I’ve lent it several times, but my book’s lending days are over. It takes a long time for it to come back home. The Girls Who Went Away is powerful enough to linger with its readers.
I’m taking a closer look on the Advancing Genealogist at select suggested reading titles from my lecture syllabi. I’m starting with an eye-opening book that changed my understanding about the potential experiences of people frequently sought in my past confidential intermediary work. Birth mothers.
Confidential intermediary training taught me to listen to and respect all parties in an adoption. But it could never prepare me to understand a system which treated women poorly well before I was born. The Girls Who Went Away opened my eyes to that system.
The author, Ann Fessler, was adopted. Fessler sought her birth mother. She also set out to document the experiences of other birth mothers. She collected oral histories of over one hundred women who placed children for adoption between the end of WWII and the Roe v. Wade decision (1973). Some of their stories appear between the covers of The Girls Who Went Away. They are heart-wrenching. You’ll get angry. Those who were not yet born when the events in those stories occurred will find past treatment of unmarried (and sometimes married) pregnant women shocking. These women are among us as mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and friends.
Anyone involved in post-adoption research simply must read this book. It will allow for a better understanding of those sought. Those interested in women’s studies will find it educational. Counselors, ministers, and others who lend guidance will be enlightened. Adopted persons and those who know a birth mother might gain new understanding. Birth mothers might read it to realize that they are not alone.
I hope that The Girls Who Went Away has helped me to better listen to those who speak, and to support those unable to tell their stories.
Ann Fessler. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. Also Penguin Books, 2007.
Fessler has a website with more on the book.
A related Facebook page has additional information on what they call The Baby Scoop Era.