The debate over the practice of proxy adoption sheds light on changing notions of proper intercountry adoption practices and standards of family planning as they developed in the mid-twentieth century. The practice of proxy adoption was born out of a loophole in U.S. immigration legislation, initially used by Americans to adopt European orphans after World War II. After the Korean War, the practice was again utilized to bring Korean children in even greater numbers to the United States. Through proxy adoption, adoptive parents bypassed the standard checkpoints of the adoption process as established by U.S. social welfare agencies. Although initially hailed as a humane practice, proxy adoption was ultimately banned in 1961 after a successful antiproxy adoption campaign waged by a coalition of social welfare workers, Catholic leaders, and U.S. senators. The role of Catholic agencies in this debate is essential, yet remains largely unexplored. This article sheds light on this significant and underresearched history of the Catholic institutions involved in the proxy adoption debate.
The Catholic agencies, namely the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the Catholic Committee for Refugees, stood apart from both the government social welfare establishment and other humanitarian actors. Their actions must instead be understood through the context of their own institutional history of domestic social welfare programs and overseas humanitarian work, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article analyzes their relationship with the U.S. social welfare establishment, as well as joint advocacy efforts to reform intercountry adoption practices.