Adoption History

Adoption is a Community within a Community

Years ago, I had a graduate level social studies class that required a large project; as an adoptee, I chose adoption history. Until then I hadn’t even thought of adoption as a community.  My instructor pointed out that adoption is actually a community within other communities which means that there are no racial borders to adoption.  Adoption is included in all racial, ethnic, financial, and national groups.  I wasn’t even sure there was any real history involved or that there was documentation.  You see, my community has been a huge social ill for centuries, and unless you are an active member, you don’t get it, but hopefully by the time you are done with my adoption blog, you will.

Moses in the Nile

Moses in the Nile


The first established adoption has been said to be Moses.  What makes him different from most of ours is that Moses parents are assumed to have been married. and God made a way for Moses to be raised by his birth mother and siblings.  Moses was born during a time when Pharaoh was very concerned about the Israelis and their numbers; he was afraid if their tribes became to large he could no longer control them.  So, Pharaoh ordered that all male infants be put to death by the midwives; males were the warriors.  Fortunately, most infants were not born using a midwife so few were murdered, but then Pharaoh ordered that all male infants be thrown into the Nile and drowned.

Moses mother was afraid for her infant son, so she placed him in a sealed papyrus basket and placed him in the Nile hoping he would be found and nurtured.  Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidens were bathing in the Nile and the Princess found Moses in the reeds and (without the Princess’ knowledge) hired Moses birth mother to nurse him until he was weaned.  Moses was then moved to the palace where he was raised and educated under the best conditions, loved by the Princess, and favored by his grandfather, Pharaoh.  To learn more about Pharaoh, his daughter, and Moses, read Exodus Chapter 2.

2000 Census

The United States wants credit for the adoption enlightenment from the 2000 census.  It was the first time adoption had its own category.  What they found may startle you (sarcasm).  Adopted children are generally raised by families with better financial means, better educational backgrounds, and have better opportunities.  Moses was the poster child.  Surprising what we can all learn from reading the Bible without spending millions in tax dollars.

The Biblical Term Bastard

The term bastard said by an adoptee, in the closed record adoption community, is not said with anymore malice or disrespect than the ‘N’ word in the black community.  It’s a name some of us were called with viciousness and contempt by others for years, which at the time hurt very much.  However, at this point in my life I can say it with a chuckle, and yes, it is biblical.  However, it doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning some would like. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word three times: Deuteronomy 23:2, Zechariah 9:6, and Hebrews 12:8.

  • A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.  Deuteronomy 23:2
  • And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines.  Zechariah 9:6
  • But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  Hebrews 12:8
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is mamzer  which actually means mixed.  What it is most likely referring to is the marriage of a Jew to a non Jew and a child born to that union.  While the New Testament refers to the term as we know it today, it most likely refers to people who are not the children of God the Father.  Thus making them bastards to the family of God the Father.

First Legislation

The 1851 Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act established the first piece of legislation for adoption in the United States.  It basically said that children should be placed in homes that could “sufficiently” take care of them.  It was left up to the judges to determine what that meant.  Prior to that time adoption was not regulated, and the children in the streets were considered a nuisance, like weeds in the garden.  Children stole, broke into stores, and formed gangs to stay alive.  Children as young as 5 years old were hauled off to jails and put into cells with adults. It has been less than forty years since adoption has been used as a way to expand a family.

Pony Express Want Ads

Pony Express Want Ads

The Pony Express

Wikipedia’s Pony Express entry states, “Back in 1860, riding for the Pony Express was difficult work – riders had to be tough and lightweight. There is a famous advertisement that reportedly read, Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”  The way of life for orphans was hard. During the Paiute War in 1860, several of the established Pony Express stations were targets of the war, and many of the employees were killed.  Even though the riders were armed with a Bible and gun, several did not make it to their station and the mail was more than two years late.  The cost of sending one letter was $5, so only financially elite individuals could use this service.  The owners of the Pony Express were wealthy individuals who were thought to seek government contracts with the speed of their mail service; however, it didn’t happen.

The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train was another American establishment to place children into homes.  The Orphan train ran from approximately 1853 through 1929 until the start of organized Foster Care.  Charles Loring Brace, a young minister, established The Children’s Society in New York City; he was an adoption reformer with an idea of getting children to families.  At that time, it was estimated that over 500,000 children were roaming the streets without parents; He put them on trains heading west.  At each stop, children were taken from the train to the platform where willing families came to look them over and take the children of interest.  Some children were adopted as family members, and others were farm hands.

I was fascinated by a story written by CNN.  It was an interview with Stanley Cornell  who found a home riding on the train.  PBS American Experience describes the orphan train and even has lesson plans for teachers.  They also have a movie titled: The Orphan Trail.  I cried the first time I watched it, and I showed a small segment of the movie in my master’s level social studies class; a few of my

The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train

classmates teared up too.  Even though the movie is older (its in color), it has tremendous historical significance to our community.

University of Oregon

For a complete timeline of adoption history, the University of Oregon’s History Department has put together a through site.

Frederick Douglass

In another master’s course, that was entitled Multicultural English we discussed the writings of Frederick Douglass.  He was a slave born in approximately February 1818.  I remember the class discussion well.  The class was discussing the harsh realities of slaves not even knowing something as simple as their correct birthday or their parent’s true identities.  The only possible way a slave might know their parentage was from the whispers and gossip of others on the plantation.  If slaves asked their owners for such information, they were told it was “improper” or that they had a “restless” spirit.   I listened to the discussion for a short time, raised my hand and said look, “This is the 1990s, and by law, I have access to none of this information, and there are religious organizations lobbying to make it illegal for me to even try to find out.  I was born under closed records adoption.  If I ask for my information, I’m told that I’m not grateful to my adoptive parents.  The government holds my records under lock and key for which I’m not entitled.  What has really changed?”  It caused a large silence.

I had an Aunt who hated me; I don’t know why.  From the time I was very young she would whisper, within my ear range, that she knew my birth family, and that they wanted nothing to do with me; I was adopted trash.  One of her children even told me, “If you ever want to know who you are ask us.  We know.”  I knew if I told my mother they were doing this that she would confront them, but my mother would not keep me away from them, so they would only increase the verbal assaults and threaten me if I told.  So, I kept the abuse inside; it was very painful.

Since this multicultural English, I’m one of the blessed whose records have been opened.  My aunt lied, her kids lied; my birth parents actually went to a great deal of trouble which included an attorney to try and get me back; my birth father wasn’t even given the courtesy to release me for adoption.  There are no more innuendos, lies, and no more secrets.  The bondage has been removed; you can’t imagine the peace.  My prayer is that others have the same opportunity; it’s not right to treat a small percentage of people like slaves were treated in the 1800s.  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32 KJV

To date, when states hold meetings on opening records, often time there is not one adoptee brought to the table to address our issues.  After all, to many people the adoption triad includes: the transgressor, the bastard, and the hero.  The hero is the most likely to be brought to the table; the hero generally has money.  Bastard Nation and a few other organizations do a splendid job keeping our community apprised of what’s happening legislatively.  We deserve the dignity and respect to have access to our birth records.

Roe vs. Wade

In my lifetime, adoption didn’t receive any respect until the passage of Roe vs. Wade.  Prior to the passage, many of us were labeled biblical bastards and often treated like outcasts, especially in the church.  Deuteronomy 23:2 – A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.  My early church experience left much to be desired.  Once on my own, I stayed away from church for years, and when I returned the things I heard were a shock to my ears.  We were now the celebrated adoption option.  I heard it from the pulpit myself; I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “When did this happen?”

Even as a young child, I understood that going to church didn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in the garage makes you a car.  But, it was such a relief to be accepted by the church.  I had to rush out of church and home just to cry; it was uncontrollable.  It was still years before I made a total commitment to Jesus Christ, but once I did, it stuck.  I can’t say that I’m in favor of abortion, but I will say that the change in Christian’s attitudes toward adopted persons is the good that came from Roe vs. Wade.  What I don’t like are the number of Christians who have tried to turn our community into a commodity.  No place in the Bible does it say that adoption will fix the abortion problem, and yes, abortion is discussed in Numbers chapter 5.




If you would like to leave a comment, please leave it here.