The Trump Babies of Milwaukee

“My dad told me I was left on the doorstep of Humboldt and Meinecke.”

Lawrence* was trying to recall any additional details about his search for his biological parents. He took a bite of toast and his wife Sylvia* added, “but now we know that’s not true.”

* Some names have been changed.

It was 10 am and I was eating breakfast with Lawrence, his wife Sylvia, and their grown children Dawn* and Russell*. We had all flown into Milwaukee a few days prior and were discussing the places we visited the day before. The five of us had piled into Russell’s rented sedan and driven by several landmarks from Lawrence’s youth. Although I had already figured out the identity of Lawrence’s birth parents and  helped unite him with two half-siblings, there were still many questions left unanswered.

Lawrence’s biological identity was part of a larger story. The man responsible for Lawrence’s adoption assisted in the relocation of possibly dozens of other infants born in Milwaukee between 1930 and 1950. He also performed illegal abortions for over two decades, yet very little has been written about him or his clients. The enigmatic Doctor, Leland Lewis Trump (his real name, and no relation to the President), died over 60 years ago, but some of the babies he brought into this world may still be out there, searching for clues to their ancestry.

Lawrence and his family have encouraged me to share their story with the hope it may console and inspire other adoptees with seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Though Lawrence’s story does have a happy ending, this account would be incomplete without a solemn commentary on the harrowing plight of unwed mothers in depression-era America.

I’ve included Dr. Trump’s chronology to expose the unintended heroism of a man who many would perceive as a villain. Though an opportunist by nature and a criminal by definition, Leland Trump may have saved the lives of countless young women and numerous infants at a time in history when an unplanned pregnancy could be catastrophic to both mother and child.

I first learned about Lawrence nearly a year ago. He was born in Milwaukee in December 1936. The exact day is not known because Lawrence has no official paperwork to prove his date of birth. Unlike most adoptees who can request at least a few bits of information from their adoption agency, or, if they’re lucky, an unsealed copy of their original birth certificate, Lawrence had nothing to go on but his DNA and rumors.

Lawrence didn’t find out he was adopted until he was 26 years old. He had never suspected that Henry* and Clara*, the loving couple who raised him, were not his biological parents. When he confronted them with his discovery, they reluctantly admitted Lawrence was correct.

Henry worked in the same neighborhood as Dr. Trump. He and Dr. Trump became close friends, along with a pharmacist, Chester, who ran the drug store below Trump’s office.

According to Lawrence, Dr. Trump was a personable man. Leland and Henry’s families spent a lot of time together. Over the years, Trump became much like an uncle to Lawrence.

It was a friend of Chester the pharmacist who revealed the secret. According to Lawrence’s daughter Dawn,

In 1962, when my dad was living just outside Milwaukee, he ran into Chester and his wife. They were with another couple he hadn’t met before. One of them asked my Dad if he was the adopted son. My Dad had no idea!  He asked them for more information, but they said they knew nothing.

Obituary photo from The Milwaukee Sentinel, Nov 15,1954

Leland, was known for many things. In his younger years, he was the manager of the Marquette University football team and a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. According to his obituary, friends said Dr. Trump bore a marked physical resemblance to Sir Winston Churchill. What the obituary didn’t say was that Leland spent much of his career skirting the law by providing illegal services to young women.

In 1935, the state of Wisconsin passed a law prohibiting the sale of birth control devices to all minors and unmarried persons1.” This law remained on the books until 1976. Before Planned Parenthood established its first clinic in Milwaukee, Dr. Trump had already been covertly offering most of the same services for years.

Not long before Lawrence was born, Henry’s wife Clara had a terrible fall during the final weeks of her own pregnancy. Her baby girl was stillborn. While the couple was grieving the loss of their daughter, Dr. Trump presented them with a newborn baby boy. They were overjoyed.

Perhaps for fear they would not be allowed to keep the baby, Henry and his wife did not register Lawrence’s birth with the authorities. They raised him as their own and tried their hardest to prevent Lawrence, or anyone else, from ever learning the truth.

When the secret was revealed in 1962, Henry and Clara insisted they knew very little about Lawrence’s origins. Initially, Henry claimed Lawrence had been left on the doorstep outside Trump’s office, but as Lawrence learned more on his own, Henry’s story changed. In time, they gave Lawrence a few small details in an attempt to assuage his curiosity.

As the story evolved, Lawrence learned he was “rescued” by Dr. Trump. Clara said they had been told Lawrence’s father was a baker and his mother was a teacher. Although asking the doctor directly would have provided more answers, that wasn’t an option because Leland died in 1954. Before the age of DNA tests and digitized genealogical records, Lawrence didn’t yet have the tools to identify his biological parents.

Nearly 82 years have passed since Lawrence’s birth, and all the people involved in his adoption are long gone. When Clara passed away, Lawrence found a calendar hidden among her personal belongings. The calendar had his birth date marked as Christmas Eve and December 29th was noted as the day Lawrence was placed in his adoptive home. December 29th was the date Lawrence had always celebrated his birthday. To Clara, it was the day Lawrence was “born” into her family.

Baby Lawrence, 1937

Lawrence had a happy childhood and married his high school sweetheart. With hard work and determination, he advanced through the ranks of his chosen field and became quite successful.  He raised two children with his beautiful wife, and later moved south to retire. By all accounts, Lawrence was living the American dream, but he never stopped wondering where he came from.

Lawrence searched for his biological parents for decades. By the 1980s, his son and daughter had joined the quest. While working with an adoptee-helper in Milwaukee, they learned Lawrence’s birth certificate was a forgery.  Other genealogists were employed to assist, yet every promising lead turned out to be a dead end. They did however correctly predict that all four of Lawrence’s grandparents were immigrants.

 

  1. Wis. Stat. §151.15

5 Comments

  1. Thank you. Article is very well documented, and presents US history very accurately.
    Three areas of interest: 1. Milwaukee is my birthplace, 1946. 2. I am researching my grandparents’ heritage, both born in Burgenland. 3. A friend, adopted, recently discovered two blood relatives via DNA.
    When I attended college, pregnancy was a major issue with parental disowning. However, in Burgenland baptismal records with father unknown are not that rare. My own grandmother’s parentage is uncertain, born in Leka, Vas. Many births in Europe during and immediately after WWII were by women alone.

  2. Hello Kay,

    Thanks for your feedback. Which part of Burgenland are you researching?

    I wish your friend luck in her search, but it sounds like she’s already close to finding what she’s looking for.

    And regarding parental disowning, I wish I had more space to address that in the article, but 1930s-1960s America did seem to have a greater stigma against out-of-wedlock births than pre-1900s Austria-Hungary. In one particular village, I noticed that nearly 10% of all births between 1855 and 1895 were illegitimate (out of a sample of ~1400). In most cases, they would marry just before having a second child, but some women, especially widows, never did marry the father of their child(ren). Then again, there was too much else to worry about back then to fuss over social stigma. Diptheria and tuberculosis were enough to worry about.

    • Thanks for your reply.
      Grandparents were baptized in Lockenhaus, Vas, Austria. Managed to get funds to visit a few years ago. As far as we can tell, great-grandmother never married;great-grandfather died when grandmother was very young. Uncle Filop in Hammer sent her to boarding school. Last name? Schumeth, Schoamat, even maybe Schmid(t). Were Schumeths in town north of Hammer. Might have a Horvath in my tree from Sopron??? With spelling variations, hard to know.
      Friend already reunited with two brothers. She was devoted to adoptive parents. DNA test was gift by daughter seeking more info.
      As far as my birth, 1946 Milwaukee but father never let me have birth certificate. Mother died early. My aunt, in Milwaukee, told me to use that city and get duplicate from state. Nothing unusual. When dad died he had everyone’s certificate other than mine, original lost. Always bothered me. I have no children so do not think the expense of a DNA test is worth it. Dad always said officials must accept baptismal record in lieu of birth and that is how I got Passport and driving license. So your article opened a “scab” but not worth pursuing.
      By the way, husband born May 8, 1945 does not have birth certificate. Used Russian ration cards to his mom to get some US documents (baby food) in addition to Polish ID. Born in old Poland, now Ukraine, and deported to Silesia that September. Came to US during Solidarity Uprising.
      I too find history via genealogy fascinating. People, not dry dates.

      • Very Interesting stories! Have you visited the Burgenland Bunch website for information about Lockenhaus? I have ancestors from Sopron, but their surname was Paar.

        Sorry my post touched a sore spot, regarding your birth certificate. To clarify, Lawrence has a document he received when he was about 10 years old that served as proof of birth for official purposes. It’s an affidavit signed by the man who baptized him, as well as his elementary school principal.

        • Received your name from the Burgenland Bunch website. I joined before I visited Lochenhaus. I might never have an opportunity again.
          Most Augustins are deceased, on war memorials. One widow of recently deceased business owner is still in town but the only person who would converse with us was waitress in restaurant we ate in. Police station was open. We entered and actually roamed around second floor. It was empty of people at 2pm. The “tourist” office worker only wanted to sell us tickets to the castle (fascinating by the way). The workers at the cemetery were not helpful. We never found the widow.
          The town was strangely like a ghost town. Church was open; no custodian, parishioner nor priest despite gold, silver and many valuables. Tourist agent said many visited for the infamous Polish bloody countess in the basement, an amazing story in itself. Most stories say the location of the crypt is unknown; I did not know the story until after I saw the coffins of her and her husband.
          http://historythings.com/historys-nutcases-the-blood-countess/

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