I first read the book by Barbara Bisantz Raymond just after my dad died in 2016 but before I had my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee. Yes, my mom was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at Memphis in 1937. I only really noticed the horror stories which left me grateful about who adopted my mom and uncle.
I got that file in October 2017 and I am now thoroughly familiar with what is there. I thought, I really ought to read this book again and that is what I am currently doing. Having educated myself about adoption issues and mother/child separations now, the content is getting more attention from me at a deeper level.
My mom tried to get her file from Tennessee in the early 1990s – before the state passed legislation that would have allowed her to have it in the late 1990s. Sadly, she never knew that it became available for her but it is my gift that it has come to me. She claimed in her effort that she had been inappropriately adopted. Though her made up explanation of how she got from Virginia, where she was born, into the hands of Georgia Tann has proven to have not been the case (she wasn’t exactly “stolen”), it now appears the “inappropriately” was accurate.
It appears that my mom’s adoption violated Tennessee law at the time it occurred. In 1937, Tennessee adoption law did not allow out of state adoptions and even after it was changed, it would have been necessary to finalize such adoptions in Tennessee. My mom’s adoption was finalized in Arizona.
At the time her surrenders were signed (under threat by Georgia Tann of court action), they were supposed to be verified by a judge (though of course, since the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley was in cahoots with Tann it probably wouldn’t have changed anything). The law wasn’t changed until 1941 to simply allow notarized surrenders (which is all my mom’s parents’ surrenders had and those were notarized by – you guessed it – Georgia Tann).
And Fanny Elrod who my adoptive grandmother seems to have had the most correspondence with, allowed herself to be bullied by Georgia Tann and they were both there when my mom was placed in my adoptive grandmother’s arms.
Finally, back to 1917, child placing agencies were supposed to be licensed by the state but the Tennessee Children’s Home Society never applied for a license until after the scandal broke in 1950 and Georgia Tann was dead and the Memphis branch permanently closed.
So, my mom was right – her adoption was actually ILLEGAL for several reasons as described above.