I am writing a historical fiction tale, and have a question about families of the time.

The situation in my book is that there are two brothers in the peacetime US Navy Aviation corps, and one of them ended up rescuing a young boy from what was practically a slavemaster. He's ended up adopting the kid, and has the help of his younger brother as a second father figure of sorts and even the rest of the crew of the heavy patrol bomber the two brothers serve on help take care of the boy, as they all live in the same blockhouse on the airbase.

So, my question is how a family relationship like this would have been looked upon back in the 30's and 40's USA. Would a single man even be allowed to adopt a child? How would society look upon two male siblings raising a kid? What would be thought of the rest of the bomber crew helping out?

  • 1
    I don't know if it was a formal adoption, but Bruce Wayne brought in Dick Grayson as a child ward during that time frame, so I think similar arrangements weren't unknown. Aug 27, 2020 at 18:05
  • 1
    Little Orphan Annie is another cultural indication it might have been doable.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 27, 2020 at 18:36
  • 4
    From pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/topics/minimumstandards.htm : "Adopters were presumed to be married couples—and many surely were—but no rigid codes excluded singles from consideration. "
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 27, 2020 at 18:52
  • 2
    The two literary cases mentioned above both involved extremely wealthy men. The rules for financial titans were likely different than for your average Joe. Also, this page may help. According to it adoption was largely unregulated in the 19th century. Aug 28, 2020 at 16:16
  • 2
    There's also the question of whether any sort of formal/legal adoption would have been necessary. Probably depends on just where they were living, but if the kid was obviously well cared for, people would have been unlikely to interfere.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 28, 2020 at 17:47

1 Answer 1


According to "the Adoption History Project" the answer is to whether it was permitted is "yes":

Every state in the country currently allows single adults to adopt children. This may be less surprising than the fact that singles have been legally eligible to adopt since the first adoption laws were passed in the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, the “spinster” who took in children was a staple of Victorian moral fiction and a recurrent figure in adoption narratives. A fair number of unmarried women (Jessie Taft was one) adopted children in the early decades of the twentieth century. They often raised children in pairs as well as alone, illustrating that the vast majority of adoptions by lesbians and gay men have been arranged as single parent adoptions, whether they actually were or not. But formal legal eligibility did not imply tolerance, let alone acceptance. Singles were viewed as less desirable parents than married couples. Men were considered far less desirable than women, if they were considered at all.

From what I read on that site, it seems single male adopters were frowned upon by society in general, but the literary examples of Little Orphan Annie and Batman and Robin show, it could be situationly approved of. But it seems in general, we don't really know how often it actually happened:

Still, single parents did adopt prior to the 1960s, although there is no way of knowing how many. The number was probably small. We know very little about who these adopters were or what kind of children they took in, although it is certain that most were women and probable that they adopted more relatives (i.e., nieces and nephews) than unrelated children. Adoption statistics offer few clues.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.