Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I found this book called A Public Charity: Religion & Social Welfare in Indianapolis, 1929-2002. It is an interesting read because it discusses how these agencies like Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers and St. Elizabeth's Home treated these unwed mothers. They were very proud of the fact that they forced these women to relinquish their children.

This book discusses how they discouraged unwed mothers from keeping and raising her child. One mother, Mary age 28, wanted to keep her child because she was an older woman and was afraid that she would not have another. I have heard that story echoing into the halls of natural parents. In the 1930's, they forced the mothers to breast feed their babies not just for a baby's health but to force the mothers to bond with their children. They did this to encourage these women to take ownership of their responsibilities. I imagine that for most mothers it was a natural experience. In the thirties, fifty percent of all unwed mothers kept their children.

In the 1940s and the 1950s, it was a quite different philosophy of thought. They considered single mothers a threat to the middle class ideal. So often you hear stories that these women either got spiritual training or psychological counseling to get them to see the error of their ways. We can all imagine what that was like. Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers was the protestant version of St. Elizabeth's Home for Unwed Mothers. This was the time that worshiped the concept of the middle class family. They stopped encouraging women to keep their children.

Interestingly enough they condemned the African American mother and forced her to raise her own child. They wanted her to take responsibility of her own child. With the white mother, it was the opposite. They wanted her to relinquish her child. Many of these social workers at these agencies thought this new pattern was a sign of the unwed mother having a personality disorder. They felt it was a unwed mother's attempt to get back at her parents for the lack of love and attention. They felt that it was ultimately the unwed mother's mother who was responsible for her daughter getting pregnant. They described this pregnancy as a form of rebellion. These homes changed their focus from lower class mothers to middle class mothers. They became very selective in the unwed mothers. Neither one of these homes for years would accept an African American mother in their maternity homes.

Ruth Henderson, the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers director, described how these girls coming to the home would want to keep their children. These girls were strongly discouraged from that train of thought. Her words, I swear. The maternity homes had to make sure that these young girls followed through with relinquishment. Most of these girls were told that since they got pregnant that they would NOT be good mothers. These homes told these women that they could not be mothers without a husband. A husband is what made them mothers. Ms. Henderson happily reported that most of these mothers willingly changed their minds once they understood this.

Many of these agencies highlighted how they forced these women to relinquish their babies. They literally broadcasted how well that they did their jobs. In Indianapolis, if a poor woman applied for assistance she was turned down. If she did receive assistance, she had to be very careful or else the state would confiscate her children.

Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers really did a number on the mothers. I have been lucky enough to speak with several of them. All of them have horror stories. They were tied to the bed during labor, no pain relief, fed three sparse meals a day and much more. These women were not allowed to hold their babies or let alone know the sex of them. You hear that Coleman adoptees? They were not given a choice.

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