The exhibit featured Victorian art about women who had children out of wedlock, their fate, and the fate of their children, with a special focus on the placement of the children in an orphanage for foundlings.
One article is called "Exhibition on Forced Adoption Prompts Outpouring From Women Moved By Loss." (I guess in the digital age, conciseness in headlines is no longer valued.) The other is called "The Victorian Women Forced To Give Up Their Babies." Here is the first paragraph of the piece from July:
Donations to fund an exhibition on unmarried women who were forced to give away their babies – dubbed “fallen women” in the 19th century – have been accompanied by poignant comments that show how deep the trauma still lies in many families, say organisers at the Foundling Museum.
Naturally, with all that lead-in, one assumes that the articles will be about women forced to give up their babies. What else would they be about?
But a strange thing happened somewhere between the actual historical details and the writing of the Guardian news stories about the exhibition: They got muddied.
When one reads the articles, one discovers that the tragedy surrounding these women and their babies was precisely not that they were "forced to give up their babies." On the contrary, what is outrageous (and I fully grant that it is outrageous) in the treatment of the women in the time period in question, and of their children, is that they had so much trouble giving up their babies for adoption! They were desperate to have their babies taken by someone else and cared for, fearing starvation both for themselves and for the child if they could not find an adoptive home or orphanage, but the foundling institution evidently changed its rules at a certain point in the 19th century and would not allow them to give their children up for adoption unless they could convince a board of inquiry that they had not conceived their child through willing sexual intercourse out of wedlock.
For a bit of historical perspective, see this piece (not mentioned in the Guardian) on the despicable practice of "baby farming" in Victorian England. Here's how it apparently worked: Women who had babies out of wedlock had a lot of trouble getting work and supporting themselves and their babies, unless they had family to take them in. There was a real chance that both they and their children would starve, freeze, etc., unless, of course, they turned to prostitution. If they could find someone to look after the child, they had some hope of getting honest work. Without reliable adoption agencies or options (see the above point about the change in the foundling hospital's policy), they turned in desperation to people (usually women) who would bilk the unwed mothers for a regular pittance while claiming to take on their newborn babies as boarders. What the baby farmers actually did was to drug the infants and then systematically underfeed them, making sure that they died of starvation, neglect, or illness in the earliest months of life, when so many children died anyway that no inquiry would be made about their "failure to thrive" and eventual death. How much the mothers knew about what was going to happen to their babies if they turned them over in response to advertisements by baby farmers is unclear. One presumes that an impoverished mother would not knowingly give her hard-earned money over a period of time to someone who was slowly and deliberately starving her baby to death. But on the other hand, the fear that one's child would not be cared for properly presumably drove them to want to find the best option possible. I would guess that the Foundling Hospital had a better reputation in the area of infant mortality than the baby farmers, which helps to explain women's desire to have their children taken in there. It also shows that a reliable orphanage or adoption system for these infants was gravely needed in that society.
In a bizarre twist of historical revisionism, what could in fact be a legitimate tale of hard-heartedness (through the refusal to take in the babies of fallen women) becomes a tale of "forced adoption," as though the tragedy was that the women needed to give their children up at all! Evidently the theory is that the 19th century benevolent societies ought to have invented our own dubiously wise and successful system of welfare for women who give birth out of wedlock, never worrying for a moment about possible perverse incentives in such a system, should have skipped over the adoption option, and should have encouraged or at least enabled women pregnant out of wedlock to keep and raise their own children at state expense. If that option was not offered, then these cases count in the liberal mind as "forced adoptions," despite the fact that the stories they themselves are bringing forward depict the women as wanting to give up their children and being refused.
Let me say, in case there is any doubt, that I do not agree with the apparent theory of those who made the change in the Foundling Hospital policy. (Assuming that the article is correct that it was a change, this point is interesting in itself. It appears that this was not a result of moral traditionalism, since the original founders of the institution had no such rule.) That theory, I am guessing, is that merely saving a woman's baby from starvation and freeing the woman herself to seek work to support herself created a perverse incentive to immorality. Quite frankly, that's nonsense. I agree (however hard-hearted it sounds) that society has an interest in allowing people who make destructive moral choices to suffer some negative consequences for doing so. But a) the baby is innocent and doesn't deserve to die, b) merely sending a woman on her way to get her living alone in the world as best she can after taking her innocent child off her hands is hardly a reward for bad behavior, and c) having to give up one's newborn child in order to survive, and in order for the child to survive, is itself a negative consequence, given the bonding that occurs during pregnancy. If the officials of the Foundling Hospital thought that they would be condoning or encouraging immorality by taking in newborns, regardless of the circumstances of their conception, they were wrong.
The entire casting of this art exhibit reveals a deeply anti-adoption agenda. The Foundling Hospital is apparently supposed to repent of its sin in taking in babies! To that end, the feminist revisionists are willing to use tales of pompous hard-heartedness in which a committee sits around asking women to convince them of their sexual virtue as a condition of taking in their babies. But the revisionists have to hope that you won't notice the illogic of the indictment. Wait, I thought the problem was that these were forced adoptions, but what you're telling us about now is denied adoptions. What gives? As long as one can be made to feel sufficient indignation against prudish Victorian males, hung up on the concept of female virtue, and as long as that indignation can be channeled into vaguely negative feelings about adoption, their mission is accomplished.
The sad part of that is that this mission may have very concrete effects in the real world. Where adoption is not encouraged, there is more probability that children will grow up with welfare moms, without fathers, and in unstable living conditions. Where adoption is actively discouraged and the number of couples of approved for adoption falls, leaving children who are given up in the limbo of the foster care system, women find it difficult to be sure that their children will be well cared for and may keep them when they would prefer to give them up for adoption. See here on Britain's blocking a Christian couple from being foster parents in view of their traditional moral views on homosexuality. This is an ominous sign for the approval of Christians for adoption in England, though I do not have any direct stories about parents denied adoption permission on similar grounds. What is undeniable is that faith-based adoption agencies in multiple places in the U.S. have been shut down because of "anti-discrimination" laws requiring them to place children with homosexuals, which has a probable effect of rendering adoption less accessible, especially for women who would prefer to work with a Christian agency that will place their babies with Christian parents.
Ironically, the devaluing of adoption may well lead to the modern West's own version, albeit a less stark and horrific version, of the 19th century picture in which unwed mothers are denied the option of safe, reliable adoption for their children. And that, not "forced adoption," should be the real story, and the real concern.