Orphaned Babies Loaned to Universities

Katherine - posted on 01/13/2011 ( 12 moms have responded )

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Every once in awhile a skeleton is shaken loose from the American closet that shakes even the most ardent fans of our democracy to the core. Did you know that American babies waiting to be adopted were once loaned out to American universities? Loaned, like library books.

According to what I've been able to dig up since first hearing about these "baby programs," they were abandoned in the '60s, but there was a time when orphan babies were just props in the home economics coursework at colleges. Is anyone else thinking these kids were treated like the animal shelter dogs farmed out to prisoners on an Animal Planet show?

The dogs are usually getting something out of it, while the prisoners are being rehabilitated. And it could be said that the babies got something out of it too -- they were used in classes where women were training to be mothers (in the 1920s, women weren't signing up for PhD programs in droves, this is what many went to college for). They were fed, clothed, etc. According to a report out of Cornell University, which ran one of the earliest "baby programs," the kids were considered highly adoptable because they'd been "raised according to the most up-to-date scientific principles."

But can we really call this "raising" a child? They were passed from student to student to student, used as human dolls in a trial and error process. As a look at the program at Eastern Illinois State Teacher's College -- which gained particular notoriety for taking not wards of the state but babies from unwed mothers -- describes, students "gained experience managing the domestic aspects of homemaking and care for an infant." The kids were mere experiments.

The assumption was the babies were better off with good care than with their inexperienced mothers. And I guess technically, a first time mom is really just experimenting; our kids don't come with instruction books. But at least we're doing it with the life of the child as our first priority; these women were just trying to get a good grade.

It's not the absolute worst skeleton in America's closet -- not when compared to, say, slavery. But it was pretty shocking to me. Have you heard about this? What do you think?

http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/114895/o...

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Tara - posted on 01/14/2011

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Shocking but it seems like it wasn't that harmful in the grand scheme of things. The babies were cared for, they were played with and cuddled and fed well. Granted their bonding experience and ability to attach to a caregiver would have been severely stunted in this situation, it can't be any worse than lying in a crib in a dormitory full of other unwanted babies, being cared for my staff who are limited in numbers and couldn't possibly have the time to spend with each child individually. At least they were given some bonding, some love, and some kind of relationship with someone.
Still I find it weird and I wonder how these babies have fared as adults and what kind of attachment issues if any they have.

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Tara - posted on 01/14/2011

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@janessa,
In the 1920's orphanages were not pleasant nor healthy places for babies. And even now, while not ideal, foster care is more representative to a normal family situation in comparison to a group home or orphanage.
When children grow up with only other children to guide them and lead them, they are often ill equipped to handle the challenges adult relationships present. Emotionally I think children are better off with the care of at least one caring individual on a somewhat regular basis than being cared for by staff at an orphanage, where the staff to child ratio is far too high to allow for real emotional learning to take place.

Janessa - posted on 01/14/2011

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Wow that is so sad poor babies :( I have to disagree with someone that said orphanges are no different I came from one I liked it there. We made friends with kids that had no parents or were put for adoption so you never feel left out because you always have someone to play with. I like orphanges allot of times are better then foster homes. At least children do not have to be bounce from so many homes until they are old enough to leave the system. Majority of the times the orphanges are looked after very well then you would not need tired out social services because the kids are under one roof.

Laressa - posted on 01/14/2011

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Its kinda shocking but like some others said would they really have been better off at an orphanage. While here they were passed from person to person at least they did have lots of adult contact. Lots of orphanages are understaffed and the children barely get thier basic needs met. Babies need lots of interaction to develop properly and likely they at least got that. Sure its more ideal to be raised in a loving home, but maybe this was the best case in a worst case scenario. I'm not convinced that the foster system of today is better. At least not always.

Nicole - posted on 01/14/2011

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I agree with some that are saying that when you look at it as a whole, it may not have been as horrendous as it sounds. Especially when you take into account the reason that "orphanages" were abandoned for "fostering". Babies in orphanages were usually hardly cared for other than MAYBE being fed, clothed, etc. Other than the things that kept them "alive". Children growing in orphanages were commonly stunted because they were held very little, barely talked to, and so on. At least at these colleges, the babies were treated like a mother would treat their baby-even if it was to just get a good grade. It was probably more affection than they would have gotten in an orphanage.

Sherri - posted on 01/14/2011

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It actually was to the benefit of the children. Most babies were thrown in orphanages and barely given basic needs, forget actually love or attention. At least the babies at the university were given lots of human contact and I am sure snuggles and interaction.

Katherine - posted on 01/14/2011

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Thanks Holly, I was trying to find some more info, but Google just kept taking me to The Stir and this thread.

Nicole - posted on 01/13/2011

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this woman sounds positive and gives some very good advice. Do the best you can with what you have.

It is a very interesting story. Thank you for sharing it.

Nicole - posted on 01/13/2011

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In comparison to the Romanian orphans this is not so bad.



EDIT: It would be interesting to find out what came of these children

Jodi - posted on 01/13/2011

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I have to admit, I'm relieved at what I read. I read the title and thought I was going to read a horror novela bout poor little babies sent out to universities for medical testing and what not. *whew* lol

That being said, it's still pretty horrible to think of these little babies not getting to form any kind of lasting bond with anyone...but how different would it have been in an orphanage back in the day? I dont' know how they are, or were, run, but I don't picture it as a picnic either, orphanages thrughout history havn't always been the most savory of places...still...it's disturbing...I'm not sure how I feel I guess.

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