Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade” as Want to Read:
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  6,276 ratings  ·  1,083 reviews
A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade

In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and bef
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published May 4th 2006 by Penguin Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Girls Who Went Away, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Girls Who Went Away

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,276 ratings  ·  1,083 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Like so many others who reviewed this book, it brought me to tears. Tears of remembrance, for I became a birthmother in 1961, "persuaded" to surrender my son for adoption "for his own good." But I did not have the luxury of a maternity home to hide in -- those things were expensive, and I was 19, making minimum wage far from home, and forbidden to return until "this is all over with."

Some have called the stories in this book repetitive. Yet, they don't begin to touch the surface. And they desp
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My interest in the "women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade" meant that Ann Fessler probably could not have produced a work on this subject that I would have begun and abandoned. Nevertheless, about one-third of the way through The Girls Who Went Away, I realized that this is a book that I would have to read in "chunklets." Although Fessler does present stats, history, and commentary to capture "the big picture," the book is dominated by the narratives of "t ...more
This wasn't a book I expected to surprise me, but it did. This is one of those times I'm so glad I'm a part of the online book community, because I never would have heard of this book otherwise, and it was a very worthwhile reading experience. I wouldn't have known what I was missing, of course, but I'm glad I know now.

This book completely changed the way I look at adoption. Completely. Like, that's not even hyperbole.

The Girls Who Went Away is not a book about adoption, per se. It's a book abou
Ann Evans
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Oh my! When I had an abortion at 19, a friend who was pregnant at the same time surrendered her child for adoption. Thirty years later I got a letter from her telling me of her anguish and agony looking for her daughter, whom she finally found, after 15 years of searching, in The Netherlands. The daughter didn't want to have a relationship with her, though you never know what might happen some day.

This book told dozens of stories of ruined lives, untold anguish, unfathomable and unexplainable re
Larry Bassett
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is nine years later and this time I am listening to this as an audible book while I follow along with Kindle. I am just as touched by it as I was the first time. This is a book filled with honesty and deep feelings predominately from women who had this experience when they were very young. And for most of them years later, it has not gone away.

As a male I feel quite attached to the content because my first wife and I married when we were in college and just barely 19. Our son was born eight
On a complete accident I managed to stumble across The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade on GoodReads while typing in another title and I have found a new love, which is surprising because I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction works.

I am surprised that his book did not get more press coverage when it was published because (a) it discusses something that most people tried to hush up and (b) it calls for pro-choic
Since I'm not a mom, my opinion of this book can't be wholly trusted, but nonetheless, here it is:

Fessler compiled personal accounts from women who got pregnant out of wedlock in the 50s and 60s and had their children taken from them under the guise of "voluntary adoption." Every single one of these accounts was unjust and upsetting: Girls were ostracized by their own families, they were made to feel unworthy of motherhood, they weren't informed of their legal rights and - in many cases - were b
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
The Girls Who Went Away is a heartbreaking, enlightening, and honest story – extraordinarily well told through the voices of over 100 birth mothers taking place post WWII to early 70s. Ann Fessler, an adoptee herself, did remarkable research recounting their experiences. The book shares stories of the birth mothers (many very naive) who were forced or manipulated into giving up their child/children. This was an accepting/normal practice at the time but the repercussions were physical, emotional ...more
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
””You asked me why I agreed to be interviewed and I think it was because you were here, because you came here and spoke to me. There’s still that voice in me that said, “Who would be interested? No one cared then, why would they care now?’ I was abandoned when it was right in everybody’s face, so I still believe that nobody cares.

I am here. I do exist. Maybe I can find someone who cares.”

Heartbreaking, soul-wrenching, but oh so necessary.

In telling the stories of the girls who went away, A
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m not even sure where I came across this book, but with the recent challenges to Roe v. Wade, I know it was timely. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me.

I’ve always known that my biological mother became pregnant and gave birth to a son on her 19th birthday. Three months later, she married my father; he was not the father of her baby. The relationship with my mother has always been difficult, but reading this book has caused me to look at her toxic actions through a new lens.
Kristy Miller
Ms. Fessler is an adopted child, given up by her young mother in the years before Roe. Her adoptive mother was adopted herself, so this has always been a topic of interest for her. Before Ms. Fessler decided to contact her own mother, she looked for the side of the story we never hear; that of the birth mother. What she gets are hundreds of similar stories, but ones that we have hardly heard because for decades we shamed women who got pregnant before it was considered appropriate. But never the ...more
Wendy Block
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am having a hard time putting this book down and would highly recommend it, although I'm not sure if I'm biased as an adoptee myself. For me, this story is capitvating because it raises a whole host of questions regarding my "beginning", leaves me to question how well the stories of these women fit into the image and circumstances of my own birthmother who gave birth in 1975. I like to think I would find it a just as fascinating if I weren't adopted; some of these women's stories are heartbrea ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Those who are anti-choice trot out adoption as if harboring a fetus for nine months and then handing it off to someone else is no big deal. No doubt for some people the decision to relinquish a child isn't hard (because there's always outliers). It may be that open adoption is easier than sealed adoptions for the birth parents. I don't know. But after reading this book, I know that ostracizing pregnant unmarried women, often punishing them for their pregnancy, and then stealing their babies from ...more
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: people
I would recommend this book to everyone. It became a bit repetitive at the end, but I was fascinated by this book. I learned so much about the time period before Roe v. Wade. I learned so much about a whole generation of women. This book will educate and enlighten you and really change your perspective on life. Should be a required reading.
Kristi Dixon
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm embarrassed to say that prior to reading this book it never even occurred to me that this heavily marginalized group even existed. This book is a great example of breaking the silence on yet another issue that has been kept secret for way too long. ...more
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book. Fessler interviews women who "went away" between the 1940s and 1972--that is, women who got pregnant out of wedlock and were sent away to unwed mother homes and then gave their children up for adoption. From these interviews it becomes clear that many of these women did not willingly give up their babies for adoption. They were pressured, or even forced, to give them up--by parents, social workers, nurses, and religious leaders. Those who did give them up "voluntarily" often r ...more
Sabrina Rutter
Jul 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was a very eye opening book for me. I did know about young unwed mothers being sent away to maternity homes, but I thought this was only a catholic practice. The only reason I knew about this at all was because of an HBO movie "THAT NIGHT" Which is about a little girl who's teenage neighbor gets herself into trouble by becoming pregnant outside of marriage.
I always assumed that everyone rushed into marriage if they found themselves pregnant. I'm not sure why I would have assumed that men w
Ginny Messina
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 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 ...more
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
This book was written to expose secrets kept when there was no option for a pregnant teenager but to have the baby. It focused on girls of middle and upper classes, mostly white, who were sent to maternity homes before they began to show, and came home after the baby was born.

It was a bit uncomfortable to read, because almost all of the women had not wanted to give up their babies, and adoption was painted in an extremely negative light as being unfair to birth mothers (the author objects to th
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Oh my goodness. I'm not even sure where to begin with this book. As an adopted person, curiosity got the better of me. Also, my adoption was closed. It took place in 1976. However, I still believe due to being in the Midwest and the culture at that time I feel that my birth mother's experience was probably very similar to a lot of these people. First of all, my birth mother searched for me when I was 22. I know that she went into hiding during her pregnancy. I did retain contact with her for abo ...more
May 24, 2008 rated it liked it
On December 26 of last year Diane Rehm had Ann Fessler on her show to talk about the book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade, she also talked to some of the women featured in the book. I was listening to the show a while ago (yes i know, more than a little late there~but i have many podcasts stacked up on my computer and i just listen to them whenever). Actually i think it was the second time i listened to ...more
Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
Welp, this was depressing and yet very interesting at the same time. How sad for the mothers. This marks a specific time period in US history, before abortion and contraceptives, and after WW2. As such, the mothers listed are primarily white (they made up the bulk of birth mothers, far far beyond the other races at the time) but she does make an effort to include minorities.

I just can't understand how parents did this to their children. We always hear how parents would "give their lives" for the
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oof, this is a powerful read, especially as these accounts are in the words of the birth mothers themselves. I'm sure I'll continue to be haunted by these voices for a long time, which I think is why books like this should be written and read. ...more
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot about adoption from the perspective of birth mothers, and the unacknowledged grief of the women who were essentially forced into the role. Powerful stories.
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adoption
Fessler, an adoptee, began a project in which she interviewed women who placed children for adoption between the end of World War II and the Roe v. Wade decision. The transcribed stories are heartbreaking, and it's horrifying to see how these women were treated by their families, by society, by medical staff, and by the social workers at the maternity homes where many of them spent their pregnancies. It's an eye-opening read and is food for thought regarding what has and hasn't changed since the ...more
Oct 10, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was pretty interesting and eye-opening. Not to be insensitive, but to the casual reader (me), it seems to drag a bit and repeat the same concepts over and over. I get it, already. I found myself skipping over quite a few parts.
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
So far this book at times is very heartbreaking. Every woman has a story and this includes myself. Birthmoms in the years before Roe v. Wade were shamed and judged. I am totally relating to what these women experienced and also being mindful of my own experience and how I got 'here'. ...more
Masterfully told history of women who were forced to give up their babies for adoption, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s. I only wish it were twice as long.

There is not much in this book about women who were actually thankful to be able to give away an unwanted child, but that is precisely the point. Fessler's goal in this book was to destroy the old myth that women, in general, wanted to give up their babies and, in a similar vein, didn't mind so much that they were merely baby-making machine
Roxanne (The Novel Sanctuary)
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
So good and so powerful to read about all of these stories. This is definitely something that we should all know more about, especially if you consider yourself feminist. A bit repetitive at times but I felt it was just so we got a clear picture of what women were made to do during this time.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My aunt, an (exclusively) adopted mother, and I were once discussing abortion, something I am definitively supportive of, and something she is rabidly against.
"What is someone supposed to do?" I asked.
"Give the baby up for adoption," she answered firmly. "There is no reason these babies shouldn't be brought into the world when there are so many couples eager to take care of them."
I wonder what she would say to this book, an anecdote driven and researched work that exposes the inner world of the
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor
  • The Primal Wound: Understanding The Adopted Child
  • The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
  • American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption
  • Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness
  • The Lies That Bind: An Adoptee's Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery
  • The Orphan House: Absolutely gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction
  • The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service
  • The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption, and Forced Surrender
  • Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence
  • Rooted in Adoption: A Collection of Adoptee Reflections
  • The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy
  • Diary of a Mad Housewife
  • Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood
  • The Waiting: The True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing, and a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up
  • Want Me: A Sex Writer's Journey into the Heart of Desire
  • Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City
  • The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing
See similar books…

Related Articles

  Walter Isaacson, it’s safe to say, is not afraid of tackling the really big topics. In 2011, he wrote about our ubiquitous computer culture...
105 likes · 19 comments
“For women born after 1949, the odds were that they would have sex before they reached age twenty.1 Despite the increase in the number of young people having sex in the 1950s and 1960s, access to birth control and sex education lagged far behind. Fearing that sex education would promote or encourage sexual relations, parents and schools thought it best to leave young people uninformed. During this time, effective birth control was difficult to obtain.” 2 likes
“I think one of the reasons I don’t talk to some people about it is because they are so judgmental. Quite frankly, it’s not that society can’t understand, it’s that they won’t understand. People choose to not understand. —” 2 likes
More quotes…