Christmas Themed Adoption Ads

The image I have used is modern but back in the day, Georgia Tann discovered that many hopeful adoptive parents would respond to getting a baby for Christmas.

“Yours for the asking! 
George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete Team “Catch this ball, Daddy!” 
How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year-old play “catch” with you? 
How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bearlike hug? 
His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar. In co-operation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, The Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas.” 

Recently, one of my “The Baby Thief” blogs (there have been 3 actually but one has gotten an amazing number of views that I am not accustomed to receiving) about Georgia Tann has been getting renewed attention. You can read it here – https://missingmom.home.blog/2019/03/06/the-baby-thief/.

This reminded me that Tann originally discovered that advertising sells babies for her. And knowing how over the top some hopeful adoptive parents are about publicizing their efforts I went looking a bit for something that would convey that in the context of Christmas, since we are now in that season.

My thanks to unearthedmemphis.com for the examples of Tann’s use of advertising.

ChildWelfare.gov has an article titled “Use of Advertising and Facilitators in Adoptive Placements.” They note that in private or independent adoptions (without agency involvement), (hopeful, prospective adoptive) parents may choose to advertise their interest in adopting. Birth parents also may advertise their interest in placing their children for adoption. In an effort to protect the interests of all parties, especially children, and
to avoid the possibility of an illegal placement, many States have enacted laws that either prohibit or regulate the use of advertising.

Advertising is defined as the publication in any public medium, either print or electronic, of an interest in adopting a child or if a specific child is available for adoption. Public media include newspapers, periodicals, radio, television, telephone book listings, the internet, billboards, or print fliers. Approximately 33 States currently have laws that in some way limit or regulate the use of advertising in adoptive placement.

You can learn more about the specifics at the ChildWelfare.gov link above.

Selling Babies

My original maternal grandmother and mom were exploited by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.  Though no actual records exist to show that any money changed hands, I believe it did based upon the history of that organization and the fact that my adoptive maternal grandmother had actually “specified” the characteristics that she wanted in the baby sister she was adopting to go with the little boy she had adopted from the same agency a couple of years earlier.

The TCHS warned my adoptive grandmother that “rarely do they have a baby so desirable” and therefore my adoptive maternal grandmother must act quickly and she did.  Georgia Tann’s story teaches everyone about the importance of ridding adoption of lies and secrets.  That is the purpose of pushing for open adoption records.

There needs to be a law making the sale of, or traffic in, children for the purpose of adoption illegal because while it isn’t known for certain to be happening in the United States, there is every indication that American adoptive parents who are looking overseas because they are unable to adopt quickly enough here in the United States, may be victims of inappropriate adoptions originating in other countries.

In 2006, a reporter wrote that 23,000 children – born in other countries – had been adopted by Americans. China is the most common go-to country with nearly 8,000 orphan visas granted from there. Russia comes in second, followed by Guatemala, South Korea, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. And Americans are increasingly turning an eye to African countries including the celebrities Angelina Jolie and Madonna.

When The Baby Thief was written by Barbara Bisantz Raymond in (published in 2007) an international adoption by an American parents cost as much as $40,000 and she noted that can like seem an enormous sum to brokers in countries where the average annual income is $1,800.

A Brief History of Adoption

Willa Cather said that those who gave up carried something painful,
cut off inside, and that their lives had a sense of incompleteness.

Before Georgia Tann, some states had laws that insisted a single mother breastfeed her baby for at least six months.  This was to encourage the mother to become emotionally attached and raise her child – thus relieving the state of a need to care for them in an orphanage at public expense.

After Georgia Tann popularized adoption, these babies became a marketable commodity, and this necessitated the separation of mother and child.  During the 30s, mothers were sometimes blindfolded during labor to prevent them from seeing their baby.

By the mid-40s, adoption was nationally popular.  White single mothers were EXPECTED to surrender their babies to adoption. This policy was endorsed by the Child Welfare League, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and most psychiatrists and psychologists.

It was even predicted by a social scientist, Clark Vincent, that in the future, all white newborns from single mothers would be seized by the state – not for punishment – but in the scientific best interest of the child, considering the rehabilitation goals for the unwed mother and the stability of the family and society overall.

Such a concept was even advocated by the author, Pearl Buck, who asked Georgia to collaborate on a book about adoption. Georgia Tann died from the complications of cancer after dictating only two chapters. By then, the scandal of her baby stealing and selling operation seems to have discouraged Buck from pursuing the topic to its completion as a book.

Even so, Georgia Tann had influenced Pearl Buck’s thinking – in a 1955 article in Woman’s Home Companion – Buck advocated legislation forcing single mothers to surrender their babies for adoption – thankfully such a law was never passed.

Social pressure was enough to separate many single mothers from their children. By the 1950s, 90% of white maternity home residents surrendered their children. It is because I understand how close I came to being given up for adoption as I was born in 1954, that I consider it a miracle that I wasn’t. My mom was only 16, unwed and a high school student when I was conceived.

Adoption came to be seen as the perfect solution for infertility. Birth control and abortion were considered threats to the availability of children for such women and it would seem are viewed the same even today.

My source for this information is The Baby Thief: The True Story of the Woman Who Sold Over Five Thousand Neglected, Abused and Stolen Babies by Barbara Bisantz Raymond.

Porter-Leath

I went looking for a photo of Georgia Robinson who was the superintendent at Porter-Leath orphanage at the time of my mother’s adoption.  My maternal grandmother walked right into a trap when she sought and was granted TEMPORARY care for my mom while she tried to get on a more solid financial footing – after my mom’s father failed to answer a letter from the Juvenile Court of Memphis about his obligations to them.

It is interesting that there is no photo readily available for this woman but the adoption file clearly indicates that she alerted Georgia Tann almost immediately to my mom’s presence there.  Miss Tann had a repeat customer who had been waiting almost a year for a baby sister to complement the little boy she had adopted a few years earlier.

In the investigation into Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling legacy, Miss Robinson appears not to have been directly implicated but it is no small wonder to me that just before the criminality was made public, she suddenly decided to “retire”.  She moved out to California and lived with her sister in good health for over a decade.

In the book, The Baby Thief, the author notes –

“Prominent among them was the superintendent of a Memphis
orphanage that housed over one hundred children. She informed
Georgia of the arrival of particularly attractive children with a
speed that convinced the Children’s Bureau social worker
that the superintendent was being bribed by Georgia. Another
social worker told me that the superintendent was dismissed
from her job in 1950 because of her relationship with Georgia.”

What I found in contemporary newspaper articles was, at the time, Georgia Robinson was lauded for her long years of work there at Porter-Leath and was generally respected.  Though the author doesn’t name the orphanage, I’m relatively certain the vague mention was actually the orphanage that Miss Tann sourced my mom from.

The Baby Thief

I first read the book by Barbara Bisantz Raymond just after my dad died in 2016 but before I had my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  Yes, my mom was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at Memphis in 1937.  I only really noticed the horror stories which left me grateful about who adopted my mom and uncle.

I got that file in October 2017 and I am now thoroughly familiar with what is there.  I thought, I really ought to read this book again and that is what I am currently doing.  Having educated myself about adoption issues and mother/child separations now, the content is getting more attention from me at a deeper level.

My mom tried to get her file from Tennessee in the early 1990s – before the state passed legislation that would have allowed her to have it in the late 1990s.  Sadly, she never knew that it became available for her but it is my gift that it has come to me.  She claimed in her effort that she had been inappropriately adopted.  Though her made up explanation of how she got from Virginia, where she was born, into the hands of Georgia Tann has proven to have not been the case (she wasn’t exactly “stolen”), it now appears the “inappropriately” was accurate.

It appears that my mom’s adoption violated Tennessee law at the time it occurred.  In 1937, Tennessee adoption law did not allow out of state adoptions and even after it was changed, it would have been necessary to finalize such adoptions in Tennessee.  My mom’s adoption was finalized in Arizona.

At the time her surrenders were signed (under threat by Georgia Tann of court action), they were supposed to be verified by a judge (though of course, since the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley was in cahoots with Tann it probably wouldn’t have changed anything).  The law wasn’t changed until 1941 to simply allow notarized surrenders (which is all my mom’s parents’ surrenders had and those were notarized by – you guessed it – Georgia Tann).

And Fanny Elrod who my adoptive grandmother seems to have had the most correspondence with, allowed herself to be bullied by Georgia Tann and they were both there when my mom was placed in my adoptive grandmother’s arms.

Finally, back to 1917, child placing agencies were supposed to be licensed by the state but the Tennessee Children’s Home Society never applied for a license until after the scandal broke in 1950 and Georgia Tann was dead and the Memphis branch permanently closed.

So, my mom was right – her adoption was actually ILLEGAL for several reasons as described above.

 

The Baby Thief

Frances Irene Moore age 6 mos

 I have started to re-read The Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond.  I first read this in late March 2016, after returning home from beginning the task of closing out my deceased parents’ estate.  I had known since a young age that my mom’s adoption was sourced from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis but I knew nothing about the scandal that was Georgia Tann.  I would not have my mom’s adoption file until late October 2017.

At the time, it was hard reading because many of the stories were much worse than the outcome for my mother and her brother.  They were fortunate ones.  My grandparents loved them and were good to us as their grandchildren.

Look at my mom.  That is not an abused child.  She is healthy, almost fat with infancy’s chubbiness.  Well-fed it could be said.  Her mother had taken good care of her.  My grandmother was not unwed.  However, her husband left her 4 mos pregnant and did not respond when my grandmother reached out to him when my mom was not even yet 3 mos old.

For the life of me, I don’t understand.  He seems like a good man.  And yeah, I know he was poor and had other children he was struggling to support.  But what happened between them?  He didn’t even divorce her for 3 years and by then my mom was out of reach and her adoption had been finalized.

And my great-grandfather denied them shelter in the childhood family home.  It is said he resented her marriage.  I would guess what he resented was my grandfather leaving her 4 mos pregnant.

My desperate grandmother fell into the well-connected Georgia Tann’s trap when she sought temporary care for my mom at the storied Porter-Leath orphanage.  She was trying so hard to find a way to support the two of them on her own with few skills.  Tears form in my eyes just thinking about all of this.

The Baby Thief

I was surprised today to learn there may be a new “Georgia Tann” movie coming based upon the first book I ever read about her, The Baby Thief by Barbara Raymond.  One of my favorite actresses, Octavia Spencer, has optioned it.  I should not be surprised because it is a story that returns time and time again.

The story is personal to me.  My mom was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, from the Memphis branch that Tann was in charge of for decades.  The book is hair raising.  I read it just one month after my dad died, only four months after my mom first died.  All I could think of as I read so many horrendous and tragic stories was “thank god my mom and her brother ended up with the Dittmers”.

The truth is it was a comfortable placement.  My grandfather was a banker, my grandmother a socialite.  My mom disrupted their fondest hopes and dreams for her life when she conceived me out of wedlock while only a junior in high school.  Thus my mom was never a debutante nor did she marry “well”.  Instead we grew up the working class children of a oil refinery worker.  Even so, we had good enough lives.

My grandmother was over the moon happy about both of her Georgia Tann babies, considering them to be geniuses and brilliant.  As my mom grew up, tensions occurred.  I understand, having spent some one-on-one time with my grandmother when she took me to Cambridge University in England with her for a summer session.

My grandmother was always very concerned about her body image.  Her mom and sister were rotund Missouri farm gals.  Not my grandmother, who artistically made herself into a remarkable woman.  So my mom never felt she lived up to her adoptive mother’s expectations.  Turns out biology gave us big bones and stocky frames from our Arkansas/Tennessee farm stock.

My mom died believing she had been stolen from her parents due to the stories she consumed about Georgia Tann and her methods and the odd circumstance of being born in Virginia but adopted as an infant in Memphis Tennessee.

Octavia Spencer with author, Barbara Raymond

After Good Housekeeping ran an article written by Raymond, she received many letters from people asking her if she could help them find their child who had been stolen.  She decided to research and write a book about Tann.  She placed ads in newspapers and received 900 replies.

Because of Tann’s ties to Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley and Memphis political Boss E H Crump, as well as other important people around town, she was able to falsify birth certificates as well as hide or destroy records.  In my mom’s adoption file, I found clear evidence that Tann was certainly not above fudging some details.  Tann’s efforts to hide her criminal activities were instrumental in the extensive use of sealed adoption records all over the United States.  I have my mom’s records (which she was denied in the early 1990s) only because Tennessee decided to make them available to the victims.