HISTORY OF ADOPTION IN THE UNITED STATES
CONFIDENTIALITY AND SEALED RECORDS - continued
Anonymity and new birth certificates were both consistent with matching, which set out to make new families "as if" they had been made naturally. Confidentiality was converted into secrecy only after World War II. Secrecy meant that even adult adoptees, to their great surprise and frustration, could not obtain information about their births and backgrounds. The intentions behind confidentiality were benevolent, but sealed records created an oppressive adoption closet.
Even though sealed records were recent inventions, rather than enduring features of adoption history, they were largely responsible for the adoption reform movement that gathered steam in the 1970s. New York housewife Florence Fisher set out to find her birth mother and inspired adoptees around the country when she founded the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association, a pioneering reform organization that called sealed records "an affront to human dignity." At the time, few adoption activists realized the newness of the policies they sought to overturn by opening sealed records, facilitating search and reunion, and advocating open adoption. Records activism attracted great sympathy but achieved relatively few practical victories and sealed records continue to provoke heated controversy today. Many states have established mutual consent registries, which aim for compromise between the rights of adult adoptees to obtain birth information and the assurance that many birth mothers were given that their identities would remain confidential. Sealed records are also the target of militant activism by such groups as Bastard Nation, which succeeded in passing Ballot Measure 58, an open records law, in the state of Oregon in 1998.
Until 1945, however, most members of adoptive families in the United States had perfectly legal access to birth certificates and adoption-related court documents and most agencies acted as passive registries through which separated relatives might locate one another. Disclosure-not secrecy-has been the historical norm in adoption.
From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With