Sunday, August 28, 2011

What became of prostitutes' children?

A young mother leaves her infant at a "baby farm"
    Many divorced prostitutes and madams lost custody of their children or they simply left them behind after embarking on a career in the skin trade. Others either sent their children away to live with relatives or they managed to keep and raise them in the business. Not surprising, many daughters followed their mother's professional footsteps. 
    While prostitutes used a variety of contraceptives--from alum to carbolic acid--pregnancies still resulted. Abortions, though illegal, could greatly endanger their health. History professor Ruth Rosen, author of  The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918, explains that prostitutes were known to tote their unplanned offspring to what was called a "baby farm," where children were cared for by an older woman who was often a one-time worker in the skin trade. The Oldest Profession in Texas: Waco's Legal Red Light District gives examples of madams and pimps adopting the offspring of their working girls. Such arrangements were not always formal adoptions, but they were often the only choice a prostitute had to "place" her child. (Society frowned on the mainstream adoption of these "tainted" children.) 
    In 1912 The American Journal of Clinical Medicine declared that, among prostitutes, both illegitimacy and abortion were "comparatively infrequent." However, social reformer J. T. Upchurch disagreed. "There are born in the United States annually one hundred and fifty thousand babies under the scarlet curse," he wrote in his novel, The Scarlet Mask.

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