The Trump Babies of Milwaukee

By keep, Lawrence meant they chose not to terminate their pregnancies. Women who gave birth in unlicensed maternity homes almost always left their babies behind.  In most cities, Milwaukee included, there were networks of people involved in the procurement and distribution of abandoned infants.

Black Market Babies

In the 1930s, operating an unlicensed maternity hospital was a crime, but selling the babies who were born there was not always a punishable offense.  Well into the 1940s, undocumented adoption was legal in over half the states in the U.S*.1

*While laws were eventually introduced to criminalize undocumented adoptions, those laws didn’t stop the sale of black market babies.

Lawrence walked up to the door, the one that led to what would have been Dr. Trump’s office. Dawn begged him not to knock, but he did anyway. Lawrence’s casual demeanor and warm smile won over the young tenant who was about take her dog for a walk. She welcomed us into the hallway and let us take a few pictures.

“These doors look the same,” Lawrence began. “The same wood, and even the same glass.”

We ascended the winding staircase to the top.

I imagined the young women who had climbed these steps, all alone, under much different circumstances.

While conducting door-to-door interviews around the neighborhood decades ago, Lawrence had heard plenty of first-hand accounts about the Humboldt Pharmacy office. From the 1920s until the early 1950s, Dr. Trump was listed in the city directory simply as a “surgeon” with no specialty. Leland failed the Wisconsin state board exam twice 2, but he still had plenty of clients.

In his younger years, Dr. Trump was linked to several suspicious incidents, but his name was always cleared. In 1913, he was charged with possession of a stolen automobile3, and later, another of Dr. Trump’s cars was used in a jewelry heist. He was deemed innocent in both cases. 4.

Rodger M. Trump, Esq.

It probably helped that Leland’s brother, Rodger M. Trump, had extensive legal experience and strong ties to the city’s elite. A 32nd-degree Mason and member of Milwaukee’s Rotary, University, and City Clubs, Rodger was a pillar of the community.

Rodger M. Trump, Photo, courtesy of the Milwaukee Historical Society.

Rodger was also a long-time colleague of Henry Killilea, co-founder of baseball’s American League5. After Killilea’s death in 1929, Rodger succeeded him as Wisconsin counsel for the Milwaukee railroad6.

Leland’s father Charles H. Trump was a wealthy insurance broker and former jury commissioner7, who married an Austrian immigrant under unusual circumstances8. It’s possible their son Leland became fluent in German, his mother’s native language, and this may have helped him gain clients from within the local Austrian and German communities.

Pharmacies Prosper During Prohibition

Years before Leland earned a reputation across the state for his illegal procedures, he was the owner of a chain of pharmacies. In 1920, soon after prohibition began, Dr. Trump opened his first location in the Humboldt building. By 1930, he acquired at least three more within a few blocks of each other, on Atkinson, Teutonia, and another on W. Vliet he co-owned with brother Rodger until 1929 (the same year Rodger was appointed counsel for the railroad). Possibly, Leland figured out how to cash in on the illegal booze market. According to Smithsonian.com:

During Prohibition, the U.S. Treasury Department authorized physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol. Licensed doctors, with pads of government-issued prescription forms, like the one shown here, advised their patients to take regular doses of hooch to stave off a number of ailments—cancer, indigestion and depression among them.9.

Druggists in Demand

In 1917, there were 212 retail pharmacies, or “druggists” listed in the Milwaukee city directory. The following year, there were 210. In 1919, there were 209.

In 1920, the year prohibition began, the number increased to 238. The population of Milwaukee, as recorded by the 1920 census was 457,14710.

By 1930, there were 381 druggists registered in the city of 578,289 residents. Between 1920 and 1930, the population had grown by over 26%, but the number of pharmacies had increased by 60%.

By 1960, the apex of Milwaukee’s population boom, the census recorded 741,324 residents. That year, there were only 249 pharmacies. Between 1930 and 1960, Milwaukee’s population had grown by 28%, but the number of drug stores decreased by 53%.

Although prohibition hit the brewery city of Milwaukee especially hard, the pharmacy boom wasn’t limited to Wisconsin. According to The Vintage News:

Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States, had more than 8,000 stores around the country. The company was established in 1901 in Chicago, and by 1919 there were twenty Walgreen pharmacies in the city. Some 10 years later, the number of their stores amounted to 550 in total, having spread across the entire country. The reason for their expansion was, of course, the Prohibition Act and their trade with alcoholic beverages11.

Dr. Leland Trump, who earned his medical license in 1916, had chosen the right career to reap significant financial rewards from prohibition.

Page 3 of 7

  1. Myers, Garry C. “Dr. Myers Warns of ‘Black Market’ in Unwanted Babies.” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin). 05 January 1945: Page 14
  2. “United States Deceased Physician File (AMA), 1864-1968.” Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2016. American Medical Association, Chicago.
  3. “Doctor is Named in Car Theft.”The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 28 Dec 1913
  4. “Auto Larceny is Laid to Jewelry Thieves.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 16 Jan 1934.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Killilea 
  6. “Trump to be Wisconsin Counsel for Railroad.” The Marshfield News-Herald (Marshfield, Wisconsin), 09 Feb 1929: Page 4
  7. Myrick Denies the Report.” The Oshkosh Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin), 26 Jun 1906: Page 1
  8. https://janesgenes.com/marie-schenkenbuhl/
  9. Gambino, Megan. “During Prohibition, Your Doctor Could Write You a Prescription for Booze.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 7 Oct. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/during-prohibition-your-doctor-could-write-you-prescription-booze-180947940/
  10. http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/milwaukee-population/
  11. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/11/17/american-doctors-earned-40-million-for-whiskey-prescriptions-during-the-prohibition/

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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