Sunday, August 19, 2007

"She didn't even perm her hair,"

It’s hard to understand, without being immersed in the poisonous air of then.”

~Doris Lessing, Under My Skin, Vol. 1

Georgia Tann was the highly lauded American social worker who changed the way America thought about adoption in the early twentieth century. That she was also an abusive, negligent kidnapper of babies, children, and adolescents; selling her charges to the highest bidder, caring for no one's welfare but her own is chronicled in Barbara Bisantz Raymond's highly readable, informative and immensely interesting The Baby Thief: the untold story of Georgia Tann, The Baby Seller who Corrupted Adoption.

The Baby Thief begins by placing Georgia and Memphis in their time and place in history, which were uniquely suited to each other. Before Georgia's time (although this book is a bit contradictory on this particular point) stranger adoption was not a common option in England or the American society modeled after it. Eugenics was becoming popular and children of unwed, poor mothers were thought to be genetically inferior. Georgia Tann introduced the idea of adoptive children being "blank slates" ready to be written upon by the environment of their new, wealthy homes. She also was a very strong supporter of closed records, to protect the adoptive parent (and in her case, often, to hide kidnapped children from parents who might be seeking them). It is rather surprising to learn how much of modern "closed" adoption practices came from this self-serving woman and at the same time we do have some things to be grateful for her to. There is a certain sense of her place as well as our modern concept of adoption in the broader culture of adoption's history.

There is the usual bias though that all adoptees have a hole that can only be filled by finding their genetic parentage. Raymond feels a certain sense of guilt as an adoptive mother. I, of course, am a biased bystander but i am also in the majority in that i have no wish to seek (the statistic that fewer than ten percent of adoptees actually do choose this option is often left out of those "missing piece" stories~though this is one of a much different colour.) I am definitely not against legislation to make opening records easier but i resent the implication that we are all seeking wanderers...(just had to add my [not-so-missing] piece...)

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