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Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives

Edited by E. Wayne CarpUniversity of Michigan Press; $60.00.

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This collection of essays showcases the wide-ranging scholarship underway on the history of adoption. Well-written and accessible, the essays present adoption as part of a larger history.

Articles describe how nineteenth-century adoption emerged in relationship to other forms of care for dependent children, including apprenticeship and orphanages. Adoption was often linked to social reform or benevolence, as seen in an early twentieth-century magazine series that encouraged readers to “rescue” needy children.

In the twentieth century, adoption began to be seen as an alternative way to create a family, not as a form of child rescue, or a source of child labor. The demand for healthy white infants to adopt has long exceeded the supply. That imbalance helped to shape social workers’ adoption practices, which urged participants to create families in the image of prevailing cultural ideals of family.

E. Wayne Carp’s introduction provides a useful overview of adoption history that serves as a map to the rest of the volume. Contributors rely on varied sources to explore and interpret adoption, including short stories and novels, case files and professional literature, adoption statistics, and contemporary memoirs of birthparents, adoptive parents, and adopted people. Because it is a university press book, Adoption in America may not be at your local bookstore, but it may be ordered online or found in your public library.

Reviewed by Barbara Melosh, author of Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption (Harvard, 2002).

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