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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 Paperback – June 26, 2007


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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 + The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child + Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self (Anchor Book)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143038979
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (May 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Perhaps it's no surprise that this story has gone untold for so long, considering the personal nature of the subject and the moral dilemma heaped upon the young women who gave their babies up for adoption. What is astonishing is that Fessler, a photographer and video installation artist writing her debut book, manages to tell this compelling story with a perfectly honed sense of restraint and respect. She handles the large volume of source material nimbly, letting each individual story breathe. The only complaint is that her research method—using a self-selected group—isn't up to snuff for academic rigor. In the face of such glowing critical praise, that lone complaint seems, well, a little academic.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Highly recommend for any adoptee, birth mother, or adopter.
Thomas Throckmorton
My youngest saw this book being reviewed on TV last Spring and I bought a copy while I was visiting her last summer.
Travlyn Womyn
Being one of "The Girls Who Went Away", I really did not know what to expect when I started reading this book.
Donna Farar-Russell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Ingraham Thompson on October 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book was recommended to me by one of the subjects within. As I am an adoptee who was surrendered in the mid 1960's I found the books revelations both informative and unsettling. I had never put the picture in my head of how socially motivated and financially interested some of the adoption agencies of the time were nor the gamut of emotions felt by these birthmothers. This is well researched from a historical standpoint as well as a facinating read delving into the very human feelings shared by those in the triad of adoption. Feelings, I might add, that are not well understood by those outside of this subculture. I have recommended this book to several counselor friends of mine and would do the same for anyone who may find themselves across the couch from persons involved in the adoption process. Mrs. Fessler's book flows very smoothly and is quite an easy read. The books stories are filled with the heart wrenching fear, dissapointment, guilt, anguish and uncertainty felt by many birthmothers but the ultimate message is one of underlying love, resolution and final completion. My final thoughts were of hope. Hope for governmental reform in its policies, hope for institutional reform in their practices and proceedures and hope for adoptee and birth parent alike in the illimination of uncertainties and for final completeness.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on September 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle says it all: this is the hidden history of women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe vs. Wade. Author Ann Fessler balances her chapters with first-person narratives from both the women who gave up children and from adopted children. Fessler's book explores the shame of getting pregnant in the post-WW II era, the lack of birth control education, the lack of medical birth control for unmarried women, and the hurry of "good" families to bury the mortifying secret product of premarital sex. At its core, the book is about psychological pain, for both mother and child. This pain and confusion lasts for a lifetime.

I grew up with sex education, had access to reproductive planning clinics, and went to a high school that had a day care center on site. Modern women take our choices for granted--the choice to use birth control, the choice to keep a child as an unmarried mother, the choice to have an open, structured adoption, the choice to have a closed adoption, and the choice for safe, legal abortion. This was an eye-opening examination of choices (or lack thereof) over the last fifty years.

Fessler has no agenda other than educating the reader about the hidden histories of these shamed, embarrassed unwed mothers. Chapters focus on specific issues such as birth control education, the social stigma of unmarried pregnancy, double standards for men and women, houses that women were shipped off to, the adoption agencies and processes, and the aftermath of adoption. She uses personal narratives to flesh out her history book, but Fessler does not edit the histories to make any specific political point. Her subjects had widely varying experiences and reactions, all of which are captured herein.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Linda on June 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In Lois Lowry's young adult science fiction book The Giver, a young girl hopes to receive a birthmother assignment. Her mother's sharp response was, "Lily!...Don't say that. There's very little honor in that Assignment. The birthmothers never even get to see the new children."

Very little honor indeed. I've been a member of the birthmother sisterhood for 30 years. I relinquished my daughter to adoption in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade. Thankfully I wasn't forced to go away, had a strong say in my decision, and was spared much of the guilt and shame expressed by the courageous, selfless women featured in The Girls Who Went Away. In fact, I received a lot of negative criticism for choosing to have my child. I heard "why didn't you just get rid of it" from "friends" and acquaintances and even the nurse who was in the room when I awoke from the anesthesia. Just try to imagine delivering a baby with no one holding your hand or soothing your brow. There are simply no words for what has to be one of the loneliest, most tragic human experiences. Regardless of the paths traveled by young women faced with a crisis pregnancy, the results are all the same: their lives are dramatically, permanently altered and they all share the same harsh reality--they're childless mothers.

Why revisit such a painful, tragic part of my history? Why let myself get a lump in my throat after reading a few pages? Because I owe it to these women who, some for the very first time, had the courage to speak out and reveal the inhumane treatment they experienced during what should have been the most wonderful moment in their lives. Their stories deserve to be heard, need to be heard.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By LifeboatB on July 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
If you're interested in social history, "The Girls Who Went Away" makes for a fascinating read. Ann Fessler interviewed dozens of women who were sent to homes for "unwed mothers" between the 1945 and 1973. The tales the women tale are harrowing and extremely human. Interspersed with the interviews are Fessler's essays about society at the time, and how the post-war situation affected the average family. The book overturned several assumptions I had always made about life in that time period, e.g., that not many teens were sexually active. The shame of sexuality at the time, and the ridiculous lack of information teenagers were given about their own bodies, created a climate in which thousands of girls became pregnant and were forced to hide out from the world, until they could give birth, relinquish the baby, and return to "normal" teen life. Unfortunately, the reality wasn't so simple. The devastating emotional impact of bringing a pregnancy to term, and then having to give up the child, often without so much as seeing it, haunted these women for the rest of their days. The intense secrecy that surrounded the issue only made things worse. It's impossible to read the book without feeling sympathy for these young women, who were given so little control over their own lives. Although the book doesn't answer every question about adoption, or about how to deal with the problem of teen pregnancy, it's a valuable work that makes a big contribution to our understanding of motherhood. Hopefully psychologists, educators and legislators will learn some lessons from it.
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