Never-married Women versus the records: archives, testimony and the history of adoption practices at the Royal Women's Hospital

Christin Quirk


During the period 1945-75, the demand for adoptable babies for infertile couples in Australia was at its peak, with over forty-five thousand adoptions legalised in Victoria alone. At this time, often referred to as the ‘heyday’ of adoption, up to sixty-eight per cent of never-married mothers were separated from their babies. Adoption was characterised as a mutually advantageous solution that guaranteed the moral and social redemption of mother and child, with adoptive parents cast as benevolent and sympathetic. Within this context, mothers who lost a child to adoption were marginalised, stigmatised, and unable to acknowledge their grief and loss. Amid claims that past closed adoption practices were unethical, and even
illegal, oral history was identified as the most appropriate
investigative tool for revealing individual understandings, but also for uncovering what were believed to be undocumented practices. However, although this research has been primarily informed by interviews with single mothers and former hospital staff, archival research has provided rich documentary evidence with which to contextualise and corroborate this testimony. Despite representing differing perspectives on the same story, this article will reflect on the
complementary nature of these two sources of evidence in writing the history of mothers who lost a child to adoption at the Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH) in Melbourne


Adoption; History; Melbourne; Australia;

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