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.