One experience that the overwhelming majority of maternity-home residents, and many white unwed mothers who did not make it to these homes, did share was the experience of giving their babies up for adoption. In the years before Roe v. Wade the experts were, again, pretty unanimously agreed that only the most profoundly disturbed unwed mothers kept their babies, instead of turning them over to a nice, middle-class man and woman who could provide the baby with a proper family. Leontine Young, the prominent authority on social casework theory in the are of unwed mothers, cautioned in 1953, “the caseworker has to clarify for herself the differences between the feelings of the normal [married] woman for her baby and the fantasy use of the child by the neurotic unmarried mother.”
For complex cultural, historical, and economic reasons, black, single pregnant women were not, in general, spurned by their families or shunted out of their communities into maternity homes, which usually had “white only” policies in any case. For the most part, black families accepted the pregnancy and made a place for the new mother and child. As one Chicago mother of a single black pregnant teenager said at the time, “It would be immortal to place the baby [for adoption]. That would be throwing away your own flesh and blood.” In contrast to the very large percentage of white girls and women who gave up their babies for adoption, about nine out of ten blacks kept theirs. In a postwar New York study, 96 percent of blacks keeping their babies reported deep satisfaction with this decision eighteen months later. Yet welfare and social caseworkers persisted for years in their claims that the only reason why blacks kept their babies was that no one would want them.
Social workers and other human service professionals claimed repeatedly that black single pregnancy was the product of family and community disorganization. Yet in comparing the family and community responses and blacks and whites to out-of-wedlock pregnant and childbearing, it is striking how the black community organized itself to accommodate mother and child while the white community was totally unwilling and unable to do so. The white community simply organized itself to expel them Still, black girls and women who became pregnant while single faced a forceful array of prejudices and policies threatening to the well-being of poor, minority, single mothers and their children.
Rickie Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade
I’ve barely started this book and already have a bunch of passages marked.