Talk about adoption has become increasingly political, as debates swirl around the morality and viability of various forms of adoption: interracial, international, ""open"", and those involving single parents or gay and lesbian couples. Paramount in many minds is the threat to the traditional (or mythical) nuclear family. But, as this study shows, such concerns are fairly recent developments in the history of adoption. The author reveals that in the late-19th and early-20th centuries the rules governing adoption were much less rigid and adoptive parents and families were considerably more diverse. She chronicles the experiences of adoptive parents and children during a century of great change, illuminating the prominent role adoption came to play in defining both motherhood and family in America. Drawing on case histories, letters from adoptive parents, congressional records, and fiction and popular magazines of the day, Berebitsky recovers the efforts of single mothers, African American parents, the elderly and other marginalized citizens to obtain children of their own. She contends, however, that this diversity gradually diminished during the 100 years between the first adoption laws in 1851 and the postwar ""baby boom"" era. Adoption social theory and practice was gradually transformed into a highly homogenized model that tried to match children to parents by class and background and that ultimately favoured conventional middle class American families. Changing attitudes about adoption, as Berebitsky shows, have also mirrored changing definitions of motherhood. At a time when womanhood and motherhood were socially synonymous, both birth mothers who gave up their children and adoptive mothers seeking a maternal role were viewed as transgressors of the natural order. This eventually changed, but only after proper training and outside expert approval replaced an assumed maternal instinct as the keystone of good mothering. This chapter in American social and cultural history offers evidence that adoption has always been an important factor in our evolving efforts to define the meaning and nature of both motherhood and family.