The Trump Babies of Milwaukee

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.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 22 Nov 1929

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.

-Unrepenting

Answer –
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.

Dr. Myers opening mail from his readers, circa 1950. Photo from The Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

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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  1. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothea_Dix
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Dix
  4. https://library.apsu.edu/collections/dix/butler.html
  5. http://www.1920-30.com/society/dorothy-dix.html
  6. http://www.historyswomen.com/thearts/dorothydix.htm
  7. “Dorothy Dix.” The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconson) 04 May 1940: Page 7
  8. https://www.highlights.com/about-us/history
  9. https://postalmuseum.si.edu/americasmailingindustry/Highlights.html
  10. Myers, Garry C.”The Parent Problem.”Stevens Point Journal (Stevens Point, Wisconsin) 18 Mar 1932: Page 4

  11. Myers, Garry C.”Spanking, not Whipping” The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) 12 September 1934: Page 6
  12. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/05/books/visions-and-revisions-of-child-raising-experts.html

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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