they have done. And aiding in this is a band of doctors, clergymen, mothers and fathers, and institutions, conniving and plotting and having a hand in the killing of an absolutely helpless child, all in the name of virtue and purity and the saving of somebody’s home. It is time that society grapple with this thing and look it in the face and recognize it for the cowardly, dastardly deed that it is. This whole system of doing away with infants has some phases of a regularly commercialized traffic, in which a large number of persons are directly or indirectly engaged for profit.

Some points to keep in mind as you read Dr. Walker’s report:

  • The report is out of copyright, so it may be used freely as long as attribution is provided.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) has been used to produce the document from its original, and some of the sources have not edited the text. As a result, words here and there contain strange characters, but they’re generally not too difficult to read.
  • Take note of how the study was conducted. It was not purportedly ‘unwed’ pregnant women seeking help or questioning the various professionals concerning the treatment they and their babies might receive. It was men whose girlfriends or daughters were ‘in trouble’ who sought fixes for their (the men’s) problems. Some claimed to have impregnated girls as young as 17 and needed their own reputations protected. All sought assurance that the babies would be separated from their mothers immediately after birth and “disposed of.” (Terminology used throughout.)
  • It is also significant that so many women willingly and fully participated in the horrendous activities resulting in the wholesale deaths of infants. Some actually declared that it was better for the baby to die than have the mother’s reputation sullied. Others promised protection of the father’s involvement in the pregnancy, offering to launder the money paid to doctors, hospitals etc. One nurse even hinted at killing the baby herself: “You see it is this way,” she said; “sometimes the cord at birth is wrapped round the baby’s neck, and unless this cord is removed very quickly and skillfully the baby dies.” She added a rather knowing way that of course the cord could be left on for a few moments…..
  • Why did the babies die of starvation? Truly nutritional baby formula had not yet been perfected. Not only did existing products lack essential nutrients, but Dr. Walker’s report revealed that the Institution’s staff mixed the powdered product in irregular proportions, diluting its nutritional value even further. So separating a baby from its mother – and thus its mother’s milk – was a death sentence. And incidentally, no mention was made in this study of the extreme discomfort a mother would have experienced when her milk came in and she had no baby to nurse.  There were no lactation suppressants back then, and the invention of the breast pump was decades away.
  • Also, poor sanitation and lack of sterilization in the institution meant spreading of diseases among the babies, with fatal consequences.
  • Abortion was often mentioned – and offered – as a remedy for the man’s ‘problem,’ as was the possibility of adoption. However, even the adoptions were done carelessly and with no real concern for the babies. And what if the mother really wanted to keep her baby? The delivering doctor or midwife made every attempt to prevent that from happening.

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  • It would be extremely naive to believe that what was happening in Baltimore one hundred years ago was an isolated practice in either time or place. Given the societal condemnation of unwed motherhood, the unwillingness of men to take responsibility for their offspring and/or protecting their reputations, and the stigmatization of illegitimate children, it’s a pretty safe bet these activities were widespread, even if not fully documented as in Dr. Walker’s report. As a matter of fact, ‘baby farming‘ with deplorable conditions was rampant until about 1920.
  • As an adoption reform activist, I can’t help but wonder how many of our archaic adoption laws, enacted largely by men over the decades, have followed a similar path of misogyny and protectionism: separate the child from its mother; bypass involvement by the father; create the illusion that the child was born to someone else; ignore the needs and concerns of both mother and child; seal the records to protect themselves against future exposure; and fight any legislation that had the potential of exposing their own secrets and those of their brothers. And given the complicity of the women in Dr. Walker’s study, it’s not much of a stretch to envision similar collusion by female legislators, social workers, and others. More on this later.
  • Discussion on this report will continue in later postings, but here are the sources for reading or obtaining a copy of Dr. George Walker’s report:

Walker, George, 1869-1937; Maryland. Vice Commission. The traffic in babies; an analysis of the conditions discovered during an investigation conducted in the year 1914

Read online: Choose one of three libraries

Download in various formats

Newspaper Article: New York Times (with subscription only)

 

Part Two: Unceremonious Burial of the Babies

Part Three: Exploitation, Sexual Predation