A Broker in Babies

Iowa State Reporter: Waterloo,
July 19, 1883

Of all the thousand and one professions on which the inhabitants of this city are dependent for support, it is probable that the pursuit of the baby broker has us yet attracted the least attention. Very few are aware of the extent and importance of the business. The recent researches of a Journal reporter revealed the fact that there are at present something like forty or fifty individuals and firms employed in this industry. It has been generally held that the "blessed baby" was not usually regarded as a thing to be desirable in American families, and that Matthusian ideas were exceedingly popular; but the volume of the transactions in infantile humanity furnish a striking refutation of this theory. '-Of course I will tell you something about it," said a prominent operator in infants to a Journal reporter yesterday. "Come round to the office with me, and I will give you a few points. At present the crop is coming forward but slowly, and as a natural consequence my stock is rather low; however, you shall see what I have. There is a desirable youngster about 10 days old, fair hair, blue eyes, and a boy. He has, you observe, a dimple on the left cheek, and that always enhances the value of a child. I am asking $100 for him. The girl next to him, of about the same age. will probably go for half that sum. She would fetch more, but her hair has every indication of developing into what is euphemistically termed an auburn shade—in other words, red. However, boys always bring more than girls."

" How do you account for that ?"

"Well, I don't know; all I know is that girls, with the exception of particularly fine specimens, are at a discount. I prefer not to deal in them."

"What nationalities do you find most in demand?"

"It depends entirely on that of the customer, and I endeavor to satisfy them in that respect to the best of my ability. Of course, once in awhile a mistake is made, and a child of Hibernian extraction is disposed of to Teutonic foster-parents, but as a general thing I manage to avoid such errors. No, we have no Chinese babies as yet"

"Do you find it difficult to suit your customers ?"

"Sometimes I do. Some women are very particular. They have in their mind's eye an ideal baby, and expect me to be able to produce it. As a general thing I find that the blonde type is most in demand, although many of my clients ask for such a curious combination as blue eyes and dark hair, or dark eyes and fair hair. A lady who came here this morning produced a lock of hair of a rather unusual white, which she expected me to match, for all the world as if she was buying a yard of ribbon."

"Do you find the business profitable."

"Well, generally the demand is rather in excess of the supply, and hence the chances of profit 'are fairly good, but my expenses are large. My rent is heavy, and doctor's fees make a large hole in my profits. My competitors are very numerous, and of course that cuts down prices. Things are not what they used to be.' Now, if a customer is not satisfied with my rates she goes elsewhere, in fact, goes 'shopping,' The establishment opposite has been a greaf source of loss to me. Where I used to get $200 a year ago, I must now be satisfied with $75.

"Do you ever have applications for colored babies?"

"No. The extreme brunette type is not popular among white people, and the African population do not seem to stand in need of my service. A large part of my trade is what we term futures. I have here." referring to a ledger, "contracts for July and August delivery; some, indeed, as far ahead as September, those being the months which my rustic customers, among whom most of the business is done visit the city. - New York Exchange

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Demand exceeds supply

Over the last week I have been looking for references about the supply and demand of infants for adoption. It struck me that various news outlets over the years speak of the demand in babies exceeding the supply. Often it is brought by news media as a relatively recent development, but I have found references to the phenomenon all through the years, as early as 1883 as the above article demonstrates.

It's interesting to note that a shortage of adoptable babies sometimes coincides with a surplus in babies. At the time the above article was written, babies in New York City were also dumped at baby-farms where many of them were killed through poisonous syrups and starvation. Class and religion may at the time have separated these markets.

Some of the references I have found indeed show local shortages. There is an article in the New York times of 1911, where a shortage in babies is mentioned in Pasadena, CA.

Fine homes seek babies

Demand among wealthy residents of Pasadena exceeds the supply

New York Times
August 15, 1911

Los Angeles, August 14  — A visit to this city to-day by Mrs. Fordyce Grinnell of Pasadena, who has charge of a bay home there, brought out the fact that Pasadena is importing babies to make up deficiencies among its wealthy residents. Mrs. Grinnell obtained three babies here to-day and took them to clients.

"They were spoken for before I got them," she explained. "We had pictures of them, and they were chosen from these. We have a waiting list, I dare not tell how long, largely composed of wealthy people who are childless. A month ago we had nineteen babies in the home, which is a charitable institution, but they are all gone now. We place them in lovely homes. It would amaze you to know how many retired rich people there are in Pasadena who are childless. They want children too. Out greatest problem is getting enough of them."

There were just forty-five babies born in Pasadena during July.

In other instances shortages are mainly in specific communities too. During the 1950's many Roman Catholic children from Montreal were placed with Jewish families in New York state, sometimes the papers of these children were forged to show Jewish heritage.

Still it's interesting to see that the notion that demand for infants exceeding the supply is not a new or relative phenomenon. The above article and the post about Pasadena are by far not the only examples. The Chicago Daily tribune ran an article February 10, 1901, with the title "Demand of babies exceeds the supply", in which, in contrast to the above article, Girls were more in demand than boys.

"Can you match this?"

"Do you find it difficult to suit your customers ?"

"Sometimes I do. Some women are very particular. They have in their mind's eye an ideal baby, and expect me to be able to produce it. As a general thing I find that the blonde type is most in demand, although many of my clients ask for such a curious combination as blue eyes and dark hair, or dark eyes and fair hair. A lady who came here this morning produced a lock of hair of a rather unusual white, which she expected me to match, for all the world as if she was buying a yard of ribbon."

My Amother was very proud when people would say, "Your daughter looks just like you.", as if I were cut from the same cloth as she.   When I was little, my skin was very fair, as was my hair -- just like my Amother, a woman of proud Irish descent.  I did not have blue eyes like her; instead, I had dark eyes, just like my Afather, an Italian.  My first parents are/were French/Ukrainian.  I have no idea who I look like, but I do know who I don't want to look like.

"Matching" was a very popular practice during the Closed Era of Adoption.  Such a fact should make people wonder WHY so many adoption/birth records are sealed and not made available to the adult adoptee wanting to search for his/her identity.

Pound Pup Legacy