The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption

The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption

Barbara Bisantz Raymond

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 1402758634

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The story, first told by Barbara Raymond in a magazine article that inspired a 60 Minutes feature, was shocking. Georgia Tann, nationally lauded for arranging adoptions out of her children’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, was actually a baby seller who terrorized poor, often unwed mothers by stealing their children and selling them to wealthy clients like actors Joan Crawford and Dick Powell. Parents would keep toddlers indoors, and the mother superior of a local orphanage hid babies in attics, but, protected by political boss Ed Crump, Tann sold over 5,000 children, and did much worse. So many died through neglect that Memphis’s infant mortality rate soared to the highest in the country. Tann abused some of her charges, and placed others with pedophiles. During her twenty-six years of operation from 1924 to 1950, Tann also virtually invented modern American adoption, popularizing it, commercializing it, and corrupting it with secrecy. To cover her crimes, Tann falsified adoptees’ birth certificates, sealing their true ones and issuing new ones that portrayed adoptive parents as birth parents. This practice was approved by legislators across the country who believed it would spare adoptees the onus of illegitimacy.
An adoptive mother and award-winning journalist who interviewed hundreds of Georgia Tann victims, Barbara Raymond has written a riveting account of a little known and dark chapter in American history. Its themes continue to reverberate, with most states still denying adult adoptees their original birth certificates and harboring other remnants of Tann’s corrupt practices.

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delivered into wealth, and that they were emotionally attached to their new parents. But at the time of Georgia’s unmasking, some children had been in their adoptive homes for less than a week. And her last wards hadn’t even been adopted. With no help from the local or greater environment, parents wishing to recover their children needed considerable cunning, or luck. Twenty-three-year-old Josie Stateler distracted an aide at the Home on Poplar Avenue, stole back her fourteen-month-old daughter,

they were tolerated, even by Memphians under Ed Crump. I may have been overestimating Memphians, or underestimating Crump, who robbed citizens who displeased him of their jobs and, often, their homes. It had not been simply Gerald Stratton, the former county court clerk who’d criticized Crump’s support of the poll tax, who had been driven from the city. Pharmacist J. B. Martin, a black man who, refusing to be “voted” by Crump’s Machine, supported Republican Wendell Wilkie for president in 1940,

Charles Carter, a pediatrician who in the 1940s volunteered his services to the Home, was particularly disturbed by Georgia’s overriding of his orders regarding a very sick infant. “I had prescribed penicillin, and learned later that she’d ordered her nurses to stop giving it to the baby, but continue to chart it as if they were,” he told me. “Georgia Tann simply would not listen. She would say, ‘I’ll take your words under advisement,’ but she never did. She did what she felt best, regardless of

unhitched the trailer of tomatoes so it rolled down the road and turned over and squashed everything and he beat me again and I ran away.” He was caught, however, sent back to Georgia Tann, re-placed and placed again until he ran away for good at fifteen. His grandfather got him a job in construction, which he kept for nine years. Visiting an uncle at age sixteen, he fell in love with a girl from a nearby farm. They married three years later, and, when I spoke with him, he and his wife had

loved me. By the time I was ten I started smoothing out, caring more about people and what I was supposed to do …” The years during which the sisters were separated took Mary, who was never adopted, through foster homes and, as she grew older, the Tennessee Industrial Home and the Tullahoma Reform School, from which she escaped three times, only to be caught, returned, and punished. She was discharged at eighteen, and, wearing the clothes she had worn when she’d been admitted five years

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