Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929
When Massachusetts passed America’s first comprehensive adoption law in 1851, the usual motive for taking in an unrelated child was presumed to be the need for cheap labor. But by 1929―the first year that every state had an adoption law―the adoptee’s main function was seen as emotional. Little Strangers examines the representations of adoption and foster care produced over the intervening years. Claudia Nelson argues that adoption texts reflect changing attitudes toward many important social issues, including immigration and poverty, heredity and environment, individuality and citizenship, gender, and the family. She examines orphan fiction for children, magazine stories and articles, legal writings, social work conference proceedings, and discussions of heredity and child psychology. Nelson’s ambitious scope provides for an analysis of the extent to which specialist and mainstream adoption discourse overlapped, as well as the ways in which adoption and foster care had captivated the public imagination.