Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in by Claudia Nelson

By Claudia Nelson

When Massachusetts handed America’s first entire adoption legislations in 1851, the standard rationale for taking in an unrelated baby was once presumed to be the necessity for inexpensive hard work. yet by way of 1929—the first yr that each country had an adoption law—the adoptee’s major functionality was once noticeable as emotional. Little Strangers examines the representations of adoption and foster care produced over the intervening years. Claudia Nelson argues that adoption texts mirror altering attitudes towards many vital social matters, together with immigration and poverty, heredity and surroundings, individuality and citizenship, gender, and the relations. She examines orphan fiction for kids, journal tales and articles, felony writings, social paintings convention lawsuits, and discussions of heredity and baby psychology. Nelson’s bold scope presents for an research of the level to which professional and mainstream adoption discourse overlapped, in addition to the ways that adoption and foster care had captivated the general public imagination.

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Additional resources for Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929

Sample text

Warner’s novel examines multiple families, from Ellen’s birth family to her adoptive families to the families of neighbors, and in almost every case scrutiny reveals flaws so great as to be incapacitating. Parents and parent-surrogates fail morally, emotionally, and physically; they set bad examples for their children, lack interest in them, prove incapable of understanding them. Even Mrs. Vawse, so admirable that the estimable Alice takes her as a model, cannot establish a significant bond with the granddaughter she is raising.

One such factor was a sharp uptick in child labor between 1861 and 1865, particularly in the North, as the shortage of adult males in field and factory was remedied by the recruitment of women and children. The war also hastened industrialization, which meant in the short run that there were potentially more jobs for children than ever before. Machinery was reducing the need for strength and skill on farms and in workshops, and the working child (or child soldier, drummer boy, or battlefield messenger) was an important figure during the war years.

Correspondingly, the narrative makes much of Ellen’s American patriotism; that she retains her admiration for national heroes such as George Washington is a sign that she will also retain her piety and her ability to work. We are not to desire her complete assimilation into her new family, because to exchange American ways for European ones is to regress morally. While Ellen herself much prefers her life as Alice-replacement to either her subsequent role as favorite doll or her earlier existence at Aunt Fortune’s beck and call, in fact none of the three contrasting approaches to informal adoption explored in Warner’s novel permits the adoptee full The 1850s and Their Echoes 19 scope for action, if action for women is defined in terms of the cult of domesticity.

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