Do You Know the History of Adoption?

Adoption has been known for centuries. Remember Moses in Egypt. Egyptian artisans would adopt a younger person so they could pass on their tools to someone who could take their place to make designs on the pyramids.

In the Middle Ages, English Lords with no male heirs would adopt one of his knights and make the knight his heir and the knight got himself a wife, one of the lord’s daughters.


In Colonial times, if a child’s parents died, family members felt obligated to raise the child.  There was no official procedure for adoption. Often times the orphan children suffered neglect or abuse. There were unofficial adoptions that were successful when someone not related became a mentor for the child.

In the 1800s, the Children’s Aid Society of New York (one of the oldest adoption agencies in the United States), picked up street children and sent them to farmers in the Midwest. This program was called the “Orphan Trains.” Most of the youngest children were adopted by the farmers. The older children, 14 to 18, were hired as farm hands. The program continued into the early 1920s.

Infants born to out-of-wedlock mothers became the target for adoptions by childless couples in the 1920s. These children were mainly Caucasian. The mothers were usually sent to a maternity home or a long-distance relative to have their babies and then place them for adoption.

Orphans from Europe were adopted by U.S. families after World War II. They were older children with memories of the Holocaust and losing families. They were orphans caused by bombings and fighting. They were available for placement to other countries because Europeans were not able to afford taking in unrelated children.

By 1950 children from Korea, usually fathered by soldiers fighting in the Korean War became available for adoption because the Koreans felt the children were not pure and were targets of prejudice by their Korean relatives. Families in the United States made the decision to take the little orphans into their homes. These children were bi-racial, either Korean-African American or Korean-Caucasian.

The Vietnam War in the 1960s brought in more bi-racial orphans. When the U.S. pulled out of the country, they brought more children into the country for adoptions.

The adoptions of Caucasian infants were slowing down in the late 1970s. Families still wanted infants, so they began adopting bi-racial and full African American babies. This continues to this day.

From the late 1970s, people began adopting special needs children from all over the world. These children could be older than 2, or medically fragile, or sibling groups. They came from orphanages with either good or poor care. My daughter came from a jail. Each country has its own rules.

Families still want an infant if they can adopt one. Foster care is one way to adopt an infant or a younger child without costing thousands of dollars. The costs can be much higher from private agencies, usually between $40,000 and $50,000.

Today in 2021, there are more non-white or bi-racial children adopted than Caucasian children.  The percentage is 2/3rd non-white/bi-racial and 1/3rd white.

Adoptive parents have become more racially aware than the general public. It’s important to advocate for our children in order to help them navigate our society when they are adults.

I know what I’m talking about because my daughter from India was darker than most black children. I had to stand up for her on more than one time because someone said derogatory remarks to her.

N. Ann Lamphere, MSW, CSW Adoption Social Worker

You can read my story at:

2 responses to “Do You Know the History of Adoption?”

  1. Hi Anna,

    This is really interesting! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Thank you for reading my post.

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