“In the soul of every adoptee is an eternal flame of hope
for reunion and reconciliation with those he has lost
through private or public disaster.”
~ Jean Paton, Orphan Voyage

The blankness of our past is like a constant gnawing at our heart. It creates a hole that can’t be filled, a vacuum for which there is no substitute, it is a piece of our soul that was taken from us. It is like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, the center of a wheel missing two spokes. My mom was not unique in her yearning to know who her original mother was.

The withholding of birth information from adoptees is an affront to human dignity. Most Americans assume that the falsification of adoptees’ birth certificates arose from well-meaning social workers anxious to relieve adoptees of the stigma of illegitimacy.

However, my mom’s parents were married at the time of her conception and her birth and at the time she was taken for adoption by my adoptive grandparents.

Of greater concern was the possibility of the original family tracing such a child and disrupting a well established adoptive relationship. Especially if the surrender had been forced, as was the case with my maternal grandmother.

The rationale was that in order to be secure in the position of adopting children, anonymity was essential.

“We never tell the natural mother or reveal to others where the child is and where it is being placed for adoption,” Georgia Tann told a reporter for the Commercial Appeal in 1948. Her letter to my original maternal grandmother certainly revealed nothing about my mom having been taken from Memphis to Arizona.

Who Was Georgia Tann ?

Georgia Tann in the photo above is with her most desirable kind of adoptable child, a blond fair-skinned girl.

From a Memphis Tennessee Commercial Appeal article dated October 7, 1979 –

Georgia Tann was accused of selling babies for profit.  The money apparently bought her the “good life” of fur coats, chauffeur-driven limousines, gambling trips to Cuba, a summer cottage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and social status with Hollywood’s movie stars.

The state of Tennessee charged that Miss Tann made more than $500,000 in her illegal baby-selling scheme during the decade before she died of cancer on Sept 15, 1950.  Both her own granddaughter and the state investigator believe she spent all of her money before she died at the age of 59.

Her granddaughter said, “It was a running joke in my family that Georgia Tann’s last will said, ‘I spent it all’, Vicci Finn said (she is the daughter of Dr Victor Watson and June Tann Watson – her parents were both dead by this date).

“When Georgia Tann found out she was ill and wasn’t going to live long, they (the Watsons and Miss Tann) went on a nationwide tour. They stayed at the finest hotels and spent money. This is what my mother told me.”

Miss Tann was in charge of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis Branch, from 1922 until her death in 1950.  Both my mother and her older brother had been adopted from that agency in the 1930s.

Georgia Tann wasn’t able to defend herself during the investigation as she lapsed in and out of consciousness due to the complications of cancer.  The powers that be in Memphis at the time (many of whom were directly implicated as having benefited from or were beholding to, because they too had adopted children from Ms Tann) chose to let the matter die as the primary criminal target was taken beyond conviction by death itself.

The adoption agency was closed, never to be allowed to reopen, 3 mos after her death.  Many reforms were instituted in Tennessee as a result of the practices uncovered.  The state also decided to unsealed the agency records for those persons directly affected by the practices in the mid-1990s.

Which is why I now know much more of the actual story of my mother’s own adoption than she did and died not knowing.