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
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.
- 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
Newspaper Article: New York Times (with subscription only)