Quotes from Research

The unmarried mother is often a living reproach to society.  People get rid of their guilt by condemning her.  In Canada, in contrast to other countries, “to put it mildly, there still remains a particularly hard core of Puritanism and old fashioned bourgeois morality”.  Unnamed Catholic Sister.  From “The One Parent Family” fifth in the series of handbooks from the series “Marriage and Family Life”, Anglican Church of Canada, 1969.


The Mothers….

“We find girls whose delayed sense of loss is so powerful that long after the birth they are trying to go back and look for what they left behind… years later the repressed grief may arise to destroy a marriage or distort feelings about a child born in wedlock”  Jerry Diamond, Jewish Family and Children’s Service.  United Church Observer, August 1, 1966.

For the girl who has no one, it is a shattering experience from which she may never really recover”.  Mrs. Barbara Evans, Executive Director, St. Monica House, Kitchener-Waterloo.  Canadian Churchmen, March 1969.

Unwed who gives up child may mourn a lifetime, group told by  Diane Kemp of the Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto in a group session on unmarried mothers at the annual conference of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies”.  Globe & Mail, May 11, 1966.

“It’s not just a case of having a baby.  It’s something the girl lives with the rest of her life.  It’s really a traumatic experience for her”  Major Mildred Tackaberry, Superintendent, Grace Haven, Montreal.  The War Cry, November 1968.

“The unwed mother is not always a feeble-minded or promiscuous girl from the wrong side of town.  Most such girls have a good background and may be from any walk of life.  But there is one common factor among them all, the presence of a deep emotional problem”  Sister Francis Cabrini, Director Misericordia Hospital, Edmonton.  Globe & Mail, February 4, 1966.

Ìn our experience in the Children`s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto over the past few years, we have found that the more emotionally healthy unmarried mothers are the ones likely to relinquish their children”  Kathleen Sutherton, Unmarried Parent Department, Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto, Armagh Anuual Meeting, March 10, 1959.

So…when a girl is thinking in terms of relinquishing her baby for adoption, we have felt that to enforce her to spend time with her baby after she leaves hospital would only add to those pains of separation and anguish which are felt by so many of the mothers” Kathleen Sutherton, Unmarried Parent Department, Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto, Armagh Anuual Meeting, March 10, 1959.

“Miss Milligan said most unwed mothers give up their children for adoption with little sense of guilt and this makes it easier for them to “face the world”.  “We get very few repeaters“, she said, “They seemed to have learned their lesson”  Muriel Milligan, Children’s Aid Society Director, Wentworth County.  Toronto Star, April 6, 1964.

“A Children’s Aid Society official says he has seen unwed mothers discard their babies “as if they were used Kleenex”.  Winnipeg Free Press, June 27, 1966.

The unmarried mother comes to us feeling guilty and expecting condemnation” said Mr. Marcus.  “She is not so much emotionally immature as she is emotionally unstable and confused.  Some are helpless, others independent or suspicious”   Bob Marcus, Director, Children’s Aid Society of Winnipeg.  Winnipeg Free Press, July 8, 1967.

Their attitude causes as much concern as their numbers.  Many feel little sense of responsibility.  Their depth of understanding rarely goes deeper than a shamefaced “I guess I was crazy”.  Mrs. Olive Cochrane, Supervisor, Victor Home.  Toronto Star, April 15, 1960.

Relinquishing birthmothers described a loss so profound, so full of pain, longing, and intense guilt feelings, they characterized it as a “pit of grief” or “trough”, other term experessed by participants included: deep hole, suppressed grief, hollow space, feeling that “lays your soul bare”, deep hunger, and diminished”.  The International Journal of Psychiatric Nursing, Volume 1, Issue 2, 1994.

When she renounces her child for its own good, the unwed mother has learned a lot.  She has learned to pay the price of her misdemeanor and this alone if punishment is needed is punishment enough”  Dr. Marion Hilliard, Toronto Telegram, November 22, 1956.


Woman’s Place:  From the Pages of Chatelaine Magazine – Published 1997

Copyright 1997 by Chatelaine Magazine, Maclean Hunter Publishing Limted


Article: Should Unwed Mothers Keep Their Babies?  March 1966

 “Unmarried mothers come from all walks of like.  The records of the Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto show that eighteen percent of the unmarried mothers in 1964 were high-school and university students; 40 per cent were white-collar workers such as secretaries, 9.2 percent were factory workers, waitresses and domestics.  The rest came from a variety of occupational backgrounds, with a sprinkling of professional women” Chatelaine Magazine, March 1966, Vol. 39, No. 3

 In 1964 in Canada, the most recent year for which we have figures, 26,556 babies were born to unmarried mothers.  We can safely assume that practically all of them were not wanted” Chatelaine Magazine, March 1966, Vol. 39, No. 3. pp. 28, 79

A social worker who sees unmarried mothers every day says “I was born and raised in Holland and my first contact with unmarried mothers in Canada was a shattering experience to me.  Here were these girls, obviously nice, well brought up girls, some in their late teens, some in their early twenties.   They were giving up their babies.  Some broke into tears when they realized that they would lose all further rights to their child”

Chatelaine Magazine, March 1966, Vol. 39, No. 3. p. 79


At a National Conference on Social Welfare in 1963, the unwed mother was described

as a “driven” and “trapped” client.  Family, doctors, lawyers, ministers and others pressured her to surrender her baby to adoption and social agencies such as society’s representatives may have leaned toward fulfilling that expectation”  Child Welfare League of America.  National Conference on Social Welfare, Brief and Intensive casework with unmarried mothers. (1963) D. Franks, C. Pilsecker, D. Thorne and
P. Anderson.


“…it is quite possible that, in the near future, unwed mothers will be “punished” by having their children taken from them right after birth.  A policy like this would not be executed – nor labeled explicitly – as “punishment”.  Rather, it would be implemented through such pressures and labels as “scientific findings”, “the best interests of the child”, “rehabilitation of the unwed mother”, and “the stability of the family and society”. Unmarried Mothers – A Study.  Clark Vincent 1961, p. 199.


Maternity Homes

“Mrs. L.H. Doering, Executive director of the United Church’s Victor Home for Unmarried Mothers says they are counselling their girls not to keep their babies.  I cannot see that it is fair to a baby for a girl to try to raise it without a father”.  L.H. Doering, Executive Director, Victor Home.  Toronto Star, December 20, 1965.

The number of unmarried mothers admitted to the Armagh home at Clarkson increased during 1962, Margarete Herrig, Director told the annual meeting at Glenview Church.

Of the 97 babies born in 1962, there were 82 placed for adoption with Children’s Aid Societies.  Margarete Herrig, Director, Armagh.  Globe & Mail, March 6, 1963.

“The girl has to make a decision, a serious one affecting two lives, and this is where you give her the most assistance.  Of the 114 babies born at Humewood House last year, 11 remained with the mother”.  Laurie Charleson,  Adoption Consultant, Ontario Department of Public Welfare.  The Toronto Star, February 18, 1955.

Chances are good that she won’t make a second “mistake“, her emotional scars will heal and she’ll be happily married a few years later”.  Mrs. G.H. Loosemore, Director, Humewood House.  Toronto Star, April 22, 1963.

The more emotionally healthy unmarried mother usually gives up her child for adoption as best for him” Miss Gwen Davenport, Superintendent, Armagh.  Globe & Mail,

March 11, 1963.

“Most of the girls we have seen who are financially and intellectually able to keep their babies decide not to.  It’s the “other kind of girl” who is more apt to make the decision to keep her baby.” Sister St. Augustine, Director, Rosalie Hall.  Toronto Star, December 20, 1965.

“Generally the most unstable want to keep their child, the more stable gives the infant for adoption”  Captain Scoville, Booth Hospital.  Toronto Daily Star, March 16, 1965.

Victor Home admitted 77 girls last year.  Three girls kept their babies, the others were adopted through Children’s Aid Societies, Mrs. Nessie Coulson, Superintendent reported at the annual meeting.  The girls assist with the housework and for many this is their first training in systematic housekeeping.  Under the direction of Mrs. Olive Cochrane the girls are taught he crafts of copper work, smocking and typing“.  Mrs. Nessie Coulson, Superintendent, Victor Home.  Toronto Star, March 26, 1959.

“Nearly all our babies are put up for adoption.”  Miss McLaughlin, Director, Humewood House.  Toronto Star, April 29, 1960.

At Humewood the girls return to the home for 10 days but do not bring their babies with them.  They are taken for adoption without the mothers seeing them “

Olivia Langford, Executive Director, Humewood House. Toronto Star, 1963.

Rosalie Hall advises against the girls keeping their babies “they think they are taking a doll home to play with” Sister Tremblay said bluntly.  Some (Maternity Home) Directors

feel that it is the more immature girls who keep their babies, and he more mature girls who put the children up for adoption”.   Toronto Star, June 7, 1972.

The decision of whether or not the mother will see her baby in the hospital is left up to each one.  Some don’t want to become attached to them, she said.  Many babies are adopted straight from the hospital”  Winnifred Bennett, Toronto Western Hospital Health Service.  Toronto Star, February 22, 1952.

They come to us confused and apprehensive of the plans they will have to make”.  Miss Elizabeth McLaughlin, Superintendent, Humewood House.  Toronto Star,  February 22, 1952.

“An environment that creates superficially kind and warm treatment promotes regression and it has been found in studies to be the most effective form of psychological control.”

New South Wales, Australia Inquiry into Adoption Practices: Dr. Geoff Rickarby. (2000)

“Maternity Homes – which were once shelters dedicated to the redemption and reclamation of “fallen women” – were now redefined by social workers as places of scientific treatment.  Rather than unfortunate “sisters” to be “saved”, unmarried mothers became “problem girls” to be “treated”.  Fallen Women, Problem Girls,

Regina Kunzel

“The world of maternity homes in postwar America was a gothic attic obscured from the community by the closed curtains of gentility and high spiked fences. The girls and women sent inside were dreamwalkers serving time, pregnant dreamwalkers taking the cure. Part criminal, part patient, the unwed mother arrived on the doorstep with her valise and, moving inside, found herself enclosed within an idea”  Rickie Solinger,
Wake Up Little Susie, p. 103, 1992.

 Maternity homes… served to further stigmatize pregnant young women by removing them from their families, friends and neighbors… these “homes” could create an austere and frightening atmosphere for the mother, whose freedom of movement was strictly curtailed by these instant chaperones and guardians. Typically, mothers were expected to help out in these homes with chores such as cleaning, dishwashing, and so on… while the mother’s physical needs were met, seldom were her emotional needs addressed” 

Rickie Solinger, Wake up Little Susie, 1992.


“Repeaters, married women, mental defectives and venereal disease cases shall not be admitted.”  Victor Home Policy Statement on Admissions and Adoptions, Toronto, 1954.

“In the 1950s and l960s there were waiting lists and a number of building programs to increase bed capacities.  One regional director observed that the number now being served (in 1970) is back to that of the early 1950s in the homes.”  Analysis of Decreased Utililization of Salvation Army Maternity Homes and Hospitals – Thesis, Lt.-Col.

Mary E. Verner.


From “Gone to an Aunt’s”: Remembering Canada’s Homes for Unwed Mothers,

Anne Petrie, 1988.

 “It is easy to see how sending your daughter away to a home – where at least there was food, shelter and safety – could seem the best option.  If it meant shame and punishment that would scar her for many years, perhaps even forever, well, nobody said anything about that” Anne Petrie, Gone to an Aunt’s,  p. 45

“Social workers and others serving unmarried mothers have arrived, as a result of experience, at the conviction that adoption is the best plan for most illegitimate children as well as for most unmarried mothers”  A review of policies for Maternity Homes in Metropolitan Toronto: Anne Petrie, Gone to An Aunt’s, p.147.

“Where had these moral dicta come from but the church, all the churches.  They were hiding girls they had helped to condemn.  They were not on the streets trying to change societal attitudes.  Regardless of what service they provided they were acknowledging and accepting the public scorn that stigmatized us all”  Gone to an Aunt’s p. 113.

“But the purity of the intention cast its own dark shadow.  In the very act of “reaching down” these same women were standing firm for their own moral order: reaffirming their superior station and protecting their world from those whose actions (sex outside wedlock) and its results (illegitimate children) could profoundly affect it. As the fallen woman was being embraced by sisterly and Christian love, she was being told how she could retain it: by changing herself.  In the very act of singling her out for help, these well-meaning women strengthened and perpetuated the stigma of the unwed mother both in her own and in the eyes of others.  The privacy they offered became hiding, their help became their shame, their charity, punishment.” Anne Petrie, Gone to an Aunt’s,  p.77.

An army mission statement from 1954 makes this clear:  “The best possible medical and nursing care, plus religious and more training are offered to the expectant mother.  With wise counsel and guidance constantly being imparted by the officers on the staff, many of the girls leave our home with renewed hope and courage, returning to their family and community life better equipped morally and spiritually to take their place as useful members of society”  Anne Petrie, Gone to an Aunt’s, p.86.

 “A report from 1960 on Metropolitan Toronto maternity homes describes the value of an interview with a chaplain…  “The role is an important one and he can be most influential in rehabilitating the unmarried mother providing he is genuinely interested, sympathetic, non-judgmental and accepts the individual girl without condoning her unacceptable bvehaviour”.  Anne Petrie, Gone to an Aunt’s, p. 91.

“Kunzel quotes from the advice a number of American social workers in the late 1940’s and 1950’s gave their colleagues to encourage unwed mothers to give up their babies.

One said, “The majority of unmarried mothers are not strong, mature, well adjusted people”. Another claimed “Unmarried mothers, with rare exceptions, are incapable of providing sustained care and security for their illegitimate babies”.  Anne Petrie,

Gone to an Aunts, p.142.


From Michelle Landsberg’s article “Society’s Smooth System for the Disposal of Unwanted Babies”  Toronto Star,

In one home, run by a fundamentalist sect, the girls (some are in their late 20;s) are treated like errant toddlers, doors are locked every night at 9, only one supper leave a week is granted….

 “In another home the Director unwittingly revealed her attitude as quasi-criminal when she said “second offenders, of course, are not admitted.  It would be unfair to have the younger girls exposed to them”   

 “We emphasize that they’re doing the right thing for the baby, that it’s the best and most unselfish decision…very few find it a hard decision to make, said an Agency Director.”

 “In one maternity home matrons make a point of rejoicing and fuss over the baby’s weight sex and health “we’re so glad when the baby is healthy, because if it is deformed

no one would want to adopt it, explained one.”


Too many babies….

But babies don‘t often leave the hospital after 14 days if they are born to unwed mothers.  This is because there are not enough foster homes available and more children available than there are people here who wish to adopt them.  Brigadier Everett explains,“some of the babies we have here now have been in hospital as long as 50 days…at Grace alone, according to records, one out of every 10 babies is born to an unwed mother”.

Brigadier Everett, Grace Hospital, Winnipeg.  Winnipeg Free Press, August 31, 1963.

“We hope we won’t have to resort to encouraging girls to keep their own children.  We still can’t prove that the baby gets the best of the deal when it’s raised by its’ own mother” Sister St. Augustine, Director, Rosalie Hall.  Toronto Star, December 20, 1965.

Mrs. Doering reports that during a recent conversation with Children’s Aid Workers she has been advised by them no longer to counsel a girl that the unselfish thing for her to do is to place her child for adoption as the Society can no longer assure placement.”

 “The Children’s Aid Society may have fallen into the trap of accepting adoption as the sole solution for children born out of wedlock.  If this trend continues there will not be adoption homes for all our illegitimate babies”.  Walter W. Blackburn, Assistant Director, Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto.  Toronto Star, February 17, 1966.

It is perfectly clear that if the illegitimacy rate continues at anything like the present, we will not have adequate number of homes available”  Professor Mary Taylor, University of Michigan. United Church Observer, February 1, 1966.

“This is a blow to ministers and social workers who, for a generation, have told girls that giving up their babies was the unselfish thing, best for them, for the babies, and for the childless couples begging for them” Allan Sherlock, Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.  United Church Observer, February 1, 1966.

“If the increase in adoptable children continues and the problem becomes even more acute, the Department will, as a matter of policy have to consider the working mother as a suitable parent, and in this case extensive day care centres”  Report of the Committee on Adoption in Alberta – July 1965, p.35

“…in the early months of 1965 the situation has deteriorated further, partly because more unwed mothers have surrendered their children, partly because more children have been made permanent wards by Court Order, and partly because there has been a marked decline reported in adoption applications”  Report of the Committee on Adoption in Alberta – July 1965, p.39

From “Out of Wedlock“, Proceedings of a Conference of Superintendents and Boards of Directors of Homes for Unmarried Mothers, Arranged by United and Anglican Churches at Toronto,  November 12th and 13th, 1965.

“On the surface we may suggest that the girl has the right to keep the child; she is asked if she wishes to; but if you have a girl who is unmarried and who has a child, as a general rule there tends to be little sympathy for this particular desire” Frederick Elkin, M.A., Ph.D., Department of Sociology, York University.

This afternoon we were told there were 600 children born out of wedlock in B.C. for whom there were not adopting homes available….for a generation, social workers, and to a degree, clergymen and parents and other people had been strongly encouraging girls who were pregnant to place their children for adoption…we are faced at this moment with the need to re-evaluate this advice because of the realties that face us….but, until we find some other alternatives, we’d better not separate children from their mothers, with no assurance that we will have any other mother to give them”.  Mary Taylor, MSW, PhD, Professor of Social Work, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The adopted child…”he suffers a loss of identity.  He doesn’t know who he is, who his parents are, or why his mother gave him up”.   Sophia Boyd, Ontario Probation Services.

Social workers and others serving unmarried mothers have arrived, as a result of experience, at the conviction that adoption is the best plan for most illegitimate children as well as for most unmarried mothers.  This does not disregard the unmarried mother’s right of choice, but with more understanding of the complications of the problem, the caseworker is able to approach the situation more objectively and to help the unmarried mother arrive at a realistic decision


From Recommended Standards for Maternity and Newborn Care, Published by the authority of the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Canada) First Printing 1968 revised 1975

 “….the mother who is separated from her baby and who is frustrated in the active exercise of her role as mother experiences a post partum in which her emotional balance is threatened.”.


From Adoption, Unwed Mothers and the Powers of the Children’s Aid Society in Ontario  1921-1969,  Lori Chambers, September 22, 2006

 It is argued that law denied unwed mothers choice; in a context of financial constraints at the CAS, ideological commitment to the adoption mandate, and a demand for healthy, white babies, unwed mothers were subjected to coercive pressure to relinquish their babies.

“ In some cases CAS workers used the power of ‘child protection’ to remove illegitimate children from the custody of mothers who could simply not afford to support them.”

“… Canadian social worker, Betty Isserman, asserted that ‘unmarried mothers are usually emotionally immature, they come from families that have given them little affection and security, often there is neurosis.’

The language of judgment of the unwed mother was transformed in the post-World War II period. In the psychiatric, sociological and social work literature, women pregnant out-of-wedlock were no longer described primarily as delinquents or as organically flawed. Instead… (48) social workers described unwed mothers as very young, overly sexual, and psychologically disturbed.”

 During interviews with the CAS, women were routinely warned that ‘single mothers just can’t hope to escape want’ (84), that ‘men don’t want used goods’ (85) and that ‘society would not be very accepting’ (86) of the mother who kept her child. The Welfare Council asserted that such dire warnings did ‘not disregard the unmarried mother’s right of choice.’ Instead it was believed that ‘with more understanding of the complications of the problem, the caseworker is able to approach the situation more objectively and help the unmarried mother arrive at a realistic decision’. (87)”

 Young women were under considerable pressure to conform to the adoption mandate. This did not go unnoticed by unwed mothers themselves. One distraught mother asserted that “all social agencies are anxious that all unmarried mothers give up their children.” (80)

Ann Landers Syndicated Columnist/Adopter

 “Single girls who hang on to their babies invariably attempt to defend their position by claiming their love is so great that they cannot give the child up.  Such “love” is questionable.  It is a sick kind of love turned inside out – an unwholesome blend of self pity, mixed with self-destruction and a touch of martyrdom.  This isn’t mother love, – it’s smother love, with all the suffocating aspects that the word implies”  Ann Landers, Toronto Star, April 25, 1961.

 Dear Ann Landers,

Will you stop ruining people’s lives?  If you tell one more girl to give up her out of wedlock child I’m going to go to the owner of the paper and get your column thrown out…I was a victim of the same lousy advice, only mine came from a Social Worker.

…I have cried myself to sleep every night for 14 years….Bitter

 Dear Bitter

The social worker gave you good advice.  A woman who has cried herself to sleep for 14 years would probably have raised a child with a zillion problems.  The News & Courier, Charleston, SC, August 24, 1965.

I hold firm to my position that sealed adoption records should remain sealed “tighter than Fort Knox”.  There is no moral justification for violating this pledge….the vast majority of people do not wish to be looked up by their adopted children.  In fact the principle fear that bedevils them constantly is that blood relatives will surface and disrupt their lives”  Moscow Pullman Daily News, September 30, 1994.

Copyright Valerie Andrews 2012 with permission.