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Girls Who Went Away

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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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.


Fessler's book is the culmination of interviews with more than 100 women who had been forced to give up their children for adoption between the end of World War II and Roe v. Wade (1973). The book discusses all facets of the complex issue, including the women's discovery that they were pregnant out of wedlock, going away to maternity homes to deliver the babies, and later searching for their adult children. Fessler (photography, Rhode Island Sch. of Design) successfully intertwines the women's personal stories with descriptive text, placing the accounts in historical context. An adoptee herself, she begins and ends the book with the search for her own birth mother. She points out that although the circumstances of the women she interviewed varied (generally, they had answered queries Fessler had placed in newspapers), they all shared a sense of overwhelming loss and isolation in their grief. Thought-provoking and thoroughly researched, this book is recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Nicole Mitchell, Birmingham, AL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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 fianc?, 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 2006 Reed Business Information.

A wrenching, riveting book. ("Chicago Tribune") A remarkably well-researched and accomplished book. ("The New York Times Book Review") Haunting. ("People") Journalism of the first order, moving and informative in equal measure. (San Francisco Chronicle) A remarkably well-researched and accomplished book. (The New York Times Book Review) A wrenching, riveting book. (Chicago Tribune) Haunting. (People)

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