Little Strangers

Little Strangers

Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929
Claudia Nelson
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/13/2003
ISBN: 978-0-253-10980-4
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Children's Literature Association award 2003

When Massachusetts passed America’s first comprehensive adoption law in 1851, the usual motive for taking in an unrelated child was presumed to be the need for cheap labor. But by 1929—the first year that every state had an adoption law—the adoptee’s main function was seen as emotional. Little Strangers examines the representations of adoption and foster care produced over the intervening years. Claudia Nelson argues that adoption texts reflect changing attitudes toward many important social issues, including immigration and poverty, heredity and environment, individuality and citizenship, gender, and the family. She examines orphan fiction for children, magazine stories and articles, legal writings, social work conference proceedings, and discussions of heredity and child psychology. Nelson’s ambitious scope provides for an analysis of the extent to which specialist and mainstream adoption discourse overlapped, as well as the ways in which adoption and foster care had captivated the public imagination.

Author Bio

Claudia Nelson is Associate Professor of English at Texas A & M University. She is the author of Invisible Men: Fatherhood in Victorian Periodicals, 1850-1910 (1995) and Boys Will Be Girls: The Feminine Ethic and British Children's Fiction, 1857-1917 (1991). Other publications include two edited books, as well as numerous articles and chapters in edited collections.


“Reveals changes in the way that adoption was represented over the course of 80 years through an examination of orphan novels, like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and popular rhetoric found in magazines and various other publications. The texts analyzed by the author offer valuable insights into beliefs about childhood, the family, class, gender, and ethnicity, and how these beliefs evolved during a time of major social transformation.”

“Nelson's study of the growth of sentimental adoption . . . is based on thorough research in primary and secondary historical sources . . . and provides a deep reading of representations of adoption and foster care from 'orphan fiction' and stories in women's magazines. . . . This study will appeal to anyone intereted in the history of adoption, social welfare, juvenile literture, and childhood and family. Recommended.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:



ONE The 1850s and Their Echoes: Two Case Studies

TWO Money Talks: The Displaced Child, 1860-1885

THREE Melodrama and the Displaced Child, 1886-1906

FOUR Metaphor and the Displaced Child, 1886-1906

FIVE Adoption and Women, 1907-1918

SIX The Orphan and Mass Individuality, 1919-1929