In 1956 Harry Holt was in Seoul, Korea tenaciously working to save the lives of Korean children. Children who were abandoned. Orphans. Many of them were of mixed races.
One day an orphanage director from Inchon called Mr. Holt. "I have more babies than I have beds. Can you help me?" Mr. Holt replied, "I can take five." He drove to Inchon to bring the five children back with him to Seoul.
When Mr. Holt took that little girl with him, he didn't do anything that was important enough to change the entire world. But he certainly did change mine. That little girl was Hong Soon Keum, she became Susan Gourley, and today--I am Susan Cox. I was the 167th child to be adopted from Korea…
I once asked David Kim, President of Holt International Children's Services (in 1990 when article was written), what he believed was the most important contribution of adoption in Korea. Without hesitation he said, "Elevating the importance of homeless and orphaned children."
Mrs. Harry Holt, The Seed from the East, 1956This is how Bertha Holt recalled the events that led her and Harry Holt to adopt eight Korean children and facilitate the adoptions of thousands of others. The story began in 1954, when the Holt family attended a meeting in Eugene, Oregon. Bob Pierce, the president of World Vision, showed several films, spoke about the organization’s missionary efforts in Korea, and asked people in the audience to sponsor orphans for $10 per month. In addition to their shared Christian faith, the contrast between Korean racism and American tolerance was fundamental to Pierce’s appeal.
Holts’ subsequent efforts continued this theme, emphasizing Americans’ special responsibility to act on behalf of the “GI babies” left behind by military men. Bertha Holt’s book concludes with a special prayer “to help the mixed-race children of Korea. Father. . .we especially plead for the negro-Korean children.” The Holts’ international adoptions, and those depicted in narratives like The Family Nobody Wanted played crucial political roles during the Cold War, addressing racial dilemmas at home as well as humanitarian crises abroad.
Then came the scenes that shattered our hearts. We saw before us the tragic plight of hundreds of illegitimate children. . .GI-babies. . .children that had American fathers and Korean mothers. . .children that had been hidden by remorseful mothers until it was no longer possible to keep their secret. Finally the children were allowed to roam the streets where they were often beaten by other children who had never known Koreans with blond hair. . .or blue eyes.
Following this documentary evidence of the shameful result of undisciplined conduct, Dr. Pierce related to the audience more of the things that he, himself, had seen. He told how he had driven a jeep by an army dump on one occasion and noticed what looked like a human form almost hidden beneath the garbage and flies. He stopped the jeep to investigate and found, beneath grime and indescribable dirt, a little boy. His skin was light. His eyes were blue. His hair was brown. He was a GI-baby. He had been left there to die.
Harry Holt My Hero
Holt has always been about the children.
In the mid-1950s Harry and Bertha Holt saw a film about Amerasian children in Korean orphanages who were desperately in need of help. Harry and Bertha sent money and clothes, but that didn’t feel like enough. Then they came to an inspired realization – those children needed families.
Harry and Bertha decided to adopt eight Korean children, but soon learned it would be impossible…unless they could get both Houses of Congress to pass a special law. “Then that’s what we’ll do,” Bertha said, and she moved ahead on faith.
The Holts’ adoption was revolutionary. Their example showed that a family’s love can transcend the barriers of race and nationality. At a time when adoption was regarded as something to be kept secret, they adopted children who were obviously not their birth children. Through their deep Christian faith and fierce determination, they showed the world that adoption is a banner of love, not a badge of shame.
The KOREAN WAR BABY notes “Badge of Shame”. Do you not KNOW that in Korean in the year 2010, THAT ADOPTION IS STILL CONSIDERED A BADGE OF SHAME?”
YOU who would STOP Intercountry Adoptions (Overseas/International) of the UNWANTED SPECIAL NEEDS (37,246 by MOHWFA figures) and estimated up to 10,000 Mixed-Blood children (including Private Civil adoptions). Add to these number 29,950 ABANDONED children (Double abandoned with NO PAPERS), well got to get out the calculator:
My dear fellow KADs, my younger brothers and sisters, friend and “foe”, consider these numbers with the 195,000 estimates by MOHWFA, (Somebody help me with the MATH) maybe 38% of the children sent from Korean were not,
In 1955, a special act of Congress allowed Bertha and Harry Holt, an evangelical couple from rural Oregon, to adopt eight Korean War orphans. The Holts had a large family before the adoptions, but they were so moved by their experience that they became pioneers of international adoptions and arranged hundreds for other American couples. They relied on proxy adoptions and overlooked the minimum standards and investigatory practices endorsed by social workers. They honored adopters' specifications for age and sex, gave priority to couples with one or no children, and asked only that applicants be “saved persons” who could pay the cost of children’s airfare from Korea. They paid close attention to race-matching for children whose fathers were African-American, but otherwise ignored it entirely. They were happy to accept couples who had been rejected, for a variety of reasons, by conventional adoption agencies.
The Holts believed they were doing God’s work, but they became lightning rods for controversy about how adoptive families should be made. In the press, the Holts were portrayed as heroic, selfless figures. In Congress, Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger called them incarnations of “the Biblical Good Samaritan.” In Christian communities around the country, their work was held up as a model to be emulated. But many professionals and policy-makers in the U.S. Children’s Bureau, the Child Welfare League of America, and the International Social Service devoted themselves (unsuccessfully) to putting the Holts out of business. They considered the Holts dangerous amateurs, throwbacks to the bad old days of charity and sentiment. Their placements threatened child welfare by substituting religious zeal and haphazard methods for professional skill and supervision.
Pearl S. Buck admired the Holts, even though she disliked their Christian fundamentalism, and shared their suspicion that the professionals who were supposed to be helping children were actually doing them more harm than good. By identifying themselves with suffering children that most people ignored, the Holts reinforced the messages that emerged from popular books like The Family Nobody Wanted. Adoption was an act of faith. Love was enough to make the families that children needed.
By the early 1960s, the Holts responded to pressure from the child welfare establishment. Their operation began to follow standard professional procedures, hired social worker John Adams as its Executive Director in 1962, and gradually evolved into a typical adoption agency. In a little more than a decade, the Holts repeated a pattern central to the history of modern adoption: the movement from humanitarian to professionalism and from religion to science.