Chicago, IL

After WWII, American Parents Sold Their Children for As Low as $2

Andrei Tapalaga
Lucille Chalifoux hiding her face in shame after putting up her children for sale, Chicago, 1948Rare Historical Photos

The recession that the world is facing now is not near as bad as the previous one, especially the one after World War II when people were literally forced to sell their children. Although the United States did not face as much damage as other countries, it has spent a lot helping the allies and military investments. The economy got so out of balance that the people in the lower social class simply could not afford to have children. It was also the high unemployment rate that brought people to the brink of poverty. Many soldiers that came back from the war were not able to find work or support their families.

Most people get the wrong idea about this historical event, it is not parents selling their children for money, but selling them in the hopes that they would go to a better family that would actually afford to feed them. Still, from an ethical perspective it is not right for a parent to sell their child, but what would you do?

$2 back in the late 1940s came to around $43 today if we take into consideration inflation. That is not a lot taking into consideration that most of these children were actually sold off as slaves to work on farms and factories. But at the end of the day, why sell a child when you can give it towards adoption?

During those times adoption charges ranged from $500 to $10,000, so it was cheaper to simply sell them off to avoid any legal issues, although human trafficking itself was not really legal even then.
Lucille Chalifoux hiding her face in shame after putting up her children for sale, Chicago, 1948Rare Historical Photos

The famous photo of the pregnant mother and her four children for sale was first shown in The Vidette-Messenger of Valparaiso, Indiana on August 5, 1948. The children looked posed and a bit confused as their pregnant mother hides her face from the photographer.

The caption from the article read: “A big ‘For Sale’ sign in a Chicago yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their apartment. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. Mrs. Lucille Chalifoux turns her head from the camera above while her children stare wonderingly. On the top step are Lana, 6, and Rae, 5. Below are Milton, 4, and Sue Ellen, 2”.

The mother was hiding her face in shame of having to sell her children. Many people accused the mother of being paid to stage the photo, but in fact, there are historical records showing that in two years since the photo had been taken in 1948, all of her children including the one she was pregnant with were sold to different families.

Many years later the children who have been sold even gave accounts of what they remembered about being sold to different families. The two older sisters actually had a good memory of their biological mother and being sold off to a different family. Rae and Lena were reunited in 2013 for the first time since 1950 when they were sold to different families.
(Left) Sue Ellen and her sister RaeAnn Mills reunited at Chalufoux’s home in Hammond.Rare Historical Photos

RaeAnn Mills and her brother Milton were sold to the Zoeteman family on August 27, 1950. Their names were changed to Beverly and Kenneth, and although their birth mother’s situation was dire, their new home wasn’t much of salvation.

The issue with child selling or better said child trafficking turned out of control as criminals saw an opportunity to benefit. Seeing many children for sale and the demand from farmers who took advantage of child labor, criminals started going around kidnapping children in order to sell them. According to a report by Barbara Bisantz Raymond, during the period 1936–1950 over 50,000 children were stolen from their biological parents, and over 5,000 children were sold in the United States.

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