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Balcom Karen A., Associate Professor

Karen A. Balcom

Associate Professor

Associate Members
School of Social Work


Karen Balcom holds a Ph.D. in Modern U.S. History and Women's History from Rutgers University (2002) and teaches in both the History Department and the Women’s Studies Programme. She is an adjunct member of the School of Social Work. She does research on the history of transnational and transracial adoption, with a specific focus on Canada and the United States. She is the author of The Traffic in Babies: Cross Border Adoption, Baby-Selling and the Development of Child Welfare Systems in the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 (forthcoming, 2010). This book uses illicit cross-border adoptions as a case study in the ability (or inability) of social workers, bureaucrats and politicians to collaborate across the boundaries separating provincial, state and national welfare systems. Her new research project focuses on the interplay between the domestic and the transnational in the regulation of transnational adoption to the United States in the period 1945-1975. This work is supported by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant. In 2009, Dr. Balcom is spending 6 months as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne, where she is working with a Melbourne-based research group on the history of adoption in post WWII Australia.

Dr. Balcom also has research interests in the development and application of feminist pedagogy, in the life of Canadian social reformer Charlotte Whitton, and in women's transnational activist networks. Dr. Balcom supervises graduate students working in U.S. history, women's history, the history of social movements, and the history of social and health policy.

Dr. Balcom’s courses include a graduate course on Masculinity and Femininity in the Twentieth Century United States (HIS 752), and undergraduate courses in Pre- and Post- Civil War United States History (HIS 2R03 and HIS 2RR3), Canadian and American Women's History (HIS 3W03/WS 3G03 and HIS 3WW3/WS 3GG3), Women and Social Movements in the Twentieth Century United States (HIS 4I06), and Feminist Theory (WS 2AA3) and Introductory Women's Studies (WS 1AA3).


  • Department of History
  • B.A. (Carleton)
  • M.A. (Dalhousie)
  • Ph.D. (Rutgers)


Selected publications:

"The Logic of Exchange: The Child Welfare League of America, The Adoption Resource Exchange Movement and the Indian Adoption Project, 1958-1967," Adoption and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2008) : 1-65.

"'Phony Mothers and Border-Crossing Adoptions': The Montreal-to-New-York Black Market in Babies in the 1950s," Journal of Women's History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring 2007).

"Constructing Families, Creating Mothers: Gender, Family, State and Nation in the History of Child Adoption,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2006): 219-232.

"Scandal and Social Policy: The Ideal Maternity Home and Evolution of Social Policy in Nova Scotia, 1940-1951," Acadiensis, XXXI, 2 (Spring 2002): 3-37. (reprinted in Jeffrey Keshen and Raymond Blake (eds.), Social Fabric or Patchwork Quilt: The Development of Social Policy in Canada. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2006: 89-122.)