Spence-Chapin Adoption Services Honors Founder Clara Spence During National Women’s History Month

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Adoption advocate Clara Spence dedicated herself to the cause of abandoned infants.

Clara Spence

“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy,” states the Presidential Proclamation for National Women’s History Month.

Clara Spence, one of Spence-Chapin's founders, achieved her work during the pivotal decades 1900-1920, when there were many people with socially progressive ideas. Some approached the problem of the discrepancy between the rich and the poor from the bottom up. They personally went into the slums and worked with the problem firsthand. Clara Spence chose to approach the problem from the top by preaching to the children of the richest New Yorkers the moral and ethical virtue of service so that they, in their adult life, would make a difference in improving the conditions of those less fortunate. Although many of her students went own to serve in their communities, the area for which they are best known is that of adoption and the creation of their nursery, which merged with that of Henry and Alice Chapin in 1943. Known today as Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children the organization continues to serve the needs of children of all creeds, colors, and nationalities.

The treatment of orphans before the 1890′s followed a dreary route from institutional care to indentured service or, in the case of thousands of children in Charles Loring Brace’s orphan trains, relocation to families hundreds of miles from their homes. Clara Spence offered adoption as an alternative to institutionalization or relocation. Adoption, which we now take for granted, was an anomaly at a time when to adopt a non-relative was consider a brave and bizarre act, because of genetic uncertainty and social stigma. Clara Spence dedicated herself to the cause of abandoned infants and introduced her students to adoption as a new and fulfilling form of social work.

In January 1909, the White House Conference on Dependent Children adopted fourteen resolutions all aimed at replacing the institutional method of child care with home care. The next month Clara Spence personally adopted a one-year-old girl from the Children’s Aid Society. The judge had no objection to her application even though she was a single parent nearing the age of fifty. Six years later in 1915, Clara Spence adopted a little boy. Her partner, Charlotte Baker, adopted a girl in 1911 and a boy in 1914, completing what was one of the first single-sex adoption families.

Spence-Chapin has spent over 100 years finding innovative ways to fulfill Clara Spence’s legacy. Its expertise has consistently expanded the benefits of adoption to more children and the prospective parents who want to love them. Just as Clara Spence responded to the need in her time, Spence-Chapin’s mission is focused on finding permanent, loving families for the children who are now most in need – older children, siblings, and children with special needs. This mission is driven by the simple and fundamental belief we all share: every child deserves a family. To underscore the organization’s commitment, Spence-Chapin has eliminated any financial barriers for traditional and non-traditional families who can consider opening up their lives and their hearts to this very special population. We guide our families through every step of the adoption journey, helping parents approach adoption with open hearts and clear expectations. Through our Modern Family Center, we provide pre- and post-adoption services that help these new families succeed. We can create more permanent, loving families just as we’ve always done.

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Leslie Case
since: 02/2011
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