Tag Archives: Georgia Tann
Well the post a day for November failed…but…
I have been busy updating one of my family trees with notes about each person, what they did, what they were known for, details found in different census reports so that the person viewing the tree - gets an idea about who that ancestor really was. My intent is to make ancestors real to the family members who never heard the family stories of them, and give the historical information about the events happening at the time that are relevant to that ancestor. History when your ancestor was part of it has to be more interesting than what you learned in school, which also means I am updating my knowledge as well.
When I need a break from that, I am reading the book I ordered – Butterbox Babies – Baby Sales Baby Deaths New Revelations 15 Years Later by Bette L. Cahill. The story of William and Lila Young, and the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, N.S. Canada. Truly one of the most heartbreaking and horrifying historical stories, and although the home was in Canada, many of the babies were adopted into the US. The Youngs operated in Canada during the same era as Georgia Tann did in the US.
Links to stories on the web of survivors of the Ideal Maternity Home (IDM)…
There was always something curious about Sharon Knight’s early childhood, although it would be many years before she’d learn what it was. When she did, it was far beyond her imagination.
Much distance, time and some sleepless nights would pass before Knight, who now lives in Green Valley, discovered she was a survivor of a Nova Scotia maternity home that, when she was born there in 1945, was already the target of horrific, almost unspeakable claims. They involved medical malpractice, unwarranted deaths and countless “unadoptable” infants being starved to death then buried in small wooden dairy crates or dumped at sea. In the headlines, they would become known as the butterbox babies.
Who Am I? website features three stories, including tenor Ron Murdock, a survivor of the IDM, and also Canadian Adoptee Rights advocate who wrote the Queen. In 2003, Ron went to Geneva to address the UN Convention on the Rights of Child. You can read both the letter to the Queen and his submission to the UNCRC here (scroll down). A more detailed version of his story can be found on another website called Expatica.com, where an article based on an interview by Pip Farquharson, which can be found here.
The IDM also offered childbirth services to married women in a different area of the home. Article about Violet Hope Eisenhauer who went to the IDM to give birth, and who was told her daughter passed away, but may have been adopted out instead. I just finished reading about her in the book this morning, and hopefully further in – there will be more to the story.
Ideal Maternity Home Survivors website that has listings of those reunited, and those still searching, personal stories, and a memorial board among other items. Survivors of IDM held reunions in Nova Scotia – this article was about past reunions, and the upcoming 2009 reunion.
My brain is running on parallel tracks apparently so here goes…and perhaps I will regret it but whatever…
While reading the book I talk about here on eugenics, which is also part of adoption history, I am also following the discussions on various blogs and forums about the adoption. I have to say that crash and burn of the contest has also sparked some good and not so good conversations, but yay for the good hard discussions happening. Meanwhile the not so good conversations have resulted in words being flung around by some (not all) adoptive parents such as defining the difference between well-adjusted and mal-adjusted adoptees, the anti and the pro adoption adoptees, and the same stereotypical comments about the happy adoptees that are too busy living their lives to blog or post on forums, and the angry adoptees just want to hate. sigh…
No middle of the road adoptee apparently exists in adoption funland – you are either a “well-adjusted” or a “mal-adjusted” adoptee. Good Grief, we really are just paper dolls to them if that is how one-sided and shallow they see us as only Either/Or…
But getting back to the book on eugenics – the reality is that Sexual Sterilization Laws would still exist today in both Canada and the US, instead of finally being repealed in 60′s and 70′s without Critics voicing opposition of the laws and mindsets. Laws that allowed for you to be deemed “defective” and have sterilization forced on you without your consent, and at times even without your families consent. If not for the Critics those Laws – they would still exist. Those laws irreparably harmed children and adults alike.
So then I got to thinking about what if there hadn’t ever been critics regarding how adoption was practiced?
How would those laws look today with the infertility rates so high in the USA and Canada, and so many people and couples wanting so desperately to have a child or children? What if no one spoke up and challenged the status quo and got the discussions happening that required changes to happen? What would happen if no challenges had been made and we continued on (and likely down) from where we were in the 1950′s to today – 60 years later, just what would the adoption world look like?
Remember no one is challenging to make things better, fairer, more ethical or honest or different than the 1950′s…
For starters Georgia Tann would be the “Revered Mother Of Adoption” - instead of the “Reviled Baby Thief” that she was. Laws would be modeled on her actions and others of her ilk in that era and since then.
Targeted would be those deemed “less than” and that would include anyone that made less money that you did, that had a baby you wanted.
Laws probably would be changed in favor of mothers being encouraged aka coerced into signing away their rights to the child when the positive sign came up on the pee-stick at the crisis pregnancy center instead of waiting until after she gave birth. No need to provide options, or even the government paid for infant adoption awareness training program designed by the NCFA to guide the mother to understand she is “less than” those deserving waiting couples eager to adopt the perfect healthy white baby.
No counselling for mothers – just send them home and tell them to never speak of it again…
Foster care adoptions would most likely seldom happen with the never-ending supply of babies available…
Mothers would still be drugged, strapped down, a sheet preventing them from ever seeing, let alone holding their baby, or even knowing the sex of their baby.
Fathers would have no rights at all because in the 1950′s they had no rights. Their consent would not be needed, or required, and they would have no ability to contest an adoption.
There would be no open adoptions…because there would have been no need to find different ways to get mothers to surrender her child. If anything, adoption would be more closed now than ever - to protect the adoptive family due to the advent of the internet.
No best practices developed on telling the child, or even that the child would experience grief, loss, or have feelings of rejection and how to help them through that, but they certainly would still be expected to be grateful – over an above the natural gratitude felt by others who grew up in their family of birth.
Adoptees would still be deemed feeble-minded or defective solely because their mother was not married.
Adoptees who searched and wanted to know their family of birth would be categorized as the worst of the worst and obviously came from truly defective stock.
The Baby Scoop Era or Era of Mass Surrender or Era of Forced adoption (whatever you preferred term is), would never have ended, because the status quo was such a boon for the adopting parents - babies galore – just put in your detailed order today – thank you very much…
Advertisements in the paper about getting your wife a baby for Christmas would still be seen each and every year…much like the ads today about getting a bunny for Easter…
But ssssh – don’t tell anyone you adopted because that will cast stigma and shame on your family and your infertility status will be known to all…
Trafficking in babies between states and between countries would be unregulated, but of course celebrated and the term changed to something else, because the end result was the baby found the better home aka adoptive home. No concern paid to the families who lost their child – why, they should be grateful the child was provided such a great opportunity, and should just accept it as an honor.
Adoptee rights to a factual record of their birth would never be a discussion point or even considered, as we would still be considered “blank slates” besides being deemed as “mal-adjusted” and our parents maligned for being bad parents should their adoptee ever speak such evil.
That would be the reality if not for Critics in Adoption…
None of the rhetoric spouted by adoptive parents today about how different adoption is today compared to 10, 20, 50 years ago could be used to dismiss the adoptee voice, because no critics ever made a difference to how adoption was practiced, and you certainly cannot believe the industry would willingly reduce profits – can you? Nor would there be any changes happening from those pro-adoption evertime adoptive parents who despise the critics who speak up for ethical changes to how adoption is practiced today…
Critics in adoption will always be necessary to ensure best practices continue to evolve, and trust me they aren’t there yet. Human rights must always be a subject of discussion, fair play and ethics will always have to be questioned and part of the conversation…well as long as there are Critics in Adoption anyways…
Critics like Rueben Pannor, Annette Baran, Betty Jean Lifton, Doctors and Researchers, Social Workers and Child Welfare Advocates, First Mothers and Adult Adoptees, some forward thinking, empathetic Adoptive Parents, and every single other voice who ever said we must make it better and more ethical…
Well folks – we aren’t there yet obviously…and I am sure I missed some really obvious changes that have made adoption better in the last 60 years…
On one hand I find it sad that such a month even needs to exist, on the other hand looking at what is going on today in politics – I guess it is still needed and most likely will always be needed.
So I thought I would do posts about women this month, and who better to start off with than Barbara Bisantz Raymond.
Without Barbara Bisantz Raymond we would not have learned about the horrendous actions of Georgia Tann. If you have not read the book you must do so this year. It’s a hard read, but a necessary read.
I found an interview of Barbara Bisantz Raymond on The Diane Rehm Show in 2007 that is well worth the time to listen to – it’s quite long so grab a coffee – it also includes a segment by one of Georgia Tann’s adoptees. Just click on the “Listen Button”.
At the age of 45, I saw the first pictures of my mother. I was also given one of those pictures to keep. I felt like I had just been given the moon.
The first person I showed the picture to was mom, and her response was that she did not recognise the dress and I looked older in the picture, not realizing it was a picture of my mother, not me.
When I arrived home I started going through the box of pictures I have collected over my lifetime looking for a picture of me with my head turned the same angle and finally found one. I sat in the chair and just stared, and stared, and stared. Then I started the mental checklist.
The hair style was the same – a style I had worn for years.
The hair color was the same – although mine had highlights added.
Forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, jaw-line, chin – almost mirror images. Body shape – same.
And then I looked at her hands and that knocked the breath out of me again. The shape of her hands, the left hand with each finger splayed exactly how my hand naturally positions itself when I’m talking to someone. Her other hand showing how her fingers were shaped, right down to those same knuckles and joints that bend funny. The back of her hands with prominent veins visible – my hands – our hands – the same.
And I had to wait for 45 yeas to be allowed to see myself reflected back in a picture of my mother. All because one woman, Georgia Tann who used secrecy and falsified birth certificates to cover her illegal baby selling, initiated the change in adoption from openness to secrecy. You really need to read the book to understand the damage this woman caused, and then recognise that the damage is still being done to adoptees today. It has to stop.
The Baby Thief – The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond
Page 209 – 210 excerpt
Considering her general proclivity for deception, her need to cover her tracks, and her energy, it was perhaps inevitable that she would be the person to begin the practice of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates. What is remarkable is that until I began my research neither I nor anyone else knew that she had originated this identity theft. One reason for this, of course, is her escape from historical notice. Another is that the first state to pass a law “amending” adoptees’ birth certificates, in 1931, was Alabama, not Tennessee.
Adoptees and their advocates, however, have long suspected a link between falsified birth certificates and baby selling. “Secrecy in adoption does cover a multitude of crimes,” Hal Aigner wrote in Adoption in America Coming of Age, published in 1992.
The instincts of adoptees and their advocates are correct. In 1928, three years before the passage of the Alabama law calling for the “amendment” of adoptees’ birth certificates, Georgia Tann had, extra-legally, begun having the Tennessee Department of Vital Statistics issue phony birth certificates for her adoptees. Nine years later, in 1937, she used her political connections to have a law passed legalizing the practice in Tennessee.
Within twenty years all forty-eight states were issuing adoptees falsified birth certificates, and upon admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, the number rose to fifty. And in the vast majority of states, legislators and social workers deny adoptees knowledge of their identities forever – for far longer than they did when states first began falsifying birth certificates. Georgia’s inducement of legislators and social workers across the country into becoming almost as secretive as she was is one of her most terrible, and extraordinary, accomplishments – one that required her, once again, to stand previous adoption practice on its head.
Page 211 – 212 excerpt
Ethical agencies evolution from sharing of information with adult adoptees to the secretiveness practiced by Georgia was gradual enough to make identifying the date of its change difficult. But by 1960 virtually all social workers denied adoptees information that would help them find their families.
Thanks to all the parents who have been actively engaged in talking about ethics in adoption this past week after they saw something that crossed the line in the sand. They have started a dialogue and discussions on ethics in adoption are happening on many different blogs. I hope it is a discussion that is never stopped.
These are the same moms who have spoken up in the past and have withstood the attacks of other misguided AP’s and PAP’s, because they aren’t willing to be silent when silence equals acceptance of extremely poor ethical conduct. Unfortunately, some AP’s and PAP’s still do not hear and would rather use God phrases to justify bad human behavior, but take heart that some will heed your words. Please always be ready to speak out when you see things done wrong.
If you want to make enemies, try to change something.
~ Woodrow Wilson
Every single prospective adoptive parent and those adoptive parents who have not yet done so, should read this book. Every. Single. One. A book that describes horrific lack of ethics and actions when power and bad intentions take center stage. A book that will make your stomach turn, and one you won’t want to read but cannot stop reading. After you have read this book you will realize that in various different guises, it is still happening today and you will wonder why no one ever learns from history.
The Baby Thief The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond
Finding adoptive homes for institutionalized orphans could have kept Georgia busy for decades. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t be satisfied with merely finding homes for homeless children–she’d become obsessed with finding adoptive homes for children who already had homes. She would acquire these children through kidnapping or deceit, and if she saved them from anything it was poverty.
Georgia considered poverty the worst possible condition. ”It was her upbringing, she was from a very snobbish family that looked down on people in those shanty houses who got their hands dirty for a living.” Andre Bond of Biloxi, Mississippi, told me.
Georgia felt she was taking children from “trashy people and elevating the children,” Christine Nilan of Nashville said. Christine had been adopted through Georgia by a cultured, educated family whom Georgia frequently visited. ”It was as if she thought, “There’s something that doesn’t belong over here; I’ll put it over there,” Christine told me.
Georgia often boasted about having placed children with “high type” adoptive parents, and she expected grieving birth parents to be comforted by this fact.
The back cover states in part:
This is the harrowing story of Georgia Tann, who from 1924 to 1950 stole or otherwise separated more than 5,000 children from their families. Whether abducting children outright or tricking new mothers still groggy from anesthesia into relinquishing their babies, Tann covered her tracks by replacing the names of birth parents on “amended” birth certificates. Her ploy was legitimized by officials who legalized closed adoption, claiming this would spare adoptees the taint of illegitimacy.
Scores of children in the custody of Tann’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society died, making Memphis’s infant mortality rate the highest in the country. Yet Tann was publicly lauded for her work. She also amassed a personal fortune selling children to the wealthy…
Barbara Bisantz Raymond is an adoptive parent who researched Georgia for 15 years and also found many adult survivors of these adoptions..
Ethics matter and I do not believe the adoption industry wants to talk about ethics unless it is simply a pat phrase such as we are the most ethical agency in the industry or some other marketing ploy. They don’t want to talk about it or have adoptive parents talk about it, because frankly it is bad for business. They would rather down play or dismiss concerns when a business that deals with children should strive for the top echelon of ethical conduct and blacklist any person (AP, PAP, or employee) or agency who does not meet only the highest of standards.
He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.
~ Francis Bacon, “On Innovation,” Essays, 1597
Most, if not all of these parents talking are on my blog roll if you want to get involved in the conversation.