The Girls Who Went Away

The Girls Who Went Away

The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade

Book - 2006
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A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade

In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade . The Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption. Based on Fessler's groundbreaking interviews, it brings to brilliant life these women's voices and the spirit of the time, allowing each to share her own experience in gripping and intimate detail. Today, when the future of the Roe decision and women's reproductive rights stand squarely at the front of a divisive national debate, Fessler brings to the fore a long-overlooked history of single women in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies.

In 2002, Fessler, an adoptee herself, traveled the country interviewing women willing to speak publicly about why they relinquished their children. Researching archival records and the political and social climate of the time, she uncovered a story of three decades of women who, under enormous social and family pressure, were coerced or outright forced to give their babies up for adoption. Fessler deftly describes the impossible position in which these women found themselves: as a sexual revolution heated up in the postwar years, birth control was tightly restricted, and abortion proved prohibitively expensive or life endangering. At the same time, a postwar economic boom brought millions of American families into the middle class, exerting its own pressures to conform to a model of family perfection. Caught in the middle, single pregnant women were shunned by family and friends, evicted from schools, sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, and often treated with cold contempt by doctors, nurses, and clergy.

The majority of the women Fessler interviewed have never spoken of their experiences, and most have been haunted by grief and shame their entire adult lives. A searing and important look into a long-overlooked social history, The Girls Who Went Away is their story.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2006
ISBN: 9781594200946
1594200947
Characteristics: 354 p

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t
therapymutt
Aug 02, 2017

I ALWAYS FELT IT WASN'T PEAS AND CARROTS FOR BIRTH MOTHERS WHO ADOPT OUT THEIR CHILD NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCES. THAT THEY JUST MOVE ON AND CHARGE THAT BABE TO THE GAME. THE BOOKS ALSO IS A WELCOME REMINDER OF HOW FAR WOMEN HAVE COME IN THE SOCIAL HIERACHY AND THAT WE ARE SOMETIMES OUR WORST ENEMY.

q
Quietday
Jan 30, 2017

I don't give 5 stars easily but I haven't been this moved by a book in a very long while.

The fascinating, heartbreaking and courageous stories shared in these interviews are a stark reminder that force, coercion and social conformation come at a terribly high price. Fessler did such a thorough job of the Sociology behind these trends and the societal expectations in the US post WWII. In a world where single parenthood is freely accepted and often chosen, it is hard to imagine these young women being put through what they were in the 50's, 60's & 70's and the disastrous aftermath to their personal health.

I will say the title misled me a bit because Roe vs. Wade is hardly mentioned. The glaring problem is the complete and total lack of sex education (even through the 60's) and failure to disseminate health information and birth control. So many of the young men walked away scot free and so many of the mothers of pregnant daughters shamed them by hiding them or caring what the neighbours would think over asking them what they wanted. Some of these women were already in college or university and their parents still sent them to homes to have and give away their babies.

Okay, the bright spots. The father who drove alone out to the unwed mother's home every Sunday and took his daughter and 3 pregnant friends on the town every week- to the movies and for ice cream. What a wonderful person. The half of these studies who reconnected with their relinquished children with success in nearly every case, the healing that came and the wonderful partners who were unconditional and loving to their spouses and the children they had given up once they found out. And finally, the fact that most of the children were, in fact, raised by loving families though most felt a gaping void that was not filled until they found their birth parents.

The Catholic church, though in some cases well-intentioned, sure botched this entire thing. They come out stinking like a rotten egg in these stories, especially the priests who condemn the young women to a life of worthlessness and shame again and again. But I suppose structures like these only retain their power by the support of people who uphold their behaviour, like so many of the parents.

Over all, really fascinating and moving.

AL_RACHEL Nov 08, 2016

I read this book in 5 hours, it was so engrossing. It made me think of a side of adoption that had honestly never occurred to me. It never crossed my mind, even being the child of an adoption, that the birth mother would still be in pain about it so many years later. I said a prayer for my birth mother on my 30th birthday that year hoping that she had made peace with the decision that she made for me. I am eternally grateful for her sacrifice.

shokolit Oct 24, 2015

This book was hard for me to read. The stories are so sad. A mother will never be able to forget the baby she gave up to adoption. Its tragic to think of an era when women who had babies out of wed lock were forced to give them for adoption.

m
mlpeacock1227
Aug 03, 2012

This book opened my eyes to the way that women in the fifties and sixties were treated. I am a young feminist, and I think it is very important for me to understand what my sisters have gone through. It is largely an ethnography of this group of women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption. The book is composed almost entirely of their stories. It is a sad read, but it was well worth my time.

n
njaneal
Nov 22, 2006

A must read book. It has many memoirs of young girls who were bacically forced to give up children to adoption. Reading the book explains so much about the birth mothers and what they went through during the pregnancy and for a lifetime.

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Between 1945 and 1973, an unprecedented 1.5 million women in the United States surrendered children for adoption due to enormous social pressure. They were expelled from high schools and colleges and forced to leave jobs as teachers and nurses because they were pregnant. They were sent away to distant relatives or to maternity homes to make the “problem” disappear. These women gave birth to their first child, left it behind and returned home, where they were expected to keep their secret, move on and forget.

A social history of adoption from the perspective of (primarily) unwed, teenage women who were forced to surrender their infants. This combination of personal interviews and scholarly information gives a good perspective on a hidden and unspoken of time. The author is an adoptee who briefly mentions her search and reunion with her birthmother. A must-read for adoptees born before 1973.

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