The Baby-on-a-Doorstep Meme: Any Connection to Reality?

In older cartoons and movie shorts that I’ve seen, there are scenes where someone will leave a baby on a doorstep, presumably in the hope that the people behind the door will be in a better position to care for the baby than the person who left it there.

Was this known to happen in reality in the 40’s or thereabouts? If so, what was the fate of the baby? Does the case of Finders v. Keepers take legal precedent?

I’m starting to think that much of the social context of those Looney Toons cartoons that I used to watch back in the 70’s was lost on us Generation-X Latchkey kids.

My great-great-grandmother was found on a doorstep circa 1880. She was taken in as part of the family and named Sally Scarlet, because she came wrapped in a red blanket.

I know that in medieval times, church doors were constructed so that children could be left there without the child being endangered (from being out in the cold) or the mother being seen. In those cases, the child was usually raised by the church (to become either clergy, if male, or a nun, if female).

I would guess that by the 40s, you were supposed to give up the child to an orphanage: that was used in the original Superman continuity: the Kents found the baby, took him to the orphanage, and later adopted him.

Could this have been a coverup for an out-of-wedlock birth in the family?

Did it happen in the 40’s? It still happens today. For that reason, some states have designated hospitals and fire stations as safe places to abandon a child, to avoid the horror stories of finding a dead baby outside.

A few weeks ago the BBC ran a series of TV programmes about this very subject. The babies were left not just on doorsteps but in car-parks, public toilets and even in the middle of fields. Details here

I have two 40-something friends (married to each other, in fact) who are both “doorstep babies”—anonymously abandoned and later adopted. It definitely still happens now, too.

My understanding is that she looked nothing like the family who found her, and was suspected of being gypsy or part gypsy–so no. Of course, I wasn’t there to see for myself…

This just happened in Vancouver this week!

Apparently, "Under Washington law, a mother who abandons a newborn at a hospital emergency room or fire station that is open for business is not liable criminally. "

I’m familiar with Safe Haven laws. My home state of Illinois has one.

I’m more concerned with the idea of leaving the baby on some random family’s doorstep. Did THAT happen? Does it still?

In Germany and other European countries there are a series of “baby boxes” installed in places where mothers can leave their infants knowing they will be safe and warm . Baby Boxes

Yes it does happen Just take a look some of the stories in the BBC link above.

There’s also a sub-genre of this where babies would be left at the manor door of nobles and lords; presumbably by lowborn women who got pregnant by M’lord or his sons.

Of course, the meme is somewhat older than 1940’s. It goes back to Moses, if not earlier.

The author James Michener was left in a wicker basket on the doorstep of two Quaker spinster sisters who already had foster children. He never knew who his real family was. I’ve wondered if the tales he wrote may have fostered the meme.

-cough- Emotion-Laden Nitpick:

He was raised by his real family.

He never knew who his biological parents were.

So sayeth the very real father of two adopted children. :slight_smile:

/Emotion-Laden Nitpick


Here is an example of a baby abandoned on someone’s doorstep, and in case the link no longer works, here are the first couple of paragraphs.

And here is a story about a girl who was abandoned by the roadside as a baby who was rescued, adopted and is now graduating from high school.