In the late 1920’s, Leland’s pharmacies were getting a lot of attention. By the nature of their work, druggists attracted a rough crowd, as evidenced by a newspaper article reporting a 1929 robbery at Trump’s Atkinson Avenue location.
While the clerk was waiting on him the other man drew an automatic pistol and held him up. Then the customer took $50 from the clerk’s pockets and $100 from the cash register.
Adjusted for inflation, the clerk was robbed of $50, roughly equal to $740 in today’s dollars. The cash register contained $100, approximately equivalent to $1474 today1.
Running pharmacies became a bit more complicated after 1928, when new regulations went into effect that required licensed pharmacists be present at each establishment. By 1931, Leland had sold all but the Humboldt location, where Chester later became the proprietor. Trump began to shift his focus from drug stores to another profitable specialty — obstetrics and gynecology.
It’s difficult to say how many undocumented maternity homes Leland operated, but rumors suggest he had been associated with many. The Humboldt building had limited space for residents, so presumably Trump chose locations that would facilitate longer-term care for his patients who chose not to terminate their pregnancies.
Essentially, maternity homes were places where women could finish out their pregnancies in secrecy. Unwed mothers were shamed by society and often shunned by their families, so women went to great lengths to hide their condition.
To truly comprehend the magnitude of the stigma attached to out-of-wedlock births, we need only turn to the popular media of the day. Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, better known as Dorothy Dix (not to be confused with Dorothea Dix, the 19th century nurse who fought for the rights of the mentally ill2), was the highest-paid and most widely-read female journalist of the 1930s and 1940s3. Elizabeth was born in a remote Tennessee town to a family of slave-owners.
A sheltered child, the future Miss Dorothy Dix, rode her parents’ prize-winning thoroughbreds and enjoyed the fruits of the slave labor that fueled their plantation. 4. Her father, a confederate soldier, sent Elizabeth to a female seminary, presumably to learn morality and proper grammar5.
Unfortunately, the woman who later became one of the era’s most influential voices on social issues was profoundly out of touch with the real world. By the mid-1930s, Miss Dix’s advice column had an audience of nearly 60 million readers, most of whom were troubled young women in dire situations.
Dorothy was reportedly trapped in a miserable marriage and had been unable to bear children6. Ironically, she earned a living by giving relationship and parenting advice. Across the country, letters like the one below, shaped the hearts and minds of the populace (bold emphasis, mine).
Dear Dorothy Dix –
I am in my third year at college, but I shall have to leave very soon as I am about to become an unwed mother. The father of my baby, who is also an undergraduate, is willing to marry me, but if he did he would have to withdraw from college, and I do not know whether I should allow him to make this sacrifice and discontinue his education. If I decided to leave school alone, should I go to a large city and give the child for adoption when it is born? I am loath to do this, since I feel the child will be innocent and that it will need a mother’s care. Also, I dearly love the father and feel that the child would mean a lot to me in the loneliness which I am sure to experience as a natural course due to my societal downfall.
There can be no question of the vital importance of the boy marrying you as soon as possible. Don’t wait another day. A college degree is a poor thing compared to the crime of bringing a poor little innocent child into the world branded with shame. If you have one spark of a sense of justice in your composition, or one throb of human pity in your heart, spare your child that. In a case like this, neither you nor the boy have a right to consider yourselves at all. Your every thought should be given to trying to protect your unborn babe against the results of your folly and your sin.
Perhaps you have never thought about how cruel is the penalty laid upon an illegitimate child. Perhaps you do not know that the life of the fatherless child is made almost unbearable to him by his schoolmates, who taunt him with his misfortune and whose choicest witticism is to point the finger of blame at him and cry out: “Where’s your dad?” Johnny hasn’t any pa.”
Perhaps you do not know that there are many schools and many professions from which an illegitimate male child is barred. Perhaps you do not realize that in these days you can’t fill out a job application, even for the humblest job, without stating your parentage. And these things being true, surely you could not think that whether a boy graduated from college or not was of the slightest importance compared with a child being saved from the handicap of being fatherless …
The girl herself, with her smirched reputation, will find it harder to get a job if she has a child clinging to her skirts. And my observation is that instead of the babe being an aid to virtue it is quite the contrary, for men think that a girl who has made one step off that straight and narrow path can be induced to take another …
For the adopted child taken on the status of its foster parents, he is given a name, a home and a respectable position in society7 …
At a time when “good” girls didn’t speak about their intimate activities and many were unaware of how conception occurred, Dorothy Dix served only to worsen the epidemic of violence, death, and shame that shrouded unwed mothers. But she wasn’t the only “expert” whose well-meaning opinions worsened the stigma of out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
In 1946, Garry Cleveland Myers, a doctor of child psychology, and his wife Caroline Clark, a teacher, began publishing the popular magazine Highlights for Children8, but Dr. Myers also had a syndicated newspaper column for over 40 years9. Myers’ column, The Parent Problem, which was very popular in the mid-1930s, offered Garry’s expert advice on child-rearing.
In an article published in 1932, Dr. Myers reveals the dismal reality for single mothers at the time. His comments implied that an unmarried woman became pregnant because she possessed some inherent character flaw. This flaw somehow precluded her from becoming a suitable mother.
In many instances when the unwed mother wishes to keep the child and bring it up, her mental, moral and physical fitness is first ascertained, to determine whether she promises to be capable of having the child entrusted to her care10.
When Dr. Myers wasn’t vilifying troubled young women, he was teaching parents the “proper” way to beat their children. From one of Myers’ articles, published in 1934, entitled Spanking, not Whipping:
Every now and then someone grows panicky on discovering that I deliberately advocate some spanking. Let’s get this matter clear. Repeatedly, I have defined spanking as application of the parent’s bare, flat hand to the young child’s fat thighs (preferably bared). By young child, I mean under 4 or 5. I have never advocated whipping children. Indeed, I have hoped and believed that a little spanking planned ahead by both parents will save the child from whippings later.11“
It isn’t hyperbole to say that unmarried women weren’t allowed to keep their children. As Dr. Myers suggests, women raising children alone were often subjected to government-mandated assessments and continuing supervision via appointed caseworkers. They endured a level of scrutiny similar to foster parents. Social workers had the authority to take children from fatherless homes if they arbitrarily deemed the environment unsuitable.
At the White House Conference on Children in 1930, Stamford University president Ray Lyman Wilbur made the following remark:
It is beyond the capacity of the individual parent to train her child to fit into the intricate, interwoven and interdependent social and economic system we have developed12.
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- “Dorothy Dix.” The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconson) 04 May 1940: Page 7
- Myers, Garry C.”The Parent Problem.”Stevens Point Journal (Stevens Point, Wisconsin) 18 Mar 1932: Page 4
Myers, Garry C.”Spanking, not Whipping” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) 12 September 1934: Page 6