The Baby Thief: The untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption

This was a fascinating book. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the current social philosophy regarding expectant mothers, poor single mothers and their children.

Babythief

From the author’s website comes this synopsis:

For almost three decades, Georgia Tann was nationally lauded for her
work at her children’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. In reality she was
selling many of the boys and girls – often stolen from their parents –
to wealthy clients across America. While building her black market
business Georgia also invented modern adoption, popularizing it,
commercializing it, and corrupting it with secrecy by originating the
policy of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates – a practice that
continues to this day.

Not only did Georgia Tann exploit women and children, she also capitalized on the zeitgeist of the times in post-WWII America and essentially "created" the adoption "market" as it is today. Anyone interested in adoption history should read this book. As I read this book I was continuously surprised by how much of the current practices in the adoption industry today is direct descendant of Tann’s unethical adoption work, and how both the courts and society still pretend that closed records are for the "protection of the birth mother" when it’s evident that no one ever really cared a damn about birth mothers.

Author Barbara Bisantz Raymond is an adoptive parent who investigated Georgia Tann. This is the story of America as well as the individual person; without a society that turns its back on the most vulnerable, a single woman – no matter how evil – could not have accomplished such horrific acts alone. This book implicates us all.

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4 thoughts on “The Baby Thief: The untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption

  1. I love this book, too. This is one of the few adoption books that I recommend to everybody. While I think there were other issues that played into adoption secrecy, Tann is key to what we have today. It’s “amusing” to point out that NCFA, ACLU, NARAL, PP, RTL and the rest of the adopta-do-gooders all subscribe to Tann’s formula. National Council for Adoption: Carrying on the Georgia Tann tradition since 1980.

  2. I love this book, too. This is one of the few adoption books that I recommend to everybody. While I think there were other issues that played into adoption secrecy, Tann is key to what we have today. It’s “amusing” to point out that NCFA, ACLU, NARAL, PP, RTL and the rest of the adopta-do-gooders all subscribe to Tann’s formula. National Council for Adoption: Carrying on the Georgia Tann tradition since 1980.

  3. This book had the most powerful influence on me since Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood.
    I think the thing about this book that most blew me away was that she basically invented adoption as it exists today with the aid and abettment of many crooked cronies who existed in a chain of under and above ground relationships across the country. She was a great example of a connector, as described in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
    All because she stridently felt that the removal of children from poverty, even if they died from abuse or neglect in transit, was better than leaving the children with their mothers. (Her greed seemed to be secondary, though powerful as well). And the most damaging aspect, the secrecy was so obviously instituted to protect herself and the industry she created. I can’t even look at my kids’ court ordered birth certificates now, without thinking of the woman who invented false birth certificates.
    One woman affected adoption rules and laws throughout the world! I have to wonder if she had not done it, would it exist as it does today? Who says one person can’t change the world? (Hopefully for better as well as worse!)
    It was also disturbing that she was both a lesbian and sexually abusive but I felt that the author handled that aspect with utmost sensitivity and never once drew any kind of parallel between sexual orientation and abuse.
    The world in which Tann began her work and exploited the poor exists today in many places and makes international adoption such a successful and fluid source of children for infertiles. That is pointed out briefly in the book but the author was wise not to try to take that on as well. It would require volumes and volumes and still, too few would take notice because adoption of the poor by the rich is always and above all lauded as a noble thing, even when it is completely wrong. It makes my head ache.

  4. My question is: what do we, as adoptive parents do with this information? I feel in some ways that although I was as diligent as I could be in pursuing an ethical adoption, I am somehow expected to forever wear sackcloth and ashes because I adopted. Do we never adopt again? Do we discourage anyone from ever adopting? I’m not trying to be disrespectful, I genuinely have no idea what I should do, having read this book.

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