Georgia Tann felt disdain toward poor, white, single mothers directly related to their class difference. She divided people into two types –
Poor people, including single “cow” mothers, were BAD.
Wealthy people “of a higher type” were GOOD.
Georgia believed that poor people were incapable of proper parenting. Their children needed to be rescued. Tann could “save” them. She did it by seizing them and placing
them for adoption.
It would appear that was her perspective regarding my maternal grandmother and the cause of my mom’s adoption. My mom was not unwanted and her parents were married. It was the Great Depression and there was a superflood affecting Memphis at the time my mom was born. Her father, WPA, was out shoring up levees in Arkansas and couldn’t be reached quickly enough to save my mom from the inevitable. Her mother never got over losing my mom.
In a 1935 article in the Memphis Press-Scimitar, Georgia Tann described the first time she placed children for adoption. She was only 15 years old. She had found two children in the corner of her father’s courtroom.
Rather than send them over to the Mississippi Children’s Home Society, she convinced a respectable Mississippi couple to adopt the 5 yr old boy and 3 yr old girl. In the newspaper article, Georgia didn’t reveal the process by which she separated the children from their birth parents.
Yet, her description of the family was indicative of her attitude –
“The father was a man of intelligence but of a mean disposition, who was always getting into trouble. The mother was an ‘ordinary’ woman, from a poor family.” That was certainly true of both of my maternal grandparents. Their only sin was poverty.
The children placed for adoption were sweet and attractive in appearance. The girl eventually received a degree in music. Thanks to the financial resources of my mom’s adoptive parents, she also eventually received a degree in music from the University of Texas at El Paso and that began the profession she practiced for the remainder of her life, right up until her death.
The boy in Georgia Tann’s story received a law degree and practiced his profession as a lawyer. My mom’s “brother” was also a Georgia Tann adoptee. He didn’t become a lawyer but still leads the life he has chosen with financial support from his inheritance.
These early placements by Tann, including both my mom and her brother, were given opportunities of wealth and all of them made the most of it. Some of her later efforts produced some horrific outcomes. My mom and her brother were very lucky regarding the adoptive parents they received. In no way would I say that the wounds of separation from their original mothers were not deep within each of them.