I’ve been in the throes of adoption research for about two years now, related to my own adoption and to the issue of young unmarried white women—like my mother—who became pregnant but were given few realistic alternatives other than relinquishment of children. Most of my work has related to the Florence Crittenton homes, which began in the early part of the 20th century and flourished over the years until it became a true chain of maternity homes across the country, from Boston to Seattle and all parts between. My mother was at the Florence Crittenton home in Washington, D.C. I was too.
Early on in my research, I was surprised to realize that, just a few miles away, was the University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives (SWHA), one of the largest and most complete social welfare archives in the United States. Better yet, it included thousands of records related to adoption and to the Crittenton organization’s, homes, operations, and activities. Other large collections of archival records at the SWHA include:
So far I’ve been to the archives once, to review hundreds of Crittenton records, including reports from the Washington, D.C., home, newspaper clippings, correspondence, stock photos, plays, magazine articles, and studies. Despite two days of looking through folders, I didn’t get it all done.
Not everyone gets to live a few miles away from a vast archive that relates directly to his or her secretive history. So, here’s an offer to fellow adoptees (and mothers too, to be fair): I’ll retrieve, within reason, records of things you would like to see. As with research—and especially in this world of adoption—I make no guarantee that what you are looking for will be found, either in answers or in documents. But I can take a peek at specific records. Just let me know.
Here’s how it will work. In the next year I anticipate I will make three or four more trips to the archives. To do so, I must request records in advance from the archivists, who do a tremendous job answering questions and facilitating archival research. My current list of records is now being developed and I will request them from the archives in the next week. You can piggyback on my work by letting me know if there is a folder you would like me to review while I am there, either in the near future or during another anticipated stop later on in the coming months.
Now, a quick caveat. I cannot realistically do your research, meaning I cannot “take a peek” at a box full of hundreds of records to let you know what’s there. I need a bit more specificity than that, as in narrowing it down to the specific box and folder contained in a specific collection. Thus, I need to know the collection name (e.g., Child Welfare League of America records) plus the box and folder you are hoping to view (e.g., Box 1, folder 41). Without that information I’m basically stuck looking through haystacks. Also, if there is something very specific you would like me look for, please specify that to me. And the lawyer in me has to say this: I reserve the right to say no, not because I am mean but to guard against over-the-top requests that involve the retrieval of a ton of documents or do not relate to an adoptee’s personal search for understanding.
Also, it’s worth stating that there are no records in the collection that provide identifying information on adoptees or birth parents. This isn’t that kind of archive.
I’ll plan—and please use—this form here for requests. Please don’t make requests in the comments section below (though I’d love to hear what folks are hoping to find, other than parents or kids).
The SWHA is a world-renowned archive used by many notable adoption researchers and scholars. My hope is to provide other adoptees, at least for this limited time, access to resources without having to travel halfway across the country.