Ginny Messina's Reviews > The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
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May 16, 08

bookshelves: history

A fascinating and heartbreaking study of the experiences of girls who had out-of-wedlock babies in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It is told mostly through personal narratives with some additional text about demographics and mores of the middle 20th century. According to the author, one and one half million babies were given up for adoption in the years between 1945 and 1973. Of the women who contributed to this book, nearly all of them were forced to surrender their babies for adoption, (often after bonding with them for three or four or more days) and most suffered devastating emotional consequences for the rest of their lives. Not only did these girls and women surrender their babies to an unknown future, but they were absolutely powerless to participate in the decision.

Despite the subtitle, this book is not a political statement about abortion. Rather it examines all of the issues that severely limited the choices that unmarried women had—-not just lack of safe, legal abortion, but also lack of sex education and access to birth control (illegal in some states for unmarried women), as well as the lack of an economic support system (child care, and decent wages for single moms) that might have made it possible for them to consider keeping their babies. But probably the single most important factor that forced these women to give up their babies was the horrible stigma attached to being an unwed mother; in most cases, parents simply would not allow their daughters to bring their babies home.



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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Ginny, It's been on my very long list. Another great and helpful review. Thanks.


Cheryl S. I've got this on my to-read list and plan to order it soon. I remember well how girls were treated and how demeaning it all was and have often wondered how they coped in later life not knowing what happened to their children.


Ginny Messina Hi Cheryl and Lisa. Thanks for your comments. Cheryl, I think I heard about this book through your updates. It was really a compelling read, and I think you'll both like it. I just gave it to a friend who was adopted in the 1950s, and will be interested to hear what he thinks.


message 4: by Granny (new)

Granny I remember all too well being in high school in the late 1950's and hearing about a girl "who went to live with her aunt in Miami." She was actually in a home for unwed mothers. No one ever spoke of it. It was terrible for those girls, so ostracized you would think they had committed mass murder. When it happened, you never, ever saw the girls again. The boys? As usual, they stayed in school, and went on with their lives. What heartbreak for the girls.


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