An Adams Family Mystery

In 1932 — the depths of the Depression — the University of Chicago’s hospital lowered its rates for delivering babies. The new price: $55, for a 10-day stay in a 4-person room.

A little child wrote the hospital. In careful, misspelled cursive, she said:

Dear sir

If i send you $55 will you send us our baby cause our baby aint come yet an i wont wone.

It was signed M. Adams, Westport.

The letter from M. Adams...

The letter from M. Adams…

The letter reached Jessie F. Christie, a nurse and superintendent of what was then called the Chicago Lying-in Hospital and Dispensary.

She replied:

I am sorry we cannot sent you a baby for $55.00. You would have to send your mother to us before any arrangement could be made. The stork will only fly for mothers, not for little boys or girls. I think it is a very poor arrangement but it is one we cannot alter. I hope your own baby will come soon.

...and the response from Julia Christie.

…and the response from Jessica Christie.

The letter — addressed to “Miss or Master M. Adams, Westport, Connecticut” —  never got here. The post office returned it, due to insufficient address.

For nearly a century, the yellowed letters were tucked away in a University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences filing cabinet. Now — 82 years later — they’ve been found.

UC news office assistant director Ashley Heher asked the Westport Library for help. Jaina Lewis checked historical records. She found a listing for an Adams family in 1930. But the only child whose name started with “M” was 19 years old.

storkBridgeport’s 1940 records show a Marjorie Adams, age 16. That would make her 8 in 1932. No younger children are listed in 1940. But her mother was 39 in 1932 — meaning she would have been at high risk if pregnant.

Now that the letter has been discovered, Chicago officials want closure. So they reached out to “06880” for help.

If you have any information about M. Adams — or his or her mother or sibling — contact

And tell “06880.” This is our mystery now too.

(Click on the University of Chicago blog “Science Life” for more details.)

45 responses to “An Adams Family Mystery

  1. What a sweet and wonderful Saturday morning mystery story with my latte. These letters speak of another time in our history — of taking the time, patience, humor and civility to write these letters – and Westport tied in. The letter from the hospital official was so well done to this child.

    Westport seems intertwined in many people’s lives in our country – very interesting aspect of the town -whether one lives in Westport anymore or not– always in the heart. Dan, you are becoming known as a national resource for all things Westport!! That’s very cool. Quite a spokesman for the town.

  2. How did you find out about this, Dan?

  3. The one thing that surprises me here is that the reply letter was returned due to an insufficient address. Westport’s population was so small at that time, there couldn’t have been more than a couple or so of families named Adams, and I don’t think most people had numbered street addresses back then for mail delivery. Perhaps someone with historical knowledge about mail delivery in Westport could answer whether the local post office would have been likely to have delivered that letter.

    The real mystery to me is how a kid living in Westport would have learned of or seen an ad or story about the rates for a hospital in Chicago. Fascinating.

  4. Barbara Sherburne '67

    Do you suppose this could have been a descendant of Ebenezer Adams who founded the Adams Academy on 15 Morningside Drive North, and ran it from 1837 though 1867?

  5. Many homes in Westport did not have street addresses back then. For example North Avenue did not get street numbers until the late 1940s, as my mother remembers them numberings the houses.
    I would ask at the historical society, as they recently had a large influx of Adams family material.

  6. The was a Westporter named John Quincy Adams which I always thought was neat. Not positive is that man was also Judge Adams who wrote some great accounts of Westport. Bob Weingarten of WHS has the info, could reach out to him.

    Related to the Judge’s accounts, he wrote about Evergreen Ave and it all seemed wrong, the houses he spoke of were in the wrong place, etc. We discounted it as confusion until some deep research revealed that he was right all along…it was just written so long ago the houses were actually moved and rearranged along the street!!

  7. One curious thing..the penmanship is not the standard script taught in schools at that time. Could this letter be a prank? That 19 year old could have playing a joke on us all.

  8. Valerie Seiling Jacobs

    Is it possible that the child was writing from Westport, Illinois–which is located much closer to Chicago, and frankly, would make a lot more sense?

  9. Maybe M. Adams is a child of one of the families who lived above the shops on Main Street during that time. Dan, I believe, did a story about the families who worked for the Westport wealthy and lived in those apartments on Main. Not sure of the time frame of that story though – if it works with this story’s year of 1932.

  10. Barbara Sherburne '67

    The story says this: “The child’s letter, postmarked April 11, 1932 from New York City, managed to get Christie’s attention. She responded in a type-written note dated April 14, 1932.” It would not have been postmarked from New York City if it had originated in Illinois.

  11. Hi everyone —

    It’s so nice to see that this is generating so much interest! I thought I’d chime in with a bit more information. (I’m Ashley, who found the letter.) For some reason, the scan we made of it cut off the “Conn.” in the child’s signature. Here’s another link to the photo without the bottom cut off:

    Meanwhile, you can also see other images — the envelopes, etc, here:

    It’s totally an assumption, but since the price decrease was published in an AP story, the news would have been distributed to news organizations nationwide — far beyond Chicago. So the child (or someone in their family) could have read it or heard it on the radio.

    Hope that helps. Thanks for putting your heads together.

    • What about Mary S,age 21 in 1932, daughter of Thomas, listed in the Westport census?

      • We thought about that! But we figured she would likely have been old enough to understand the whole “where babies come from” thing. And the handwriting/spelling seem to point to someone younger.

        • Ernest Lorimer

          The census records show a 10 year old sister, Dorothy E, who would have been 12. Maybe it was, “well I’ll send them a letter and we’ll ask?”

          I hazard it might be that Mary S who marries Walter Downey and moves to Stamford with a newborn named Roberta for the 1940 census. Maybe there is a family story out there relating to Mary A. Downey.

    • Ernest Lorimer

      There are 47 “M Adams” in Connecticut in the 1930 census age 5 to 15 in 1932, including Mildred and Marjorie in Bridgeport, Ivy Mae in Fairfield and Martha in Norwalk. So I don’t think the child theory works.

  12. I’m wondering if it might be worth consulting a paleographer (historical handwriting expert).

    Imagine, if you will, that the writer was a prankster, not a youngster. Some of the letters look much more tortured than others (note how “y”s at the ends of words seem relatively comfortable for the writer). Is that an apostrophe in “ain’t”? I don’t see any other punctuation. Check out the (studiously wrong?) “$” and the failure to capitalize “I” (while remembering to start a sentence with a cap). Now factor in the absolute humorous perfection of the letter, and the New York City postmark. I’m thinking Charles Addams.

  13. Wendy Crowther

    I also wondered about the cursive writing paired with misspellings. I remember being taught cursive in 3rd grade (age 9). By age 9, I suspect a child would have had better spelling skills than M. Adams did, especially when spelling a word like “one.” The use of the word “ain’t” is also interesting – implying a certain lack of education or a lower economic status. Lastly, a sum of $55 was an enormous amount of money for a child to consider spending on a baby. This could imply that the child had no concept of money yet. Would an 8 or 9 year old lack that knowledge? And why would a child of this age have noticed a newspaper story about the discounted price for delivering babies?

    If we assume the letter is legit, consider the following:

    In the 1930 Westport census, there was a Mary Adams who was a widow, age 81 (she was the widow of Ebenezer B. Adams). She lived with her son, Joseph Adams (a widower). Joseph was a farmer and Westport’s Tax Assessor (he was the Judge Joseph Adams referred to in a previous comment). Also living with them was Joseph’s sister, Dorothy R. Adams, listed as a public school teacher. Per the 1931 Westport Directory, Dorothy was the principal of the Bridge Street School. They all lived together, along with Joseph’s daughter Ruth (age 16) on Long Lots.

    Perhaps Principal Dorothy Adams used the newspaper as a sweet teaching moment for a possible young niece or nephew. There were only a few other Adams families in Westport per this 1931 Directory. As mentioned previously, the Westport Directories didn’t list the names of children. However, perhaps young M. Adams was the child of Earle C. Adams, Lewis W. Adams, or Thomas D. and his wife Minnie Adams all of whom also resided on Long Lots (probably siblings of Joseph). Per the same Directory, Thomas D. worked as a chemical engineer in NY. This might explain the NY postmark. Several others Adams’ lived on State St. (Post Rd) at different addresses. They were Mrs. Eliza Adams, Frances Adams, Louis Adams, and Willard S. Adams (Willard died in 1932 at age 74).

    By 1933 (per the next issue of the Westport Directory) there was also a Taylor Adams and wife Charlotte D. Adams living on Hillspoint Rd. Taylor’s profession was advertising in NY. Again, this might explain the NY postmark. Also…an “Ad Man” might love the idea of his kid writing a letter like this, or would totally enjoy FAKING one.

    If the letter was legit, any one of these Adams families might have had a child with the first initial of M. It might be that young M was named after the above-mentioned widow, Mary Adams, who may have been the child’s grandmother.

    Perhaps the info above will provide leads. I can easily get carried away on mysteries and research like this (being a hobby genealogist and Westport history buff). I’ll bring it to an end here or I’ll find myself falling down a rabbit hole for days in search of the answer.

  14. Wendy’s idea has legs. An ad man! So simple: A buddy in New York mails the letter which, along with the envelope, is saved (proof of authenticity). Hospital administrator responds with spot-on, compassionate, and very clever response. You’ve now got a great story — and your new, low rate enumerated right up front.

    I love to suspend disbelief, but this letter has “excellent P.R. campaign” written all over it. They even retain total control of the story, as the kid can’t be located and interviewed.

    • Except, Stacy, that the story is just coming out 82 years later — now that the obscure letter has been found. Nothing was done at the time, except for the undeliverable letter from the hospital administrator!

      • Just theorizing, Dan, and I’m not suggesting it was a successful campaign — just a clever one. The letters, obscure now, may have had their (unarchived) uses in 1932, before they became part of hospital lore.

        Fascinating, regardless. I hope someone unearths M. Adams, and we find out this wonderful story is true. But there’s just something about that letter….

        • I choose to believe in fairy tales — that M. Adams was a real child writing from their heart about the lateness of the arrival of their sibling:) Whimsical I realize — I hope it’s not a hoax.

  15. Barbara Sherburne '67

    I studied graphology in high school, admittedly a long time ago, but I remember a few things. There seem to be some inconsistencies in this writing. Some of the letters slant to the right, like the S in send, and some slant to the left, like the D in send. Slanting to the right means outgoing. Slanting to the left means introverted and quiet.

    The I’s are dotted very high and so is the apostrophe, but the Ts are crossed very low.

    The letters are fairly small except for M. Adams and Westport, which are unusually large given the size of the other letters. Small letters is very focused. Large letters are outgoing.

    The long lower loops in the Ys suggest a strong physical drive. The long upper loops, especially the first “baby,” indicates philosophical and intelligent. I can’t quite remember what crossing the Ts low means, but crossing them high was something positive. The fact that the cross itself extends more to the right than to the left of the stem, suggests a rapid thinker. Same with the dots above the I’s.

    As far as signs of deceit, although I can’t remember them all, this letter lacks them. For example, in making Os if it goes clockwise instead of counterclockwise, that is a sign of deceit. The loops of the Ys do not have a “felon’s claw,” which would mean to make almost a straight line to the left. Individual letters that are not completely connected to themselves is another sign. What I cannot remember is what it meant if letters that are not connected to each other indicates deceit. There are a few of those in this letter, such as in “send,” “will,” “us,” and “cause.”

    All of the lines of this fascinating letter are pointed downward, not upwards or straight. This is a sign of depression. It just seems like a funny combination of traits.

  16. We need to consider the possibility of this being a teenager or young adult with diminished capacity. He could have been a high functioning sibling waiting for the birth of his little sibling.. (the 39 year old mom would make perfect sense here) and he had had the tenacity to take matters into his own hands… he probably didn’t like waiting for anything.. (lunch, rides).. was probably like a little kid waiting for Santa on Christmas. Little girls are too proud of their first names to say M. Adams. Boys who are following Dad’s and other men’s examples would say M. I think it’s a boy.. and I think he may have been older and delayed. My dad, who was perfectly normal but an Italian immigrant with little formal education could have written this letter his handwriting remarkably similar. He wrote very, very little and spelled phonetically. By the time a kid in the 30s could write in cursive, they’d be able to spell, unless there were learning problems. My two cents.

    • And it’s just about the sweetest thing I ever saw!!!

      • Wait a minute.. in 1932 Adams births would be easy to find in records. That stuff is in town hall.

      • I’m with you, Mary– I think it’s a child with limited access to formal education hence the “ain’t” etc, or possibly an older immigrant teen but I lean towards a child. Also, I still wonder if it is a child of a family that lived above the shops on Main who were service folks to the wealthy Westporters. They came and went more — possibly they weren’t part of any town records or census.

    • I agree with you. Older male with diminished capacity. Hand writing doesn’t seems like a child’s. He could even be an expectant father asking for “our baby”.

  17. I am fascinated by this.. and I have changed my mind. It’s a little kid. I think it might have been a smart one too!! Who’s gonna go to town hall to look up Adams births in 1932? This person could easily still be alive.

    • Certainly worth checking. Possible the child did not survive though. Not sure if there would be record of that.

  18. In defense of the penmanship (or perhaps more accurately the lack thereof here): I took courses in penmanship as part of the standard curriculum in elementary school in the early 1960s and I simply could never get the hang of it. It wasn’t for lack of trying. To me cursive writing has some similarities to art: some people are innately talents and others, like me, were not.

    All I know is, as of 10th grade at Staples, Mr. Decker was so “moved” by my handwriting that he commented on one assignment: “It looks like a drunken chicken stepped in an inkwell and walked across your paper.”

  19. That should read: innately talented…

  20. Why is it assumed that a child wrote the note?

  21. Who, from Westport, would every say “ain’t”? Shocking!