Social workers have been the rank and file workers in the world of adoption, endowing them with authority and expertise was a prerequisite for the professionalization of adoption. Making sure that family-formation would be overseen by professionals was an important part of making adoption modern. Therapeutic perspectives on child placement and adoption grew out of a convergence between social work and science.
In the circumstances surrounding my mom’s surrender and adoption, there were three women who were part of the early profession of social work – whether by education to obtain a degree or simply by choice.
Georgia Tann, who headed the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, was the central figure in our family’s adoption history. Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley was actively involved in a “social work” perspective as she practiced her legal work centered on juvenile delinquency, family stability and child removal. Georgia Robinson, was the superintendent of the Porter-Leath Orphanage, who agreed to take my mom in temporarily while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. She betrayed both my mom and my grandmother by alerting Georgia Tann, who had a customer waiting for precisely the kind of infant my mom was dating back to before she had even been born in Virginia.
I think of them as the original do-gooders and it is likely that they did some good. However power and money eventually corrupted all of them, resulting in an investigation that included pending criminal charges.
Georgia Tann died 3 days before those criminal charges were to be filed and all of the movers and shakers in Memphis were happy to forget all about it.
H L Mencken is quoted saying – “Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of improving or saving X, A is a scoundrel.” There were scoundrels in Memphis from the 1930s through the 1950s.