Surrogacy History: When Was the First Surrogacy?

Written by Caroline Shannon

March 1, 2023

Learn about key moments in surrogacy history, including who invented IVF and the first compensated surrogate.

We talk a lot about what’s happening in the surrogacy world today, like what to expect from intake and screening and medications you’ll take as a surrogate. But what about surrogacy’s history? Like when was the first surrogacy, and who was the first surrogate? 

Keep reading for the scoop, including details on the first successful surrogacy journey and when the first compensated surrogacy agreement was signed.

When did surrogacy begin?

Some people point to the Bible as the first documented case of surrogacy (where biblical figures Abraham and Sarah could not become pregnant with a child of their own, so they had a baby as a result of traditional surrogacy). 

But outside of that faith-based example, we can look at a few other instances pointing to surrogacy’s roots: 

- The 19th century: The first artificial insemination occurred, but was considered highly unethical.

- 1975: The first ethically completed IVF embryo transfer occurred in 1975, and the first baby conceived via IVF was born in 1978.

- 1976: The first legal surrogacy agreement in history was signed — but it was uncompensated.

- 1982: The first embryo was created via in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 1982.

- 1985: The first birth of a baby while working with a gestational surrogate occurred.

Related: 10 Best Books About Surrogacy on Amazon

Who was the first surrogate?

When we’re talking about the first surrogate, it depends on which surrogacy avenue we’re discussing. There are two main types of surrogacy—traditional and gestational (the latter of which is what we work with here at Nodal). Today, gestational surrogacy is most often what people are referring to when they use the term "surrogacy." Again, this is a type of surrogacy in which a surrogate carries a baby to whom they have *zero* biological relations.

In 1980, the first compensated traditional surrogacy occurred. The surrogate, Elizabeth Kane, received $10,000, according to American Surrogacy. It wasn’t until 1985 that the first compensated gestational surrogacy took place.

Related: Who's Involved in the Surrogacy Process?

When did surrogacy become legal?

Surrogacy’s legal status has always been decided from state to state in the United States. But it was only in the 90s, that Virginia and New Hampshire were the first states to greenlight surrogacy. Today, surrogacy is legal in all states except for Nebraska, Louisiana, and Michigan.

The bottom line: It's been a long road for surrogacy, but look at how far we've come!

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