cover image Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption

Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption

E. Wayne Carp. Harvard University Press, $44.5 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-674-79668-3

Do adoptees have the right to the identities of their biological parents? Carp traces the complicated history of adoption and attitudes to it to show how and why attitudes changed. Adoption of children not related by blood was not common in this country until the 20th century. And while adoption proceedings were usually conducted with ""discretion,"" they were not legally confidential. It wasn't until the Progressive Era that reformers, hoping to remove the social--and (thanks to eugenicists) biological--stigma of illegitimacy, successfully pressed for legal secrecy. After WWII, confidentiality gave way to obsessive secrecy as adoption officials feared biological parents might interfere with the new adoptive family and adoptive parents feared the insecurity and stigma of telling an adopted child the truth. But in the 1960s and '70s, changing sexual mores diminished the shame of illegitimacy and the adoption rights movement (ARM) rebelled against decades of sealed records, demanding instead openness and disclosure in adoption. Through the 1980s and '90s, the traditional secretive adoption became increasingly vilified, with wrongful adoption lawsuits and the ""Baby M"" custody case. But, as Carp notes, ARM's desire for complete openness in adoption records has come against ""an insuperable obstacle""--birth mothers' right to privacy. The most fascinating aspect of this very accessible study is the ups and downs of the often questionable belief in the primacy of blood ties. Bringing clarity, historical perspective and objectivity, historian Carp offers a book that deserves the attention of anyone with an interest in adoption. (May)