The Cradle found homes for babies put up for adoption, and offered free of charge counseling to both unwed parents and adopted children and their parents. Until the 1970’s, they had a training school for nurses on infant care. They opened Sayers Center for African American adoptions in 1999. Today, The Cradle “offers counseling for pregnancy, parenting workshops, and pre- and post- adoption support groups for both adoptive and birth parents.” The Cradle Society was chartered by the State of Illinois “to furnish needful care for homeless babies and to aid in securing for them permanent homes and legal adoption by qualified persons.”
After finding a baby for her sister to adopt in 1914, Florence Walrath became known for her skill and expertise in finding childless couples babies to adopt. While originally funding beds at the Evanston Hospital to take care of the babies, in 1923 Mrs. Walrath and her supporters bought a house at 2039 Ridge Ave., and thus the Cradle was founded. The houses at 2045 Ridge and 2049 Ridge were purchased in 1925 and 1926 respectively, increasing the capacity from eight to 36 babies. In 1927, when an epidemic broke out in the nursery and 27 babies died, Drs. George and Gladys Dick determined it was from contaminated powder milk, leading to the invention of a boilable powdered milk which would prevent such infections in other nurseries. The Dick Aseptic technique was developed for the Cradle to prevent hand-borne infections and was eventually instituted in other nurseries. In the decades after World War II, the number of babies to be adopted dropped due to factors such as birth control, the reduced stigma of being a single parent, and eventually the legalization of abortion. As the number of adoptions dropped, the Cradle added international, gay and lesbian, and African-American adoption programs. While Mrs. Walrath was a strong advocate of closed adoptions, where neither the birth parents nor the adoptive parents knew the identities of each other, The Cradle now handles open adoptions. The Cradle also offers counseling and support groups for adoptive and birth families. The mission of The Cradle has always been to find the best homes possible for the children, whether with their birth parents or a loving adoptive family. Mrs. Walrath advocated the idea of parenting as a stewardship and firmly believed that parents could love an adopted baby as their own. She sought to lessen the stigma attached to adoption and show that adoptive families are just as loving as biological ones.
From the website: “The Cradle’s mission is to benefit children… by providing education, guidance and lifelong support to create, sustain and preserve nurturing families.” It has placed 15,000 children with families since its founding in 1923; it is licensed by the State of IL and accredited by the Council on Accreditation. It is important to Evanston and Illinois because it has given women across the state a place to go if they did not want their child, or if they wanted to adopt a child. Mothers were given time to think about the decision and were not pressured to give up their children. The organization is important to the nation because it has handled adoptions for couples across the country. The discovery of an epidemic at the Cradle led to the invention of boilable powdered milk, ensuring no other nursery would have a disease spread from milk. Mrs. Walrath also used “Hollywood” parents and high society parents to lessen the stigma of adoption and show that it could be safe and successful.