I was reminded today of Georgia Tann’s belief that taking babies from poor families and placing them in wealthier circumstances improved their outcome. Totally not a provable theory but never the less. An adoptee was asking about the effects of changes in socio-economic mobility in subsequent generations for the children and grandchildren of adoptees. I watched the Mary Tyler Moore movie about Georgia Tann on YouTube one night during my roots discovery journey in 2017.
I responded from my own circumstances as the child of adoptee parents (both) – My mom was a Georgia Tann adoptee and would have grown up in poverty had she remained with her original mother’s family. That is what I have been informed by genetic family I’m in reunion with. Her adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. My dad’s socio-economic situation was relatively the same as it would have been if he remained with his natural mother (he was adopted out of The Salvation Army). His adoptive parents had a home based entrepreneurial business and never had any wealth but managed to buy a house. We witnessed two very different socio-economic worlds growing up. My dad was union at a refinery. My mom went to work while we were yet young. We didn’t have a lot growing up but enough. Both of my parents got “some” inheritance when their adoptive parents died. Some is locked up in a trust to be divided by 5 grandchildren when my mom’s adoptive brother dies (generation skipping). I think our perspective was broadly balanced. But whatever residual economic improvement was slight, if any.
Today, I found an interesting LINK> blog – Until We Learn from the Legacy of Georgia Tann, We’re Doomed to Repeat It by (I believe) Rebecca Vahle who is the admin for the “Family to Family Support Network. She describes her own self this way – an adoptive parent since 1998, the founder of a hospital-based adoption support program since 2004, a radio host hearing 5 years of stories of people impacted since the era of Georgia Tann. In addition, I have trained thousands of nurses in adoption-sensitive care in Women’s Centers around the country. I have heard stories coast-to-coast from mothers, fathers, adoptees, birth mothers, birth fathers and adoptive families, and I have seen first-hand the invasion of technology in this process. Yes, it has been an invasion. The Internet has poured gasoline on the embers of Georgia Tann’s legacy and until we address what it happening, I worry her legacy of corruption will continue.
She refers to the books by Lisa Wingate – the fictional but accurate Before We Were Yours I have read (and it was riveting for me). She then offers perspectives on “Why & How Georgia Tann’s Legacy Continues.” You can read through them at the link. Her bottom line was this – “When couples don’t know what they don’t know and, like myself, find out too late that their adoption placement was saturated with unethical tactics and financial profits for the agency.” She adds – We cannot look away, justify behaviors, ignore the impact of the Internet and discount the shadow of Georgia Tann that continues to fall across portions of the infant adoption industry.
Understandably, she is promoting her own efforts of providing a hospital-based standardized program of training for healthcare professionals. This blog is not a recommendation – just bringing awareness only.
Much of what I write here came as an unexpected side effect of discovering who my original grandparents were. Both of my parents were adoptees and both of them died without knowing what I know now.
The journey began because my cousin informed me she had received her father’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee. This came as a huge surprise to me. Back in the early 1990s, my mom tried and failed to get her own. I had hoped, since she had died, it might become available to me but that is not how sealed records work generally – and I have bumped up against them in 3 states – Virginia, Arizona and California.
What made Tennessee different was the Georgia Tann scandal. There would have been criminal charges lodged against her if she had not died before that could happen. The movers and shakers of Memphis political life were all too happy to let the wrong-doing die with Miss Tann.
The story had such potency, that it erupted on the public’s imagination in the early 1990s on 60 Minutes and Oprah. A movie was made by Hallmark featuring Mary Tyler Moore as a convincing Georgia Tann. Reunions of adoptees with their original parents started being seen on television and my mom wanted that for herself. It was not to be. No one told her that less than 10 years after her own efforts were denied, it would have been possible.
It was surprising to me how the dominoes began falling so easily, so that in less than one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and made contact with some surviving descendants. Only a few years ago, I would never have predicted such a result.
It didn’t end there however. From that new wholeness, I also began to understand deeply the impacts of separating young children or infants from their mothers and original families, how this causes a deep traumatic wound in the adoptee and how even the most well-meaning of adoptive parents (my adoptive grandparents were totally that and good people in general) can not make up for what has happened to the victims of the process.
And from all that, has come this blog. No doubt I still have more to say as soon as tomorrow.
In the early 1990s, my mom began a process of trying to obtain her adoption file in the hopes of reuniting with her original mother. The state of Tennessee was uncooperative but did tell her that her mother had died several years before. My mom was devastated.
The story of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal of the early 1950s had re-emerged in public awareness. There were programs on 60 Minutes and Oprah and even a movie about the woman’s life starring Mary Tyler Moore. Tennessee was compelled by an overwhelming demand for justice to unsealed the adoption files of those directly affected by Tann’s corrupt practices but no one told my mom.
After she died in 2015, my cousin told me that it was possible to obtain the file. She had managed to get her dad’s (my mom’s brother who was adopted from the same agency a few years before my mom was). In October 2017, I was able to obtain this and learned the truth that we never knew about our original grandparents.
Both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption and they have been reunited in the sense that they know us now as their biological, genetic relatives. I have also reunited with cousins for each of my parents original family lines and so I have some sense of the complicated experience of growing up in adoptive families and then discovering the original ones.
I will be writing more generally about reunions in the coming days but this part is my own story.