Weird History The Tragic Story Behind The Photo Of Four Children Who Had To Be Sold To Escape Poverty In The 1940s  

Ananda Dillon
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America in the 1940s was a tumultuous place to live. World War II raged through the first half of the decade, finally ending in 1945 and leaving its mark on the country for years after. Then, the Cold War would began shortly after when the Soviet Union asserted itself. During the war, food and supplies were rationed, and, though the end of the war marked an economic boom in America, not everyone felt its effects.

A photo of children for sale, taken in August of 1948, perfectly encapsulates the experience of those still down on their luck years after the war. The idea of any mother selling her children, let alone selling them with a sign posted in her front yard, feels preposterous by today's standards. But this 1948 image of children for sale is no joke, and the kids pictured did, in fact, find themselves sold off to strangers at the behest of their own parents. 

Sadder still, the children for sale in Chicago went on to experience further hardship in their new homes. This 1948 image is truly one of those examples of film capturing an incredibly low moment that history won't let us forget. 

Their Mother Was Pregnant When She Sold Her Kids And Later Sold The Baby She Birthed


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Photo: The Vidette-Messenger/Rare Historical Photos

In the tragic picture, the four children are seen on display on their front stoop as their mother hides her face from the reporter taking the photo. This woman, Mrs. Lucille Chalifoux, was pregnant with her fifth child in this picture. Lucille and her husband Ray were facing eviction from their apartment at the time. Ray had lost his job as a coal truck driver. Faced with the prospect of being homeless – and the daunting task of feeding so many mouths being too much – they chose to auction off their own children.

Within two years after the picture was taken, all four of the children pictured, as well as the child she was carrying, were sold off or given to other homes. 

Some Of The Children Were Treated As Slaves In Their New Homes


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Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Two of the children, RaeAnn and Milton, were sold to farmers John and Ruth Zoeteman for $2. The Zoetemans changed their names to Beverly and Kenneth and took them back to their farm. On the farm, the two children were regularly chained up in the barn. They were bought for the purpose of working on the farm and were forced to slave away for long hours. Milton even recalls his new "father" calling him a slave.

At 17, RaeAnn was kidnapped, raped, and then sent off to a home for unwed mothers when the rape led to pregnancy. The child was taken from her and put up for adoption. At that point, she left the Zoetemans and didn't look back.

Their Birth Mother Went On To Have Four More Children – And She Kept Them


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Photo: Rare Historical Photos

The youngest child, David, whose birth name was Bedford Chalifoux, was given away at two years of age. When his adoptive family, the McDaniels, received him, he had bed bug bites all over his body. They raised him in a strictly religious fashion, but their proximity to his siblings RaeAnn and Milton allowed him to visit them at the farm they lived on. He remembers untying them in the barn. 

Years later, David reunited with his birth mother. Upon seeing him, she told him he looked just like his father but offered no apologies. He also met the four daughters she had during a later marriage. Children she kept. McDaniel appeared to hold no grudges saying, "We're all human beings. We all make mistakes." He thinks maybe she was doing what she could to keep the children alive. 

A Few Of The Sold Children Reunited Later In Life


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Photo: Dorothea Lange/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Chalifoux children were scattered at a young age, but social media allowed a few of them to find each other much later in life. Sue Ellen Chalifoux was able to meet her sister RaeAnn in 2013. This was especially meaningful as Sue Ellen was suffering from fatal lung disease. David, RaeAnn, and Milton were planning a reunion that same year. Their eldest sister, Lana, died from cancer in 1998, but they are using social media to connect with her family and learn more about her life.