Motherhood Impossible

The Porter Home – Leath Orphanage

My heart breaks for my young grandmother.  I’ve been delving back into the record of my mother’s adoption in the late 1930s that the state of Tennessee delivered to me in October of 2017.  I’m trying to remember how I felt as I first read through these pages now, as I attempt to craft the story of how I finally found out who all 4 of my original grandparents were, for a book I hope to someday publish.

While the adoption file brought a generous amount of detail into our story, it left me with a lot of questions I’ll never be able to answer.  What caused my grandfather leave my grandmother after they had actually married when she was 4 months pregnant ?  Why did she go from Memphis to McLean Virginia to give birth to my mother ?

It is clear she returned to Memphis with a very young infant of about 6 weeks in age and attempted to reach her husband, my mom’s father, via the Juvenile Court in Memphis that was under the direction of a somewhat controversial and yet highly respected Judge Camille Kelley.

It seemed no one much wanted to help my grandmother – not her baby’s father – nor her cousins who appear to have helped her initially but complained about spending $50 on the young mother and her baby’s needs.  Her own cousin told Georgia Tann that my grandmother lacked sufficient skills to financially support the two of them.

My grandmother turned to Porter-Leath, who started caring for children in 1850, for TEMPORARY CARE of her baby while she looked for employment and a means of making a life for the two of them.  It’s not clear when she left my mother in the orphanage, though within a month or two, the superintendent there alerted Georgia Tann to the cute blond white baby who she believed would soon be available for adoption.

Since Miss Tann had a paying customer that had been waiting for 6 months or longer for just such a baby, she went into high gear to pressure and exploit my grandmother’s circumstances and take the baby away from her.  An effort that she succeeded in as my mother was adopted at Memphis and transported by train far away to Nogales Arizona.  It appears my mom was inconsolable during that trip.

She had been placed in an orphanage for at least a couple of months.  Was briefly reunited with her mother to her obvious joy and then taken away by a complete stranger.  My adoptive grandmother noted in a followup letter to the agency that a doctor had my mom calmed down.  Phenobarbital, most likely.

Unidentified nurse holding
my mom at Porter-Leath

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