The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade [NOOK Book]

Overview

In this deeply moving and myth-shattering work, Ann Fessler brings out into the open for the first time the astonishing untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade. An adoptee who was herself surrendered during those years and recently made contact with her mother, Ann Fessler brilliantly brings to life the voices of more than a hundred women, as well as the spirit of those times, allowing the ...
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The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

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Overview

In this deeply moving and myth-shattering work, Ann Fessler brings out into the open for the first time the astonishing untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade. An adoptee who was herself surrendered during those years and recently made contact with her mother, Ann Fessler brilliantly brings to life the voices of more than a hundred women, as well as the spirit of those times, allowing the women to tell their stories in gripping and intimate detail.


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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In what many remember as dark distant days, 1.5 million single American women surrendered their out-of-wedlock babies rather than suffer shame or controversy. In some cases, they didn't even receive the chance to make the decision: Their parents or maternity home caregivers hastily shunted the newborn infants off to adoption. Girls Who Went Away recreates this aspect of the pre-Roe v. Wade era with compelling, often deeply moving oral histories of birth mothers who lost their offspring.
Michael Mewshaw
While striving for diversity of age, race and social background, Fessler discovered that her sources spoke with one voice about the early trauma that continues, in their telling, to blight their lives, scar their psyches and undermine their marriages and their relationships with their parents. Open the book to any page, and sad refrains repeat themselves with the plangency of a ballad.
— The Washinton Post
Publishers Weekly
Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to keep the baby," says Joyce, in a story typical of the birth mothers, mostly white and middle-class, who vent here about being forced to give up their babies for adoption from the 1950s through the early '70s. They recall callous parents obsessed with what their neighbors would say; maternity homes run by unfeeling nuns who sowed the seeds of lifelong guilt and shame; and social workers who treated unwed mothers like incubators for married couples. More than one birth mother was emotionally paralyzed until she finally met the child she'd relinquished years earlier. In these pages, which are sure to provoke controversy among adoptive parents, birth mothers repeatedly insist that their babies were unwanted by society, not by them. Fessler, a photography professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, is an adoptee whose birth mother confessed that she had given her away even though her fianc , who wasn't Fessler's father, was willing to raise her. Although at times rambling and self-pitying, these knowing oral histories are an emotional boon for birth mothers and adoptees struggling to make sense of troubled pasts. (May 8) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fessler's book is the culmination of interviews with more than 100 women who had been forced to give up their children for adoption between the end of World War II and Roe v. Wade (1973). The book discusses all facets of the complex issue, including the women's discovery that they were pregnant out of wedlock, going away to maternity homes to deliver the babies, and later searching for their adult children. Fessler (photography, Rhode Island Sch. of Design) successfully intertwines the women's personal stories with descriptive text, placing the accounts in historical context. An adoptee herself, she begins and ends the book with the search for her own birth mother. She points out that although the circumstances of the women she interviewed varied (generally, they had answered queries Fessler had placed in newspapers), they all shared a sense of overwhelming loss and isolation in their grief. Thought-provoking and thoroughly researched, this book is recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Nicole Mitchell, Birmingham, AL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oral history featuring the voices of women who gave up their babies for adoption from 1945 to 1973, put into context by the author's exposition on the mood of the times. Fessler (Photography/Rhode Island School of Design), a video-installation artist and adoptee who has created a number of autobiographical works on adoption, recorded some one hundred women. Narratives from 18 of them appear here, with shorter selections from many others. Drawing on government statistics, sociology, history, medical and legal texts, as well as personal journals and the popular press, she surrounds their stories with descriptions of social mores during the three postwar decades. In an era when sex education was meager and birth control difficult to obtain, more than 1.5 million babies were given up for adoption. The notion that these children were simply not wanted by their mothers is quickly dispelled by the stories told here, which make it immediately clear that the unwed women, many still teenagers, had little choice. Adoption was presented as the only route that would preserve a girl's reputation. She was told to surrender the baby, forget what had happened and move on with her life. Fessler's transcripts reveal that forgetting was impossible and moving on not easily done. Although the stories are at times repetitious, individual voices speak clearly of guilt, abandonment, loneliness, helplessness, fear and coercion. For many, shame and secrecy shaped their lives for years afterward, affecting their relationships with husbands and subsequent offspring, even the ability to form healthy marriages or bear children. The author brackets these oral histories with the story of her own long-delayed search forher birth mother and their eventual meeting. By giving voice to these women, Fessler has enabled adoptees to view the circumstances of their birth with greater understanding. A valuable contribution to the literature on adoption.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101644294
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 138,866
  • File size: 472 KB

Meet the Author

Ann Fessler is professor of photography at Rhode Island School of Design and a specialist in video-installation art. She won a prestigious Radcliffe Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, for 2004, to complete her extensive research for this book. She is also the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the LEF Foundation, Boston; the Rhode Island Foundation; the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities; Art Matters, New York; and the Maryland State Arts Council. An adoptee herself, she begins and ends the book with the story of her own successful quest to find her birth mother.


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Table of Contents

1 My own story as an adoptee 1
2 Breaking the silence 7
3 Good girls v. bad girls 29
4 Discovery and shame 67
5 The family's fears 101
6 Going away 133
7 Birth and surrender 175
8 The aftermath 207
9 Search and reunion 247
10 Talking and listening 287
11 Every mother but my own 319
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Birth mothers Bible for healing

    The adoptee sister to my son suggested I read The Adoption Triangle, I couldn't find the book, but took out three others on adoption to read. As a birth mother from 1972 who 'went away', I was totally un-educated to modern day reunion practices to which present times has us in as adoptee to birth mothers. Then "The girls that went away" - was suggested to me by another birth mother. What an educational book! The stories were personal,heart felt, and Real. The book helped me realize my family was just like most of the rest of that era. I was no longer standing on an island by myself. Ann Fessler did a wonderful job of pulling together facts of an era where shame and guilt was placed on the platter of every single girl who found herself in trouble. There was so much healing that took place as I turned each page. I have ordered a copy for each one in my first family to receive in order to really know their sibling and daughter's struggle during that nine month's and years afterwards. This is a five star book for anyone in the adoption triangle, birth mother, adopted mother, and adoptee. All parties will understand each other better when they close the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2013

    Harrowing first-person accounts from "girls who got in trouble"

    As a suburban male coming of age in the late 1960s, I can remember the snickering about the "girls who got into trouble," though I never knew any. Ms. Fessler's book is at its best when she lets those girls (now women) tell their story in their own words. I was reminded that paternity testing did not exist then but the double-standard did, so the fathers in almost all cases walked away unburdened by any responsibility for the children they fathered. The first-person accounts of the pressure to relinquish, the shame place on them by the "grown-ups," the lack of counseling, the isolation and sorrow and lingering sense of loss are heartbreaking. I felt, though, that the book was unbalanced. While my personal belief (as an adoptee from the era examined in the book) is that mothers and their children fare best when kept together, surely there are cases when a mother who relinquishes a child finds the resilience to move on to a fulfilling life post-relinquishment. That's a minor complaint, though, for a book that personalizes the damage done to so many young women by post-WWII culture in America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2006

    Powerful

    I'm 47 years old. While I recall hearing my older siblings talk about 'girls who went away', I didn't personally know anyone who did. I came 'of age' just as birth control became more readily available and I was 15 at the time of Roe v. Wade. There were certainly girls during my early teens who 'messed around' and we all knew who they were, but none of them became pregnant (at least they never 'went away'). When I would hear my siblings and their friends talk about the girls of their generation who did suddenly disappear, I assumed these girls were glad to give their babies up so they could get on with their lives. I also assumed they had been careless about birth control never imagining that they were never told about it or how difficult it was to acquire. I also assumed that as they aged, they probably had moments of fleeting curiosity about their baby. Simple things like 'I wonder what he/she looks like'. I never imagined the depth and intensity of their loss. I was mesmerized and heart broken by each story in this book. I'm so glad Ann Fessler took the time to gather their stories and that the women were willing to share them with the rest of us. Bless their hearts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2006

    refutation of the first two reviews

    I've read the book and it is a very depressing and harrowing account of what adoption CAN be, but not necessarily what adoption always is. I am adopted and have two great parents who did not attempt to exploit my birth mother--who decided to give me up voluntarily. My adoption was facilitated professionally and I was in good health the entire time. I know this because Holt International adoption agency is very respected throughout the world and does a great service by facilitating adoptions from poor nations. However, from my own experience and research I must corroborate that many adoptions that occurred several decades ago, before societal acceptance and regulations, were susceptible to greed and manipulation, as this book asserts. It certainly highlights a part of what adoption was and can be still. However, to attribute these accounts to the overall culture of adoption would be a mistake. Hopefully, this book can bring some awareness that adoption has come a long way but that there are still negative remnants from the past.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

    Very moving. Imagine being a young single girl and going into l

    Very moving. Imagine being a young single girl and going into labor without your mom to talk to you - being alone - feeling rejected by Society and the man you thought you loved. Feel the torment of having to give up the child because you can't afford to take care of him/her and not having any choice. Being afraid to tell future boyfriends or others about your illegitimate child for fear of rejection again.

    I was quite horrified that the Catholics seemed to be the worst!!! How dare they charge the girl for her care, making her work hard while pregnant, ignoring the needs of this young woman and treating her like dirt and yet freely giving her child away like they were doing her a favor. They even lied about some information making it near-impossible or impossible for the mother and child to ever be reunited at a future time.

    That whole time society never seemed to kick the butts of the men who contributed to this condition and their attitude that, "It's not my problem" as they moved on to their next conquest. I know there were a few young men that married the girl after her child was given up and it is sad that they didn't do the right thing in time to keep the child.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    A must read for adoptees

    I am an adoptee born in the time that girls were sent away. My birthmother went to a maternity home and I was placed for adoption thru that same agency. Thanks to their falsification of legal records I will most likely never meet her which of course was their intent. I picked up this book on a Sat afternoon and by Sun morning I had finished it, I don't think I read it, I inhaled and absorbed it into my soul. Other than an email correspondance with one of the girls that was at the same home as my birthmother I had never had an idea of what it was like for her. Thank you Ann for this gift of a look into the world she endured, I was forever changed from my fantasy world of what I had imagined. If you are any part of the triad and know someone whose life was shaped by this time period this is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2012

    The Girls Who Went Away

    This book is incredibly enlightening it changed my entire perspective on adoption. I LOVE this novel & all that it offers. Not only do you get statistical figures, but also real heart wrenching stories from women forced to give their children away. I read this for my sociology class in college & I could not put it down.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    a must read

    this book is a very intense read....could not read it in just a couple of sittings as it definitly pulls many emotions from the reader. Having grown up in the era that the author is writing about probably made it more so. I would recommend this book to all women of all ages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    Sparrowstar

    Name: Sparrow&star <br> Her pelt is a mix of brown giving it a soft feathery look. Like a sparrow! &#9786 <br> golden-yellow eyes <br> Loyal. Caring. Fierce. Strong. <br> Kin: Whispfeather and Nightfury (loners) <br> Sp&alpha<_>rro&omega<_>&star

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  • Posted June 18, 2012

    I pondered what to write in this review from early on in this bo

    I pondered what to write in this review from early on in this book. Since I wasn't born until the late 1970s, there's much about life / culture in mid-century America that I just don't know. Sometimes history gets watered down and altered over time. My perception of life in the 1950s and 60s was clearly not everyone's reality.

    As a mom, I cried for the women and their babies in this book. The injustices are unspeakable. It was an eye-opening and necessary read. I also have a better sense of how we've gotten &quot;here&quot;.

    This book also caused me to reflect upon the human race over thousands of years. We are flawed and our experiences are flawed. We merely survive and live by the ever-changing rules of society.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2012

    Highly recommend

    This book reveals truths never discussed in the open.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    Eye Opening!

    this is such a great book that openly talks about a subject that was so taboo at the time! being born in the 80's, it's mind boggling to me to see how we treated young women and their unexpected children just a few decades ago. a great read!

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  • Posted November 29, 2010

    Will change your life.

    "The Girls Who Went Away" was a required reading book in a history class in college. I decided to start reading it just as the deadline approached before a quiz. The minute I opened the first page, I couldn't stop reading. I never realized the heartbreak so many un-wed women had to endure. It keeps your interest with heart wrenching stories. The only problem is realizing these are TRUE tales of women in a time in America where things seemed to be sugar coated.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    Great book!

    As an adoptee, I found this book to be very helpful in understanding the culture surrounding my birth mother's decision. Growing up as I did in an era where being unmarried & pregnant is not as big a deal, it's difficult for me to really understand the condemnation and stigma these women faced, how REAL the punishment was for being unmarried & pregnant. I understand her a little better now, and I'm sending her my copy so that maybe she can understand herself a little better, too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2008

    I truly couldn't put this book down

    This was a wonderful book that kept my attention from start to finish. As a girl born in the 70's, I had no idea young ladies were treated so unfairly. It really makes me look around at women that may have been affected by it (and are still affected by it). This books provides both real life stories and historical background into the issue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2008

    Unexpected

    I was born in 1961, so my interest in this topic stemmed from becoming close with several adults who are adoptees. I became even more interested after I mentioned something in passing to my 16 year old niece and made reference to the time before abortion was available, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I found this book dispelled many myths about the feelings and intentions of birth mothers. I found it alternately very sad (stories of girls being forced to do something they didn't want to do) and very inspiring (stories of joyous, healing reunions). I'd recommend it to anyone who's life has been touched by this issue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2008

    A Treasure to me an adopted child

    My Mother gave me up for adoption and I always wondered how she felt. This book gave me alot of insight. What a brave courageous woman she was. I just found birth family, but regrettfully my Mother had already passed away. One day I hope to meet her and tell her how much I love her and thought about her everyday!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2007

    A reviewer

    Great insite into a taboo subject. The interject of statistics and facts between the real life stories is both fasinating and heart breaking. Kudos to Ann Fessler for bring these women's untold stories to the printed page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2007

    A must for birthmothers...

    Though this book brought up some grief for me that was long buried, I found it also liberating and healing. Though my story happened 20 years later, some of the things these ladies expressed were written right from my own heart. I am grateful for this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2007

    Very insightful

    I could not put this book down! Very informative and easy to read. Easy to relate to. I think I read the first half of the book in one sitting!

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