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

ISBN13: 9781594200946
ISBN10: 1594200947
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"'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 fiancé, 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Given the queasy ambivalence that is still attached to adoption, statistics on the subject remain notoriously unreliable. Scholars and social workers estimate that between 5 million and 10 million American mothers have relinquished children for adoption. But little hard data exist on individual women, and next to nothing is known about the emotional consequences of their experiences. Shrouded in secrecy,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"[A]n incredible and deeply moving look at the personal cost suffered by the women who gave up their babies, voluntarily and involuntarily....[H]eartrending..." Booklist (Starred Review)

Review:

"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." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Fessler successfully intertwines the women's personal stories with descriptive text, placing the accounts in historical context....Thought-provoking and thoroughly researched..." Library Journal

Review:

"Fessler interviewed more than 100 women across the country who surrendered their children, and she gives them ample opportunity to tell their stories in their own words and for the first time, weaving their oral histories together with a perceptive and telling description of the social climate that pressured them so heavily." San Francisco Chronicle

Synopsis:

A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the astonishing untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade.

Synopsis:

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.

About 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.

Table of Contents

The Girls Who Went Away 1. My Own Story as an Adoptee

2. Breaking the Silence

Dorothy II

Annie

3. Good Girls v. Bad Girls

Nancy I

Claudia

4. Discovery and Shame

Marge

Yvonne

5. The Family's Fears

Jeanette

Ruth

6. Going Away

Karen I

Pam

7. Birth and Surrender

Margaret

Leslie

8. The Aftermath

Susan III

Madeline

9. Search and Reunion

Susan II

Jennifer

10. Talking and Listening

Lydia

Linda I

11. Every Mother but My Own

Afterword

A Note on the Interviews

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

monamatic, January 23, 2008 (view all comments by monamatic)
I haven't yet read the book but I will because the son I gave up for adoption is. I was one of those 'girls' whose families gave what they thought was support. I know my son now, thank God. Hopefully reading this book will give me insight into the questions he still has and how to answer them, openly and honestly. Thank you for giving thousands of women a chance to find our own answers to why we made the decisions and remind us that we have choices as to how to deal with them now.
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(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
KraftyKRae, July 18, 2007 (view all comments by KraftyKRae)
An article about the book "The Girls Who Went Away" caught my eye in our local newspaper The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida. Back in 1986 my son got his high school girlfriend (a foster child) pregnant. They planned to have a secret abortion but I convinced them to face the music. My firstborn grandson was born in Miami and given up for adoption. For all these years I have been carrying around all the information on his birth in hopes that someday I can find him. A part of me is missing. Is there a book for grandparents?
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(2 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
joannej, December 26, 2006 (view all comments by joannej)
An a member of this "secret group", I have not had a chance to read her book. But I will as soon as I can. I may even recognize some names. I did have a reunion after 27 years, initiated by my daughter I relinquished. She was very curious where she came from, medical history and found out, as others did, that information was not true that was presented to both sides. I have been able to discuss this more openly with others and one person said: oh, I always wanted to know an unwed mother! I was shocked because she was totally out of touch with the pain I endured and its life-changing, permanent impact on my life. I was just a "novelty" to her.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781594200946
Subtitle:
The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade
Author:
Fessler, Ann
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
Adoption
Subject:
Women's Studies - History
Subject:
Birthmothers
Subject:
Women's Studies
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
May 4, 2006
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9.48x6.32x1.17 in. 1.33 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Feminist Studies » Family
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » Reproductive Rights

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Penguin Press - English 9781594200946 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'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 fiancé, 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[A]n incredible and deeply moving look at the personal cost suffered by the women who gave up their babies, voluntarily and involuntarily....[H]eartrending..."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Fessler successfully intertwines the women's personal stories with descriptive text, placing the accounts in historical context....Thought-provoking and thoroughly researched..."
"Review" by , "Fessler interviewed more than 100 women across the country who surrendered their children, and she gives them ample opportunity to tell their stories in their own words and for the first time, weaving their oral histories together with a perceptive and telling description of the social climate that pressured them so heavily."
"Synopsis" by , A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the astonishing untold history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade.
"Synopsis" by ,
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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