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When was adoption illegal in the United States?

Adoption is a common practice in modern-day society, providing forever homes to children who may have been orphaned or given up for adoption by biological parents. However, this was not always the case, and the legality of adoption in the United States has had a tumultuous past. In this article, we will explore the history of adoption in the United States, from when it was first illegal to its eventual acceptance and normalization.

Early American Law and Adoption

In the early years of American law, adoption was not recognized legally; judges were not authorized to cut the ties of biological family. Instead, informal adoptions occurred when a family member or close friend took in a child in need. These informal adoptions were not legally recognized, and the child’s biological family maintained their legal rights and responsibilities.

Adoption Becomes Illegal

In the 19th century, cities across the United States became increasingly crowded, and the influx of immigrants caused an increase in child abandonment and orphaned children living on the streets. The concept of adoption as we know it today was not yet established, and as a result, children were often treated as indentured servants or were placed in crowded, poorly run orphanages.

However, rather than create comprehensive laws to protect these children, state governments started to criminalize adoption. In 1851, Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to pass a comprehensive adoption law, making adoption legal if certain regulations regarding child welfare were met. Prior to this law, adoption was considered to be a form of deceit against biological family members, ultimately making it illegal to formally adopt a child.

The reasons for making adoption illegal were deeply complex. There was a commonly held bias against adoption which viewed it as a violation of moral and social convention. Also, there were concerns that adoption could perpetuate fraud, and there were fears that children would be sold, often to families living far away, who would then maltreat them.

As such, adoption began to be viewed as a suspect practice that cut against the interests of defending family and community bonds. This suspicion led to adoption being banned in many U.S states, and it took several decades before the nation’s lawmakers began to undo this policy.

The Emergence of Adoption as a Legal Practice

In the years following Massachusetts’ comprehensive adoption law, other states followed suit, and during the early 1900s, adoption became tightly regulated under legal precedents throughout the U.S to differentiate it from other child placement methods like indenture or guardianship.

During this period, courts began to recognize the benefits of adoption for both children and adoptive families. Adoption was seen as an opportunity to provide a stable, loving home to children in need while allowing those who could not have children to experience the joys of parenthood.

As a result, laws were enacted that aimed to protect the welfare of children in adoptive homes, with established procedures for home studies and background checks to ensure an adoptive home was safe and secure. By the mid-20th century, adoption had widespread societal acceptance, as it became a common way for parents to build their families.

The Road to Modern Adoption

Today, adoption is a widely recognized and accepted practice in the United States. Adoption laws are extensive and are designed to protect children, birth parents, and adoptive families alike. Adoption has become more inclusive, with stepparent and same-sex adoptions becoming more common and legal.

Additionally, the ongoing opioid crisis has led to a sharp increase in the number of children being taken into foster care, which has in turn led to an increase in adoption of children who cannot be reunited with their biological families. The process is still regulated, but today the emphasis is on the best interests of the child.


Adoption has come a long way in the United States since it was first considered illegal. While it was originally seen as a suspect practice, adoption is now an accepted and common form of family-building. Laws were enacted to protect the welfare of children, and the government has put many measures in place to ensure that those considering adoption have the resources and support they need. Despite the hurdles that adoption has faced throughout history, it remains a loving and important way for parents to build their families.


Was adoption a thing in the 1960s?

Yes, adoption was a common occurrence in the 1960s. In fact, it’s estimated that from 1945 to 1973, up to 4 million parents in the United States had children placed for adoption, with 2 million during the 1960s alone.

During this time period, there were a number of social and cultural factors that contributed to the high rates of adoption. For example, there was a cultural emphasis on the nuclear family, and many families felt pressure to have children in order to conform to societal expectations. However, some couples were unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term, leading them to seek out adoption as an alternative means of building a family.

Another key factor was the stigma surrounding pregnancy outside of marriage. In the 1960s, it was still considered a scandal for a woman to have a child out of wedlock, and many women who found themselves pregnant outside of marriage were strongly encouraged to give up their children for adoption. In some cases, this pressure was so great that women were forced to give up their babies against their will.

In addition to these social and cultural factors, there were also a number of legal and institutional factors that contributed to the high rates of adoption in the 1960s. For example, many states had laws that made it difficult or impossible for unmarried couples to adopt children. As a result, many children were placed in institutional settings, such as orphanages, where they were available for adoption by married couples.

While adoption has always been a part of human history, the 1960s were a particularly notable time period for adoption in the United States. The high rates of adoption seen during this time were driven by a complex mix of social, cultural, legal, and institutional factors.

What was the oldest to be adopted?

The idea of adoption usually brings to mind couples who are looking to adopt newborn babies or young children. However, there are also instances where older people are adopted, and the oldest person to be adopted is Mary Banks Smith. Mary Banks Smith was a 76-year-old woman who was legally adopted by her friend, Muriel Banks Clayton, in October 2005.

The adoption of an older person may seem unusual, but it can be a meaningful and life-changing experience both for the adoptee and adoptive parent. Mary Banks Smith had been friends with Muriel for more than 40 years and often referred to her as a sister. Muriel stated that she adopted Mary because she wanted to ensure that Mary would always have a supportive and caring family.

The legal process of adoption for an older person is similar to that of adopting a child. Both the adoptee and the adoptive parent have to agree to the legal adoption, and it has to be approved by a judge. After the adoption, the adoptee gains legal rights as a child of the adoptive parent, including inheritance rights, medical coverage from the adoptive parent, and other legal benefits that come with being an adopted child.

Muriel’s adoption of Mary also broke the record for the oldest person to adopt someone, as she was 92 years and 322 days at the time. The adoption was an extraordinary event that demonstrated the love and care that can exist between two people regardless of age. It also highlights the fact that adoption is a way to create a family and provide a home for someone who needs it.

The adoption of an older person can be a unique and fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Mary Banks Smith’s adoption by her friend Muriel Banks Clayton is a testament to the fact that love knows no bounds, and it can flourish at any age. adoption is a way to create a family, and it can bring immeasurable joy and fulfillment to all those involved.

Were there orphanages in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, orphanages were still a prevalent form of care for children who were without parents or living in circumstances that made it impossible for their parents or guardians to take care of them. However, the nature of orphanages had already undergone significant changes as the 1950s marked an important turning point in the history of child welfare.

By the 1950s, most states had taken responsibility for the care of their dependent children. The adoption of the Child Welfare Act of 1950, for example, encouraged states to set up their own child welfare agencies with the mandate to oversee protective services and foster care. This led to the closure of many large orphanages that were run by private charities and religious organizations. In their place, smaller residential treatment centers were established that aimed to provide a more therapeutic approach to caring for children.

Another significant development in the 1950s was the growth of foster care as an alternative to institutionalization. Foster care had been around since the early 20th century, but it was only in the 1950s that it gained widespread acceptance as a legitimate form of care for dependent children. States began to establish their own foster care systems and to regulate the placement of children in foster homes. Foster care also developed special care units for disabled children who were not suitable for adoption or placement with a permanent family.

Despite these changes, orphanages still had a role to play in the 1950s. They provided temporary shelter for children who needed a place to stay until a foster family was located or until a guardian could be identified. Orphanages also continued to provide long-term care for children who were not suitable for adoption or placement in foster care, such as those with chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Orphanages were still in existence in the 1950s, but their role had shifted from being the primary form of care for dependent children to becoming a temporary shelter or a residential treatment center. The growth of state child welfare agencies, the development of foster care, and the increasing recognition of the importance of providing a therapeutic environment for children had all contributed to the changing nature of child welfare in the 1950s.