At the turn of the century in Australia, single mothers were frowned upon. To have a child out of wedlock, a mother would have to bear the brunt of social disapproval and open ridicule.
But pregnancy was far less avoidable than it is today and abortion clinics were few and far between. Even then, those fortunate enough to arrange a termination ran enormously high risks of dying or at least winding up with permanent disabilities or some hideous infection.
As a result, the practice of "baby minding" became a profitable business. Few mothers wanted to adopt out their children, so they would place their babies in the care of a "child minder" who had a large nursery and staff. For a nominal weekly or monthly fee, the baby would be looked after and the parent(s) could visit their progeny on a regular basis.
Once the child had grown to a manageable age, he or she could be introduced as a niece or nephew of a deceased relative and grow up without the attached stigma of being labeled a bastard and the mother a whore.
The vast majority of the baby minding centers throughout Australia were run by honest women — trained nursing sisters who employed other nurses who genuinely loved babies and gave the infants the attention and care of a natural mother.
But to an unscrupulous few it meant the opportunity to cash in on the misfortune of others. It gave them the circumstances to sell babies to childless couples desperate for a baby of their own, take the money and conceal the transaction from the natural mother.
It gave others the opportunity to take the mother's money for care, food and doctor's bills and let the child live in squalor and eventually die from starvation, neglect and disease.
To still others it became the opportunity to profit from murder. These killers of infants became known as "baby farmers."