‘‘Waifs’’ and ‘‘Orphans’’The Origins of Korean Adoption

24 November 2022

Bertha Holt’s The Seed from the East (1956), an account of herhusband Harry’s pivotal role in the history of international Ko-rean adoption, offers this vivid summary on the back cover: ‘‘Ko-rea . . . 1954 . . . Thousands of children suffered in crowded, un-derstaffed and poorly supplied orphanages—children, it seemed,that no one wanted. But God gave one couple a heart to love thesechildren. This most ordinary family—a lumberman with a heartcondition, a farming wife and six children—changed the worldwhen they adopted eight Korean-Amerasian children. The storyof the Harry Holt family testifies to God’s ability to use ordinarypeople to bring about extraordinary change. Intercountry adop-tion flourishes today, largely because God used the faith anddetermination of the Holts to adopt homeless children into fami-lies of their own.’’ This is, in fact, the story that is conventionallytold about the origins of Korean overseas adoption.? Not only anarrative of Christian charity and divine selection, it is also one ofthe ‘‘extraordinary’’ capabilities (even if God given) of ‘‘ordinary’’individuals. The key characters in this story are thousands of needychildren, a quintessential American frontier figure, and a ChristianGod. Bertha Holt, Harry’s ‘‘farming wife,’’ penned The Seed from theEast (1956) and also Bring My Sons from Afar (1986),? both ofwhich borrow their titles from verses in the Book of Isaiah. Theseare the primary texts that compose the legendary story of Harry’sefforts to bring Korean children to families in the West.