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Abandoning mothers: fragments of a silenced history

Inspired in the narratives of members of a Brazilian association of adopted children, this article seeks to put into perspective the stories of women who gave their children in adoption during the mid-20th century. Relying on fragmentary evidence - from interviews with adoptees, letters published on the association´s site, judicial archives (for the state of Rio Grande do Sul), annual reports from Porto Alegre´s major hospital, and summary information furnished by philanthropic institutions that received unwed mothers decades ago - our analysis addresses two questions framed by the adoptees themselves: why were they given in adoption? And why have the details of their adoptions been systematically silenced by their adoptive parents as well as the intermediaries and state authorities? Our findings suggest diverse possible explanations for giving a child in adoption in Brazil during the years from 1950 to1970: women´s lack of legal and economic autonomy, a repressive sexual morality, and geographic and conjugal instability linked to poverty. At the same time, the very difficulties we confronted in encountering information on "abandoning mothers" of the time raise hypotheses on institutional disputes (between adoptive parents, philanthropic institutions and the tribunals) that imposed silence on this particular moment in the evolution of legal adoption in Brazil.

Foundlings; Maternity; Adoption; Abandoning Mothers

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