Friday, November 14, 2008

Uncovered Secrets of The Girls Who Went Away

In the decades before Roe v. Wade, there was a wave of "disappearances" in high schools across the country. Girls would suddenly leave school and tell everyone they were "visiting an aunt" or "studying abroad," when really they were pregnant and secretly shuttled off to unwed mothers' homes, where they were to have babies and immediately give them up for adoption. Why was this happening, you might ask? You've heard about that era--the fear of Communism, the push for the nuclear family, for Cleaver-family perfection. Sex education was virtually non-existent, and people relied on rumors to guide them through the birds and the bees. Didn't help much in the backseat of the car while being pressured by your boyfriend. Consequently, many young girls got pregnant. Often their parents pressured them into going to the unwed mother's homes the minute they started showing, essentially forcing them to give up the child for adoption, no questions asked. For obvious reasons, that relinquishment followed the women long after they were supposed to "forget," and many held onto the secret for the rest of their lives, never telling future husbands or anyone else.

Ann Fessler, artist and adoptee of the same era, came into contact with some birth mothers who began to tell her their stories. She realized this was a story--a hidden history--that the nation needed to hear, and she began researching. Hundreds of women who came forward, ready to describe what happened to them, to dispel the myths society had placed on them as dirty, licentious teens, and to hopefully make contact with their relinquished children (more than half of the women who participated have successfully found their lost children).

First came the book, The Girls Who Went Away (pictured above), and soon Fessler will release a film based on the book. She has done amazing work archiving these women's voices, making sure this history doesn't stay hidden. She visited Pitt last month to show her film-in-progress and meet with our Adoption Culture class. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to meet her and sit down for an interview, which is published in the latest issue of Hot Metal Bridge

For more about the phenomenon of Girls Who Went Away, click here.

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