Quote Origin: If Our American Way of Life Fails the Child, It Fails Us All

Quote Investigator®
3 min readMay 18

Pearl S. Buck? Apocryphal?

Parent and baby from Rebecca Scholz at Pixabay

Question for Quote Investigator: The following statement has been attributed to the prominent U.S. writer Pearl S. Buck:

If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.

Would you please help me to find the context of this remark together with a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Pearl S. Buck won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for her best-selling book “The Good Earth”. Subsequently, she was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1965 she published “Children for Adoption” which contained the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts:¹

The increase in numbers of homeless, unwanted children — a result of the sexual freedom between modern men and women — is attended by a decrease in the number of adopting parents. The predicament must be faced squarely by the professionals. New solutions must be found. If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1977 “The Quotable Woman: 1800–1975” edited by Elaine Partnow included the quotation with an attribution to Buck:²

If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.
Children for Adoption, Ch. 9

In 1992 “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio included the quotation and credited Buck.³ Oddly, the entry pointed to Buck’s 1950 book “The Child Who Never Grew”. QI accessed this book but was unable to find the quotation in its pages.

Also in 1992 “The New York Public Library Book of Twentieth-Century American Quotations” included the quotation and pointed to “Children for Adoption”.⁴

In 1995 the “Star Tribune” of Minneapolis, Minnesota printed the following remark spoken during a murder trial by Judge Richard Spicer:⁵

Spicer said, “Since it appears that most of the people involved in this incident do not have ‘clean hands,’ I feel that the following quote is important to note: ‘If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.’ (Pearl S. Buck, ‘Children for Adoption’.)”

In conclusion, Pearl S. Buck deserves credit for this quotation. She wrote it within a passage about the adoption system in the United States.

Image Notes: Picture of mother and baby from Rebecca Scholz at Pixabay. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Sue Ferrara whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1965 (1964 Copyright), Children for Adoption by Pearl S. Buck, Chapter 9: White, Gray or Black Market, Quote Page 193, Random House, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

[2] 1977, The Quotable Woman: 1800–1975, Compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow, Entry: Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973), Quote Page 228, Corwin Books, Los Angeles, California.(Verified with scans)

[3] 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Children, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

[4] 1992, The New York Public Library Book of Twentieth-Century American Quotations, Edited by Stephen Donadio, Joan Smith, Susan Mesner and Rebecca Davison, Section: Children and Youth, Quote Page 83, Column 1, Warner Books Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)

[5] 1995 August 3, Star Tribune, Boy guilty of killing classmate, Judge rules gas station slaying was not accident Dennis Cassano (Staff Writer), Quote Page 01B, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (ProQuest)

Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year

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