cover image The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction

The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction

Linda Gordon, Author Harvard University Press $32.5 (456p) ISBN 978-0-674-36041-9

In 1859, the New York Times termed urban orphans the ""ulcers of society."" By 1864, child welfare crusaders were advocating their adoption by rural families and sending trains full of orphaned and abandoned children westward. As Gordon documents in this compelling account, they were often dumped at the end of the line, where they were taken in by whoever needed or wanted a child--for any purpose. By the end of the 19th century, the Sisters of Charity's New York Foundling Hospital was cleaning up this well-established practice by carefully matching children with families selected by parish priests. Focusing on the delivery of 40 ""white"" orphans to Mexican Catholic adoptive families in the Arizona mining towns of Clifton and Morenci in 1904, Gordon vividly describes how the Anglo women of the town--all of them Protestants--became enraged and instigated a mass abduction of the children, often carried out at gunpoint. A trial ensued, pitting the Foundling Hospital against the Anglo powers of Arizona, which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that the abduction was legal, and that placing the children with Mexican families had been tantamount to child abuse. In delineating the racial and religious dynamics in turn-of-the-century Arizona (including frontier feminism, the evolution of racial and class structures and the history of copper mining, labor disputes and vigilantism), Gordon reveals a great deal about the origins of ""family values"" in America. (Nov.)