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Butterbox Babies Essay, Research Paper
Lovely Babies For Adoption is what the advertisement for the Ideal Maternity
Home and Sanitarium versed to many couples unable to bear children beginning in the
late 1920’s. Although the ad held true as to the children, the operation of this business
was far from lovely. Originally designed as a sanitarium for the sick, the hospital soon
became a birthing facility. Operating without any supervision, the facility was a place of
joy for couples adopting an infant, but a place of shame and despair for unwed mothers.
Lila Gladys Coolen met and married William Peach Young in 1925. William was
an unordained seventh-day Adventist minister and Lila, also of the same faith, was a
teacher in Fox Point, Nova Scotia. After being married, the couple left Nova Scotia to
return to school in Chicago. William attended the National College of Chiropractic,
while Lila pursued a degree at the National School of Obstetrics and Midwifery. In
February of 1928, the Youngs opened The Life and Health Sanitarium out of their four
bedroom cottage. Lila began delivering babies and within a year, the facility had been
renamed The Ideal Maternity Home and Sanitarium and it s sole purpose became a
birthing facility and adoption center for unwed mothers.
During this time, Canadian and US laws were similar in banning the use of birth
control or the performance of abortions. This left many women banished and shamed
from their homes and communities because of illegitiment pregnancies. With the
creation of this facility, many unwed mothers saw an opportunity to keep their secret
from society. A newspaper advertisement placed by the Youngs, was carefully written
and geared to lure women in. It read:
Dame gossip has sent many young lives to perdition after ruining them socially,
that might have been BRIGHT STARS in society and a POWER in the world of
usefulness HAD THEY BEEN SHIELDED from the gossip when they made a
mistake (Cahill 1992)
Desperate to succeed in a closed minded society, unwed mothers were reeled in by what
appeared to be sensitivity to their mishap. Women had no idea that this shame would
control their lives and keep them quiet from revealing horrific events which took place
during their stay.
Unwed mothers not only paid for their secret in shame and grief, but also in
tremendous fees. The cost to mothers averaged three to five hundred dollars for room
and board, delivery, and adoption of their baby. Contracts had to be signed upon
admittance giving William Young the power of attorney and legal authority over the
infant and it s adoption. With their business well on it s way, a whole new, wealthy
adoption market opened. The Youngs were becoming known as the Baby Barons of
East Chester . Their four bedroom cottage was added on to and renovated into a home
with fifty-four rooms. About seventy babies resided in the nursery, lined up in bassinets
for picking, similar to produce at the market.
In the US many couples were restricted from adopting because of their age and
state laws and because of adoption agencies rules prohibiting children to be placed with
families of a different religious background. This drew many couples from the New York
and New Jersey area, especially Jews. Although it is said you can not put a value on
human life, infants at the facility went for a pretty penny, averaging five to ten thousand
dollars. This brought a huge profit for the Youngs, and a booming business. They were
completely naive thinking their acts would never catch up with them.
Out of the 1,400 to 1,600 babies born at the home, only about 1,000 were
actually adopted out. Any infants who were sick, deformed, or disabled, or of a mixed
race were labeled unmarketable . These infants were fed only molasses and water,
which caused them to survive a mere two weeks, if that. The unmarketable babies
became the Butterbox Babies , because their lifeless bodies were placed in small
wooden grocery boxes from the local grocer. They were then buried in open graves, put
out in the sea, or sometimes burned in the home s furnace. In some cases, married
couples who came to the facility solely for birthing their child were told the infant had
died. The Youngs horrific crimes went without notice for years because of lacking
licensing laws. In 1940, new licensing laws were created upon the amendment of the
Maternity Boarding House Act.
Health officials finally intervened, and began to investigate violations of the new
adoption laws. A local publishing company displayed the truth behind the facility s
doors. Pediatricians inspections testified to striking overcrowding , fly-filled
nurseries , and malnourished children . Witnesses who had birthed in the home also
came forward to admit to their babies being neglected and murdered. Women also
admitted to lying on adoption papers and even posing as nurses for health inspectors
visits. On November 17, 1945, the Ideal Maternity Home was ordered closed, and the
Butterbox Babies tragedy came to an end.
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