In another sad chapter in the dark history of adoption, a Tic-Tok user, @kelitarosita, has brought to my attention, the appalling and outdated use of "Practice Babies." From 1919 to 1969, 50 colleges and universities from around the United States borrowed babies from orphanages and asylums as part of Home Economics Programs to teach women how to run a household and prepare for motherhood by caring for real infants.
The Strange Tradition of “Practice Babies” at 20th-Century Women’s Colleges
"Their names were Dicky, Dickey, Dickie, and Donny. There was Bobby, Bobby II, Bobbie III, Grace, Edna Mae, and Joan. They were also called “Apartment Babies,” or “Practice Babies,” and they shared a last name — Domecon; short for Domestic Economics.
Plucked from local orphanages, asylums, and almshouses, hundreds of these babies were chosen to help college coeds “apprentice for motherhood.”
In 1919, Cornell pioneered the first degree-granting program in the country for women called “Domestic Economics.” Its aim was to apply scientific principles to domestic tasks deemed “Mothercraft” — such as making meals, cleaning and ironing, household budgeting, and raising children. Female coeds — five or six at a time — lived together in on-campus “Homemaking Apartments” and collectively mothered the practice babies.
Ranging in age from three weeks to a few months old, babies were loaned to the college for a year. The contracts between the orphanages and Cornell stated the babies “could be returned at any time if there was dissatisfaction on the part of the college.”
Their birth names and identities were erased, and they were fatted and raised by a rotating lineup of up to six practice mothers at a time. The co-eds’ work was divided into six parts, including the job of mother and assistant mother.
Domecon babies were highly sought-after for adoption. Adoptive parents were convinced that because the babies were being raised in ideal conditions and by scientific methods it would ensure a smooth family transition. A 1923 newspaper article titled “Coeds at Cornell Mother Real, Live Practice Babies” referred to the babies as “super children.”
In all, 119 children were raised in this manner and adopted, and Dickie Domecon was the first. Most grew up with no knowledge of having been abandoned or surrendered, or having been a Domecon baby.
All identifying records were destroyed.
'Practice Babies': An Outdated Practice, Rediscovered NPR, All Things Considered