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Daughter from Danang | Timeline

The Origins of Adoption in America

Governor Sir William Phips of Massachusetts adopts a son, marking the first recorded legal adoption in the colonies.

Ursuline nuns found the first orphanage in North America in Natchez, Mississippi.

William Russell of Georgia leaves 300 pounds in his will to Anna Hunter for her dowry. Hunter is a "foster child" who lives with Russell's family. During the colonial era, most orphans are taken in by relatives or people in their community, who either treat them as indentured servants or raise them as their own children, but never adopt them legally. 

Pearl Buck founded Welcome House

The first Jewish orphanage in the United States is established in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Colored Orphan Asylum, the first orphanage for African American children, is established in Philadelphia.

Alabama passes a law stating that an adopted child has the right to inherit property from adoptive parents.

Orphan TrainThe first "orphan train," initiated by the Children's Mission for the Children of the Destitute, leaves Boston. About 30 street children are taken to foster homes in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Massachusetts passes a law permitting the legal adoption of children in probate court.

A young minister, Charles Loring Brace, starts the Children's Aid Society in New York.

Charles Loring Brace makes the "orphan train," movement national in its scope. He hopes to send urban orphans "to kind Christian homes in the country." During the next 65 years, an estimated 150,000 street children travel from Northeastern cities on "orphan trains" that take them to rural areas in the Midwest, the West, and the South. At various stops along the way, the children are "put up" on platforms, and chosen by local people to become their foster or adopted children.

Michigan becomes the first state to pass a law requiring the investigation of adoptive parents.

The first laws requiring the sealing of adoption records are passed in Minnesota.

Ida Parker conducts a study of adoptions in Boston, and discovers that nearly 70 percent of them are independent. Adoptions are often arranged through attorneys rather than agencies or governmental organizations. Open adoptions (where the birth mother meets the adoptive parents) are the norm. Many unwed mothers advertise their children for sale in newspapers.

After 75 years, the "orphan train" movement ends.

Edna Gladney successfully lobbies to have references to "illegitimacy" removed from birth certificates in Texas. At this time, many states mention children's out-of-wedlock status on their birth certificates, or else issue them birth certificates of a different color.

The Child Welfare League advocates secrecy in adoption proceedings.

Following World War II, the Displaced Persons Act enables more than 200,000 refugees to come to America, including approximately 3,000 orphans.

Pearl Buck founds Welcome House, an organization promoting the adoption of Asian American children.

An estimated 70 percent of adopted children are infants. Prior to the development of infant formula in the late 1920s, most adoptees were older children.

Congress allows up to 500 special visas for orphans adopted by U.S. servicemen or civil servants during the Korean War.

The Refugee Relief Act allows an additional 4,000 orphan visas to be granted over the next three years, but this provision is not able to accommodate all the orphans waiting to be adopted.

The Child Welfare League of America holds the first professional conference on adoption.

Harry and Bertha Holt form Holt International Children's Services, a non-profit Christian adoption agency, adopt eight Korean children, becoming pioneers in inter-country adoption. Nineteen years later, the Holt agency will handle the adoption of Heidi Bub.

Congress lifts all numerical quotas for orphan visas.

May 11: Pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle receives government approval to sell the first birth control pill. Within 18 months, over 400,000 American women will start taking the oral contraceptive to prevent unwanted pregnancies, dramatically affecting the number of babies available for adoption in the U.S.

The Immigration and Nationality Act incorporates provisions for orphans adopted from foreign countries by American citizens.

Author H. David Kirk publishes Shared Fate. His book examines the differences between adoptive and birth families, which have typically been ignored.

During the third term of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, New York becomes the first state to provide an assistance program for children waiting to be adopted.

The Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association is founded to help adoptees and birth parents find each other.

The Adoption Listing Service in Illinois becomes the first agency to use photo listings to promote the adoption of older children.

The National Association of Black Social Workers issues a public statement opposing transracial adoption.

Congress passes the Multi-ethnic Placement Act, which stipulates that any agency receiving federal funds cannot delay or deny the adoption or foster placement of a child based on its race or ethnicity.

The National Adoption Center is founded to promote the adoption of children throughout the United States, particularly those with special needs.

The controversial Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizes abortion. The number of American women taking oral contraceptives reaches 10 million. Unwed mothers more frequently keep their children. These factors will cause a decline in the number of adoptable infants in the United States, and lead to more foreign adoptions.

The Committee for Single Adoptive Parents is founded by Hope Marindin.

Anna Freud, Joseph Goldstein, and Albert Solnit publish Beyond the Best Interests of the Child. Their book advocates the importance of considering children's needs in the adoption process.

April: The U.S. military evacuates over 3,300 children from Vietnam in Operation Babylift.

Social workers Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor advocate for "open adoption," where birth parents and adoptive parents meet each other.

The Indian Child Welfare Act is passed, mandating that a child's nation or the Bureau of Indian Affairs must be notified before a Native American child is placed for adoption. A child may be placed with parents of another culture only after attempts to place the child in a Native American home have been exhausted.

The Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International is formed.

Congress passes the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, which mandates the judicial review of a foster child's status after 18 months. At the review, it is to be determined if the child can be returned to its birth family.

The National Council for Adoption is formed to promote high standards in adoption procedures and provide information on adoption.

In Chicago, the Rev. George H. Clements founds the "One Church, One Child" movement to recruit black adoptive parents for black children through churches.

The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc., is formed to serve as a resource center for former orphan train adoptees and the public.

The Reagan Administration forms an Interagency Task Force on Adoption to promote adoption.

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is passed. This international agreement sets uniform standards for the protection of adopted children.

The United States signs the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

President Bill Clinton signs the Adoption and Safe Families Act. This law corrects problems in the foster care system that are preventing the adoption of children with special needs.

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