An 82-year-old Lying-in mystery

M Adams Letter to Lying-In Hospital -1932 - no crop

A letter written by a mysterious young “M Adams” in 1932

Can you help us find M. Adams, who lived in Westport, Conn. in 1932?

The letter is yellowed and the handwriting – in careful, misspelled children’s cursive – is hard to read.

“Dear Sir,” it begins. “If I send you $55 will you send us our baby because our baby aint come yet an I want wone.”

Written in April 1932, the note is signed simply: “M Adams,” from Westport, Conn.

A lot was different in 1932 as the U.S. grappled with the Great Depression. The nation’s unemployment rate stood at 24 percent and gas cost just 10 cents a gallon. Deflation vexed President Herbert Hoover and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And at the University of Chicago, our maternity hospital decided to take a step that was so unusual it commanded headlines around the country: It lowered the price tag to deliver a baby by 25 percent.

AP news clipping from the Los Angeles Times noting the reduced delivery rates

AP news clipping noting the reduced delivery rates

The memo from Jessie F. Christie, a nurse who was superintendent of what was then called The Chicago Lying-in Hospital and Dispensary, laid out the new rates at the 140-bed facility. A 10-day stay in a private room cost $75 for “complete hospital care” and $7 for each additional day of treatment. A semi-private room shared by two women for a 10-day stay was $65. (Doctors’ fees, the memo notes, were extra.) And for $55, a woman could be treated in a four-bed room for 10 days, receiving “complete care including service of house staff doctors.”

“This step was taken as part of the hospital’s recognition of the economic trend of the times,” John C. Dinsmore, hospital business manager, told The Los Angeles Times.

“Prices of almost everything else have been reduced,” Dinsmore said in an Associated Press piece the same week. “Why not babies?”

The child’s letter, postmarked April 11, 1932 from New York City, managed to get Christie’s attention. She responded in a type-written note dated April 14, 1932.

“Dear little Miss or Master Adams,” she replied. “I’m sorry we cannot send you a baby for $55.You would have to send your mother to us before any arrangement could be made. The stork will only fly for mothers, not for little boys or girls. I think it is a very poor arrangement but it is one we cannot alter. I hope your own baby will come soon.”

Response from hospital superintendent Jessie Christie to "Miss or Master M Adams" of Westport, Connecticut

Response from hospital superintendent Jessie Christie to “Miss or Master M Adams” of Westport, Connecticut

But Christie’s letter never reached Adams. It was returned to sender by the U.S. Postal Service for having an insufficient address. (Adams’ original letter was sent without a return address, so Christie could only address her note to “Miss or Master M. Adams Westport, Connecticut.”)

We’re not sure how, or even when, the yellowed paper clippings wound up in a tucked-away filing cabinet in the University of Chicago Medicine news office. But the discovery got our minds racing.

Who was the little Adams and what inspired him or her to write the letter? Was her mother pregnant? And if so, what happened? Or did he or she simply believe they could buy a sibling for $55?

Chicago Lying-in Hospital, 1931

Chicago Lying-in Hospital, 1931

We asked the Westport Public Library for help reviewing historical Census records. They found a listing for an “Adams” family in 1930, but the only “child” whose named started with “M” was 19 at the time, making her an unlikely writer of the letter. A 1940 Census listing from nearby Bridgeport may hold more clues.

The data records a Marjorie Adams, who was 16 in 1940. That would make her 8 around the time the letter was written. While there’s no younger children listed on the record, her mother’s age in 1932 – around 39 – could make for a high-risk pregnancy if she had been, in fact, pregnant. But Bridgeport and Westport are still 12 miles apart and while it may be our best lead, the possibility that Marjorie Adams is our mystery writer is only speculation.

Weeks after discovering the letter, we’re back where we started: with an 82-year-old undelivered letter that was written to a precocious, curious child who lived 700 miles away from our Hyde Park campus. We want to find the author or his or her family so we can finally deliver the reply he or she should have received 82 years ago. Can you help? If so, please send a note to:

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