Date of Submission



From November 2010, the Australian Government's Senate Inquiry into former forced adoption policies and practices investigated almost four hundred submissions that included claims that past adoption practices were unethical, illegal and used undue influence to coerce never married mothers to relinquish their children. During the period 1945-1975 the demand for adoptable babies for infertile couples in Australia was at its peak, with over 45,000 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, the relinquishing mothers were marginalised, stigmatised, and unable to acknowledge their grief and loss. The assumption that such illegal and unethical practices would remain undocumented has underpinned the selection of oral history as the most appropriate investigative tool. However, although this research has been primarily informed by interviews with single mothers and former hospital staff, archival research has also provided rich documentary evidence with which to contextualise and corroborate this testimony. Hospital policy records, departmental reports, committee minutes, and correspondence, as well as a limited number of medical and case files, have confirmed punitive practices and the existences of policies that prescribed differential treatment for married and never married patients. Current interest in former forced adoption practices-both scholarly and governmental- provides an important backdrop, not only for the timing of this thesis, but in emphasising the need to improve the empirical evidence base on which to develop an appropriate policy response.;While some state governments have undertaken inquiries into these practices and others have made official apologies, such action remains to be seen in Victoria. Documenting delivery and adoption practices at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital (RWH), the largest maternity hospital in Victoria, this thesis hopes to inform moves towards an apology amid demands from mothers who have lost a child to adoption that past injustices be acknowledged. In the period 1945-1975, the dilemma facing the single mother was exacerbated by community attitudes and social values that embraced adoption as the solution to illegitimacy and infertility, and failed to provide viable alternatives. This thesis challenges the notion that single women willingly relinquished their babies at this time and argues that mothers faced enormous pressure from the moral pronouncements of the community, professionals, and particularly from their families. Within this social and historical framework, the policies and practices of the RWH were complicit in enabling and enforcing morally driven social norms that venerated the nuclear family and demonised the single mother.


School of Arts and Sciences

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


146 pages


Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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Social Policy Commons