The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

by Ann Fessler

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Overview

In this deeply moving and myth-shattering work, Ann Fessler brings out into the open for the first time the astonishing untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade. An adoptee who was herself surrendered during those years and recently made contact with her mother, Ann Fessler brilliantly brings to life the voices of more than a hundred women, as well as the spirit of those times, allowing the women to tell their stories in gripping and intimate detail.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101644294
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/26/2007
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 68,065
File size: 533 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ann Fessler is professor of photography at Rhode Island School of Design and a specialist in video-installation art. She won a prestigious Radcliffe Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, for 2004, to complete her extensive research for this book. She is also the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the LEF Foundation, Boston; the Rhode Island Foundation; the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities; Art Matters, New York; and the Maryland State Arts Council. An adoptee herself, she begins and ends the book with the story of her own successful quest to find her birth mother.

Table of Contents

The Girls Who Went Away1. My Own Story as an Adoptee
2. Breaking the Silence
Dorothy II
Annie
3. Good Girls v. Bad Girls
Nancy I
Claudia
4. Discovery and Shame
Marge
Yvonne
5. The Family's Fears
Jeanette
Ruth
6. Going Away
Karen I
Pam
7. Birth and Surrender
Margaret
Leslie
8. The Aftermath
Susan III
Madeline
9. Search and Reunion
Susan II
Jennifer
10. Talking and Listening
Lydia
Linda I
11. Every Mother but My Own
Afterword
A Note on the Interviews
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Journalism of the first order, moving and informative in equal measure. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A remarkably well-researched and accomplished book. (The New York Times Book Review)

A wrenching, riveting book. (Chicago Tribune)

Haunting. (People)

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
In the decades between World War II and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, a million and a half young women who got pregnant out of wedlock placed their children up for adoption. In The Girls Who Went Away, Ann Fessler gathers the forgotten history of a generation who gave up their children, one of whom was Fessler’s own mother. From her unique perspective, Fessler interviewed scores of women—most of whom had never before spoken of their experience—that were all but forced to surrender their newborns.

Few subjects are tiptoed around as gingerly as teenage pregnancy. But it’s this very sidestepping of the issue that helps to propagate it, not only in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, but even today. There are groups that advocate chastity, encouraging young boys and girls to take an oath to abstain from sex until they’re married. Many parents fight passionately to prevent teenagers access to contraceptives and information about sex and birth control. Instead, they eagerly pass out ubiquitous rubber bracelets to remind young boys and girls of the vow they’ve taken. During their formative years, Fessler’s subjects had very few, if any, resources aimed at prevention. To have it otherwise would make parents admit what they already knew in their hearts: teenagers have sex. And so the blame fell on the girls themselves.

This is perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of The Girls Who Went Away. These young women were victims of an American society that all but ensured teenage girls would become pregnant in huge numbers. At their most vulnerable, these young girls were sent away to have their children in secret, programmed to surrender their babies and their rights as mothers. With a scribble of a pen and the advice to forget and move on, these women went back home to lives they had outgrown. But they never forgot and certainly never moved on.

 


ABOUT ANN FESSLER

Ann Fessler is a professor of photography at Rhode Island School of Design and a specialist in video-installation art. She was awarded the prestigious Radcliffe Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University to complete her extensive research for this book. She is also the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the LEF Foundation, Boston; the Rhode Island Foundation; the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities; Art Matters, New York; and the Maryland State Arts Council.

 


A CONVERSATION WITH ANN FESSLER

Q. What has surprised you most during interviews and in reaction to your installations on this subject?

A. I think one of the biggest surprises was that many of the women I interviewed were themselves unaware of the fact that hundreds of thousands of other women had surrendered children during the ’50s and ’60s and that so many shared their sense of grief over the loss of a child. Women who had not discovered “birth parent” support groups felt very alone. They had been told they would move on and forget and they saw their inability to do so as yet another personal failure. Often at the end of an interview, a woman would say to me, “Have you interviewed any other women who feel the way I do?” That question made me want to weep. After all these years, so many women were still suffering in silence. I receive e-mails every day from women who are just learning that they are not alone in their feelings and are deciding it may be safe to “come out” about their experiences to friends and family. The shame and blame that was thrust upon these women has proven to be very effective at silencing them.

The second big surprise was that so many of the women never had another child. About 30 percent of the women I interviewed surrendered their only child for adoption.

Q. The staff these girls encountered at the maternity homes ranged from coldhearted (unsympathetic doctors) to tenderhearted (the motherly African American cook). Have you spoken to anyone who worked at one of the homes? What were their feelings regarding this issue?

A. I have spoken to several retired social workers who worked in maternity homes or adoption agencies in the 1960s. Some are now assisting in searches to help reconnect adoptees with lost kin or working to pass legislation in their state to allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Over the years these social workers have encountered parents, siblings, adoptees, and adoptive parents who returned to the agencies in search of information. These experiences have helped to change their thinking about what constitutes the best practice in adoption. They have seen the damage done by keeping secrets.

I have to add that I think many of the changes that have occurred in adoption have come about because surrendering mothers, not social workers, have demanded changes and more openness. Women have learned to be more assertive than they were in the ’50s and ’60s.

Q. New York City recently announced its plan to close its P-schools—specialized schools for pregnant students. Do you view this as a sign of progress in attitudes and policies with regard to teenage pregnancy? In what areas has the United States made strides? What challenges does it still face?

A. The women I interviewed became pregnant at a time when schools routinely expelled a girl as soon as her pregnancy was detected. High school girls often continued, or finished, their schooling at a maternity home. College students who became pregnant often dropped out for a semester and some never returned. Quite a few of the women I interviewed returned to school in their fifties, after their subsequent children were raised, to finish school and pursue their educational dreams. It was not until Title IX of the Education Amendments Act in 1972 that high schools and colleges were prevented from expelling a young woman because she was pregnant or raising a child. Allowing a young mother, married or unmarried, to continue her education while pregnant or parenting is incredibly important, no matter the school. I’m not familiar enough with the difference in curriculum between the schools for pregnant girls and the regular public schools in New York City to make a judgment about the advantages either might provide. The Title IX Amendment was a monumental stride toward equality for women since, needless to say, the father of the child was not asked to withdraw from school.

You asked about teen pregnancy today. I have not interviewed young women who became pregnant after 1973—neither those who raised nor those who surrendered their children, so this question does not fall within my area of research—but I’m sure that today there are just as many myths about pregnant teens and about teens who parent as there were in previous decades. I will say I believe the challenges this country faces related to teen parenting may lie in providing all young people the kind of quality education available to those raised in affluent homes; providing opportunities for meaningful, challenging, rewarding work that rivals the rewards of motherhood; and providing opportunities for financial and educational growth that may delay parenting until achievable goals are reached.

Other challenges we face are those having to do with a woman’s ability to control decisions regarding pregnancy and/or parenting. I find the push toward “abstinence-only” sex education extremely troubling. Call me crazy, but I think it is unrealistic to expect most people to wait until they are married to have sex. Withholding information about sex and pregnancy prevention did not deter the majority of young men and women in the ’50s and ’60s from having sex before marriage and it is unlikely to deter them now. I think abstinence-only sex education probably works best within specific communities where there is peer, family, church, and community pressure to delay sex, but I have my doubts as to whether the majority of these young people actually delay until marriage—unless of course they marry young. To apply the abstinence-only sex education strategy in the general population is misdirected at best, and a waste of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

The stories in the Girls Who Went Away provide a backward glimpse into an era when sex education and birth control was largely unavailable and everyone was to abstain until marriage. The result was millions of crisis pregnancies. Once pregnancy occurs the decisions only become more difficult. Pregnancy prevention is the first line of defense for those who are not ready to parent. Once pregnancy occurs—and it will if couples engage in unprotected sex—the decisions will only become more difficult and life altering.

As far as adoption practice is concerned, there are several challenges to be faced. Like all other citizens, adoptees should be entitled to information about their genealogical and medical history, not just adoptees that live in particular states with “open records.” Adoptees should be given access to their original birth certificate when they reach eighteen or twenty-one if they desire. If birth parents do not want contact they should be given an opportunity to file a “no contact preference form” with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the state where the birth occurred. This system is in place in several states at present and it has worked extremely well. All states need to follow suit.

Mothers who are considering an adoption plan must be able to do so without coercion, and with full knowledge of services and support available to them. I think most people imagine a very young teenager when they picture a surrendering mother, but the majority of surrendering mothers today are in their twenties, only about a quarter are in their teens. Women must be given adequate time following the birth of their child to decide whether or not to follow through with the adoption, and a reasonable time afterward to revoke consent. I understand the eagerness of adoptive families who are waiting to take a child home, but a mother cannot understand the full weight of her decision until after her child has been born, and she must be given a reasonable time after she signs the relinquishment form to revoke consent. In some states today a women can sign an irrevocable consent of relinquishment within twenty-four hours of giving birth. Women who have had children know that giving birth changes you and there is no way for a woman who has never given birth to understand how she will feel afterward. A woman must be a fully informed and willing participant in the surrender of her own child.

Q. The women you interviewed represent various religious backgrounds. Between religion and societal convention, what was more of a motivating force in sending these girls away? Where religion is concerned, did you pick up on any pattern in the way parents reacted to a pregnant daughter?

A. I interviewed women raised in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish households who resided in every region of the United States. I did not find a significant relationship between the way the daughters were treated and the religious beliefs of the parents or the geographic region of the country.

Most parents treated their daughters in precisely the way they feared they would be treated by their neighbors. Of course, I only interviewed women who surrendered, not those who may have raised their child with the help of their parents. In the ’50s and ’60s about the worst thing a middle-class girl could do was become pregnant outside of marriage. For those who were aspiring to, or of middle-class status, the worry was they would be perceived as “low class” by their friends and neighbors—they would be harshly judged and ostracized. Certainly, religion was a major force in shaping these values but economics seemed to be the driving force at the time. The mothers who had admitted to experiencing single pregnancy themselves, and families who were less upwardly mobile, generally did not react as harshly.

It’s important to point out that not all of the “girls who went away” were sent by their parents. Many women became pregnant in college or after they were out of school and working. Of the women I interviewed, the average age at the time of their child’s birth was nineteen. Many checked themselves into a maternity home and never told their parents that they gave birth. The stigma was so great at the time that raising a child as a single mother—especially a never-married mother, but also a divorced woman—was socially, financially, and emotionally difficult and some simply felt they could not cope with the stigma or do it alone. The image of an unwed mother did not fit the image they had of themselves. Of course they fit the profile of many unwed mothers, but they did not fit the stereotype. In part, this was because the middle-class girls could afford to go away, so they were invisible.

Q. You mention the 1951 Life magazine story about a teenage girl surrendering her child. What are some other depictions of this subject in the media? What is the most honest portrayal you encountered?

A. The confession magazines like True Story, Modern Romances, and True Confessions, which were popular from the late 1920s through the 1960s, were filled with stories of unwed mothers. Unwed pregnancy and motherhood is also the subject of films of the era. One notable film is a 1946 melodrama To Each His Own, in which Olivia de Havilland plays a young woman who falls in love with a fighter pilot. She becomes pregnant, he dies in battle, and to avoid scandal she surrenders her son for adoption to someone she knows and watches him grow up with another family. I believe To Each His Own was the highest grossing film in 1946 and de Havilland won an Oscar for her performance.

Despite the melodramatic quality, I was struck by the fact that the surrendering mother was portrayed as a woman who cared deeply and longed to stay connected with her child, whereas later depictions generally portrayed the mothers as eager to be rid of their “problem.” The portrayal of a surrendering mother who loved and spied on her child as he grew up would likely not have been as popular in the 1950s and ’60s when the number of adoptions increased dramatically and agencies needed to reasure adoptive parents that the child was surrendered willingly.

Q. Are you and your own birth mother still in contact? How did meeting your mother affect your research?

A. My interviews and research for the book were complete when I contacted my mother, so meeting her did not affect either. Actually, quite the opposite—my interviews and research prepared me to meet my mother. We are still in contact, though our contact is infrequent. She is still trying to decide whether she can tell her family about me. She has been keeping her secret for fifty-seven years. It will not be easy to explain to her siblings why she kept this secret from them, or to explain to her children why she has not told them they have a half sister. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to make the reunion process for surrendering mothers easier by educating the communities that will receive this new information from them, and allow families, husbands, subsequent children, and adoptees to better understand what these mothers were up against.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • A couple of women the author interviewed explain the difference in grieving for a child that was taken and grieving for a child that died. Explore and discuss the two scenarios. How are they different? How are they similar?
     
  • What recollections do you have of girls who became pregnant before marriage, whether or not they were sent away?
     
  • Several of the interviewees recall maternity home staff using mind-control techniques (assigning pseudonyms, isolating “clients,” etc.). What are some other examples of how psychology and coercion were used with these young girls?
     
  • Are teenage girls today more likely to stand up and make decisions for themselves? If so, what is the source of this empowerment?
     
  • Discuss how public schools in the ’50s and ’60s handled sex education. How has this changed today? In your opinion, is there too much, or not enough, of a focus on sex education in schools? How has the Internet affected access to information about sex and sexuality?
     
  • Was there a particular interviewee with whom you felt closest (similar education background, socioeconomic status, family makeup, etc.)? What was it about her story that you most identified with?
     
  • Discuss how reliable paternity testing has changed how we look at premarital pregnancies. Is there still a sense of “boys will be boys”?
     
  • What are the pros and cons of unsealing adoption and birth records? Is it in an adopted child’s best interest to meet his or her birth mother? Is it in the best interest of the birth mother to connect with her child later in life? Why?

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The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Channah_Miriam More than 1 year ago
The adoptee sister to my son suggested I read The Adoption Triangle, I couldn't find the book, but took out three others on adoption to read. As a birth mother from 1972 who 'went away', I was totally un-educated to modern day reunion practices to which present times has us in as adoptee to birth mothers. Then "The girls that went away" - was suggested to me by another birth mother. What an educational book! The stories were personal,heart felt, and Real. The book helped me realize my family was just like most of the rest of that era. I was no longer standing on an island by myself. Ann Fessler did a wonderful job of pulling together facts of an era where shame and guilt was placed on the platter of every single girl who found herself in trouble. There was so much healing that took place as I turned each page. I have ordered a copy for each one in my first family to receive in order to really know their sibling and daughter's struggle during that nine month's and years afterwards. This is a five star book for anyone in the adoption triangle, birth mother, adopted mother, and adoptee. All parties will understand each other better when they close the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a suburban male coming of age in the late 1960s, I can remember the snickering about the "girls who got into trouble," though I never knew any. Ms. Fessler's book is at its best when she lets those girls (now women) tell their story in their own words. I was reminded that paternity testing did not exist then but the double-standard did, so the fathers in almost all cases walked away unburdened by any responsibility for the children they fathered. The first-person accounts of the pressure to relinquish, the shame place on them by the "grown-ups," the lack of counseling, the isolation and sorrow and lingering sense of loss are heartbreaking. I felt, though, that the book was unbalanced. While my personal belief (as an adoptee from the era examined in the book) is that mothers and their children fare best when kept together, surely there are cases when a mother who relinquishes a child finds the resilience to move on to a fulfilling life post-relinquishment. That's a minor complaint, though, for a book that personalizes the damage done to so many young women by post-WWII culture in America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book is a very intense read....could not read it in just a couple of sittings as it definitly pulls many emotions from the reader. Having grown up in the era that the author is writing about probably made it more so. I would recommend this book to all women of all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm 47 years old. While I recall hearing my older siblings talk about 'girls who went away', I didn't personally know anyone who did. I came 'of age' just as birth control became more readily available and I was 15 at the time of Roe v. Wade. There were certainly girls during my early teens who 'messed around' and we all knew who they were, but none of them became pregnant (at least they never 'went away'). When I would hear my siblings and their friends talk about the girls of their generation who did suddenly disappear, I assumed these girls were glad to give their babies up so they could get on with their lives. I also assumed they had been careless about birth control never imagining that they were never told about it or how difficult it was to acquire. I also assumed that as they aged, they probably had moments of fleeting curiosity about their baby. Simple things like 'I wonder what he/she looks like'. I never imagined the depth and intensity of their loss. I was mesmerized and heart broken by each story in this book. I'm so glad Ann Fessler took the time to gather their stories and that the women were willing to share them with the rest of us. Bless their hearts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very moving. Imagine being a young single girl and going into labor without your mom to talk to you - being alone - feeling rejected by Society and the man you thought you loved. Feel the torment of having to give up the child because you can't afford to take care of him/her and not having any choice. Being afraid to tell future boyfriends or others about your illegitimate child for fear of rejection again. I was quite horrified that the Catholics seemed to be the worst!!! How dare they charge the girl for her care, making her work hard while pregnant, ignoring the needs of this young woman and treating her like dirt and yet freely giving her child away like they were doing her a favor. They even lied about some information making it near-impossible or impossible for the mother and child to ever be reunited at a future time. That whole time society never seemed to kick the butts of the men who contributed to this condition and their attitude that, "It's not my problem" as they moved on to their next conquest. I know there were a few young men that married the girl after her child was given up and it is sad that they didn't do the right thing in time to keep the child.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an adoptee born in the time that girls were sent away. My birthmother went to a maternity home and I was placed for adoption thru that same agency. Thanks to their falsification of legal records I will most likely never meet her which of course was their intent. I picked up this book on a Sat afternoon and by Sun morning I had finished it, I don't think I read it, I inhaled and absorbed it into my soul. Other than an email correspondance with one of the girls that was at the same home as my birthmother I had never had an idea of what it was like for her. Thank you Ann for this gift of a look into the world she endured, I was forever changed from my fantasy world of what I had imagined. If you are any part of the triad and know someone whose life was shaped by this time period this is a must read.
USMC_WIFEY More than 1 year ago
this is such a great book that openly talks about a subject that was so taboo at the time! being born in the 80's, it's mind boggling to me to see how we treated young women and their unexpected children just a few decades ago. a great read!
Emily23 More than 1 year ago
"The Girls Who Went Away" was a required reading book in a history class in college. I decided to start reading it just as the deadline approached before a quiz. The minute I opened the first page, I couldn't stop reading. I never realized the heartbreak so many un-wed women had to endure. It keeps your interest with heart wrenching stories. The only problem is realizing these are TRUE tales of women in a time in America where things seemed to be sugar coated.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was born in 1961, so my interest in this topic stemmed from becoming close with several adults who are adoptees. I became even more interested after I mentioned something in passing to my 16 year old niece and made reference to the time before abortion was available, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I found this book dispelled many myths about the feelings and intentions of birth mothers. I found it alternately very sad (stories of girls being forced to do something they didn't want to do) and very inspiring (stories of joyous, healing reunions). I'd recommend it to anyone who's life has been touched by this issue.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My Mother gave me up for adoption and I always wondered how she felt. This book gave me alot of insight. What a brave courageous woman she was. I just found birth family, but regrettfully my Mother had already passed away. One day I hope to meet her and tell her how much I love her and thought about her everyday!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am also one of the children who was placed for adoption during the time period that Ann Fessler describes. I have gained so much from reading this book. It was not easy for me to get through it. I had to put it down between the emotional highs and lows that I experienced as I kept reading. I cried at the losses and rejoiced in the reunions and times of family acceptance of past wrongs done to the women in the book. This book gives a voice to women who struggled with one of the most difficult, life-altering events in their lives. Thank you Ann, for honoring these women. As an adopted child, I had a wonderful family. As an adult, I wished to know my birthfamily especially the woman who gave me my life in so many ways. Through this book, I have learned to appreciate her and her courage even more than I did before. I believe in adoption now as it has changed so much and become so much more sensitive to all involved in the process. I only hope that this book helps more families deal with the loss and to forgive each other. To that end and as I work in a bookstore myself, this has become my personal recommendation to customers. The stories of these women needed to be told and this book does an excellent job in allowing them to be heard.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read the book and it is a very depressing and harrowing account of what adoption CAN be, but not necessarily what adoption always is. I am adopted and have two great parents who did not attempt to exploit my birth mother--who decided to give me up voluntarily. My adoption was facilitated professionally and I was in good health the entire time. I know this because Holt International adoption agency is very respected throughout the world and does a great service by facilitating adoptions from poor nations. However, from my own experience and research I must corroborate that many adoptions that occurred several decades ago, before societal acceptance and regulations, were susceptible to greed and manipulation, as this book asserts. It certainly highlights a part of what adoption was and can be still. However, to attribute these accounts to the overall culture of adoption would be a mistake. Hopefully, this book can bring some awareness that adoption has come a long way but that there are still negative remnants from the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure why the phrase, "before Roe V Wade," was included in the description, as if that was the answer to these women giving up their children for adoption. I won't buy this book just because of that statement. Roe V Wade shouldn't have even been mentioned on this book. Murdering your children in the womb, or even out of the womb, which is happening now, was not and is not the answer to women in this situation.
claudiabowman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely shattering. The book presents enough histories to both demonstrate the different experiences young, unwed mothers went through, and also show just how common many aspects of the experience were. It is difficult for me to imagine what it was like to be raised in the times these women came of age in. This book was often difficult to read, but worth it.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a detailed and organized look at the process of adoption as it existed from the last 1940s until the mid 1970s, before abortion was legalized in the United States. Rich in personal interviews and stories told by the women themselves, this book usefully describes one point of view about the adoption process. This book cannot in any way, however, be described as a balanced look at adoption. This book includes only stories from women who were deceived, coerced, intimidated or otherwise misled into giving up their children. These women claim to have all wanted to keep their children, and would have, but for outside influences, kept their babies. I am not calling their stories into doubt, but there is certainly a whole other side to the issue - the stories of women who were grateful to give up their children, and who did not seek to find the children after the fact. This side of the equation is not mentioned except briefly, in two sentences, and without a more detailed look at this opposing viewpoint, the book feels unbalanced and incomplete. Perhaps the author's status as an adopted child, and the fact that she makes her living from telling stories of adoption, created a bias that could not be overcome. Make no mistake - the book is well written and compelling, as it tells half of the story. It is not a fair and open look, however.
phyllis01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book gave me a lot of insight into my mother, who gave a child up for adoption in the late 50's. She will not discuss it to this day. A sad, but ultimately empowering book. Shame on all the people in the 50's and 60' who perpetuated what was essentially the theft of these babies from their mothers.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The surprise? Every single woman was filled with regret and anger due to giving up her child. Many, if not most, felt this ruined their lives. A shocking book for me. I¿d anticipated that most women simply went on with their lives, happy to have avoided all the problems raising a child without a marriage would have entailed. Wrong.
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ann Fessler¿s book chronicles the lives of young, single women who gave up their children for adoption in the 1950s and 60s. That what was allowed to happen to them was still going on in my lifetime is shocking to me. No sex education, no assistance, no rights, no choice. Just a little empathy would have been nice, but there was none of that either. If you¿re in your 60s then this is your generation¿s history, in your 30s-50s, it¿s a horror story of what may have been and for women in their teens and 20s, a cautionary tale about not taking your rights lightly. The women interviewed here are your mothers, sisters, best friends, neighbors and co-workers. Don¿t fool yourself into thinking this couldn¿t possibly have affected you, you may never know. The secrecy of their situations and the shame they were made to feel may still remain to this day. The callous manner in which they were treated is absolutely appalling. The stories presented here are interspersed with facts and together make for an engaging, heartbreaking read. This is a non-fiction work that, bizarrely enough, reminded me of Margaret Atwood¿s The Handmaids Tale. Their gut-wrenching stories deserve to be told ¿ finally.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ann Fessler is an adopted daughter of an adopted daughter, and her art is photography, not creative writing; so most of this excellent book consists of stories from women, in their own words of the suffering they have experienced. She ties the stories together and places them in historical context.I wish every woman who was lied to, forced or coerced into giving a baby up for adoption could read this book. Fessler describes how alone they feel, often for life. I'm sure it would help for them to know how many other women had been in he same circumstances - told for their whole pregnancy that they were not fit to be a mother then expected to be a fine mother later when their sex was "official". There were several women in the book who told about their overwhelming life long anger. Here's one: I think this whole experience has made me incredibly strong. But if I had not been reunited with my daughter, I don't think it would have made me strong. I think I would have continued to be very, very, very angry until I died of a heart attack. Fortunately there are stories of reunion and women coming to terms with their decision. But not all women are so lucky.Another comment from the same woman Listen, you know, I've gotten to the point in my life that when I see something that I really long for, I know it's not for me. That's when I realized what losing her had done. My experience was...that what I wanted was going to be held up in front of me and I was going to look at it but I could never have it. Just like the nurse holding her up. That's what it does.According to Fessler, early in the 20th century when "unwed women's homes" were run by charity the staff might be likely to assist a woman to keep her baby, even find a way to help her get education or a job. However, after social workers took control of the system they seem to have worked it as a way to provide those they considered worthy with the children they longed for as they took advantage of women who had he audacity to have sex outside of marriage. For a while they labeled these women as feebleminded which often lead to their being sterilized and/or institutionalized. Later they were termed perverted or delinquent - obviously incapable of parenting - and again liable to be institutionalized. Later still they were just termed neurotic - not institutionalized, but not assisted either. This is an eye-opening, heart breaking book recommended to anyone interested in adoption, women's studies or the humane treatment of people in difficult situations.
twryan72 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing book. I was intrigued and truly educated about post WWII social culture. Stunned really by the stories and so happy that we have progressed as a scoiety as far as we have.
SandSing7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating! Thank you to the women who came forward to share their stories. You certainly enlightened my beliefs on reproductive issues, and provided a major piece of social history that otherwise may have never been recorded. It always shocks and amazes me how earlier generations of women were treated by their families and by society. Thank you for paving the way, and allowing me to have the freedoms that I do today.
brsquilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Effect on girls who were forced to give up babies for adoption.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book with great heart. Read for a NF readers' group ... the discussion was amazing ... lots of people in the group had been affected by adoption and this book opened our eyes to what the mostly young mothers went through. Amazing that parents could abandon their 13 and 14-year-old daughters to such a system.
meggyweg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating social history¿I wish there were more on this topic, in fact I think this may be the only book-length study of birth mothers. When people talk about adoption they tend to focus on the child and the adoptive family, and the feelings of the birth family get kind of left in the dust. This book confirmed many of the suspicions I had about adoption: that it's incredibly traumatizing and the mothers never get over it. The pro-life crowd tries to convince mothers to have their babies by telling them about the emotional trauma caused by abortion. Adoption is no better and may be worse. I think anyone who is an adoptee, or is considering placing their child for adoption, or is adopting a child, should read this.
jacketscoversread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a complete accident I managed to stumble across The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade on GoodReads while typing in another title and I have found a new love, which is surprising because I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction works.I am surprised that his book did not get more press coverage when it was published because (a) it discusses something that most people tried to hush up and (b) it calls for pro-choice.I cannot seem to put into words how much I enjoyed this book other than this a powerful book that I think everyone on both sides of this debate should read.I, personally, am a big advocate for real sex education in high schools like how to put on rubbers and such. Not this pansy abstinence only sex education that teaches kids that condoms aren¿t affective so they shouldn¿t even bother. This book only reaffirmed that belief for me but it also helped me understand why people are also against abortion. Many of these women who were forced to give up their babies and never given the chance to be mothers to their children said they still do not regret having their child.The Girls Who Went Away puts into words what I cannot. It¿s gripping and emotional and something I wish I was able to say came from my own personal bookshelf. ¿Obviously, no one would want to advocate early sexual activity among teenagers, but leaving young people uninformed only postpones and complicates the problem-a problem that ultimately becomes one of unplanned pregnancy.¿ {pg.296} ¿If they¿re going to do away with Roe v. Wade, I¿m afraid I¿m going to have to get on a train. I¿ll be in Washington to protest, because I can¿t even imagine the injustice of it for every girl who follows behind me. It¿s such a knife in the heart of the women of this country. And threat comes from a Catholic!¿ ¿Maureen II {pg. 296-297} ¿You know what? You¿re gonna forget all about, you¿re gonna go home, and you¿re gonna met a nice young man, and you¿re gonna get married, and you¿re gonna have other babies, and you¿re never even gonna remember you had this one.¿ {pg. 325}