The role of missionaries in the inception of transnational adoption, 1949-1960
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This dissertation analyzes the role of missionaries in the inception of the transnational adoption movement between East Asia and United States from 1949 to 1960. While copious psychological and social scientific scholarship on adoption exists, the history of the adoption movement is relatively understudied. Recent research has accentuated adoption history from a geopolitical perspective, yet it fails to note the complex and diversified theological distinctiveness among the missionaries associated with the movement. By examining archival materials written by missionaries, this study narrates a more nuanced historical account of the transnational adoption movement, with a significant emphasis on racial issues and the theme of global friendship. Chapter one provides historical context by situating the transnational adoption movement between America and East Asia in the decades after the Second World War. Chapter two argues that Robert Pierce and Everett Swanson solidified the link between child sponsorship and adoption, consequently establishing the foundation for the later adoption movement. In chapters three and four, the study demonstrates that Pearl Buck and Helen Doss alleviated racism in America by opposing “racial matching” via their potent prose and adoption narratives. Chapter five examines Harry and Bertha Holt’s unconventional method of placing adoptees exclusively in Christian homes and the conflict with social workers that ensued. This study departs from the dominant perspective that the formation of the transnational adoption movement was directly related to the creation of neo-colonial relations between America and East Asia. Simultaneously, it refutes the prevalent hagiographic accounts that depict missionaries’ engagement as rescue missions focused exclusively on child welfare. By situating missionaries’ stories in the context of postwar America, the study demonstrates that the transnational adoption movement was part of a broader social phenomenon. Changing definitions of families, postwar prosperity, missionaries’ active anti-racism propaganda, and their increasing interest in global friendship all contributed to the inauguration and spread of transnational adoptions in the United States.