This article originally appeared in the Phillips community's Alley Newspaper, November 2006.
“Dr.” Oftedal Abandoned Infants at Cody Hospital Baby Farm
One of the saddest and most shocking stories related to the cemetery took place in 1909. That was the year that Hans Oftedal, his wife, and Nurse Siegel abandoned Cody Hospital, located at 3341 Nicollet Avenue. They left behind five infants in the care of two teen-aged girls. The girls had no food or supplies for the babies, and one of Oftedal’s last acts before he left town was to order the gas company to turn off the utilities to the hospital.
The Cody Hospital was what was known at the time as a “baby farm.” Baby farms were commercial enterprises that handled the placement of children in foster or adoptive homes. In some cases, the operators of the farms were paid a fee by the parent who was surrendering the child and also by the person who was receiving the child. The baby farms operated with virtually no regulation or oversight, and the conditions in many of them were appalling. In 1905, Minneapolis was known to have over 40 baby farms in operation, but city officials believed that the number had dropped to five by 1908.
It was in 1908 that Hans Oftedal took over the operation of the Cody Hospital. Although he referred to himself as Doctor Oftedal, the newspapers often used quotation marks to express their skepticism about his credentials. They were right to do so since Dr. Oftedal was not licensed to practice in Minnesota, and it is highly doubtful that he had any medical training at all.
Many were the children placed in baby farms were the babies of single women and prostitutes; others were born to families that could not afford to care for them. Given the state of prenatal care in the early 1900’s and the high infant mortality rates associated with poverty, most of these babies would have been considered high risk. But even the most generous interpretation of events at the Cody Hospital in 1908-1909 still would lead to the conclusion that something was terribly wrong. Although the Humane Society (i.e., Child Welfare Department) had doubts about the quality of care that the babies were receiving, they did not shut the operation down.
The five children who were abandoned when the Oftedals left survived, but there are another 26 infants buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery who died at the Cody Hospital between May 1908 and August 1909. The children ranged in age from two days to one and a-half years old. They died from a variety of causes—prematurity, enterocolitis, and malnutrition to name a few. The children are buried in unmarked graves located in several sections of the cemetery, but primarily in Lots F, V and W.
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Let Them Sleep Undisturbed -- December 2006