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

Fessler, Ann

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Aug-23-2006


This is a compilation of personal interviews framed by a review of the history of post World War II attitudes toward pregnancy out of wedlock. The project began as an oral history involving over 100 interviewees. The majority of the women were adolescents dependent upon their parents when they gave birth and relinquished their infants for adoption. The book is structured loosely around specific issues--such as parental responses to their daughters' pregnancies, hiding the pregnancies from family members and friends, methods of handling the birth itself and the subsequent signing of adoption papers--each chapter illustrated by excerpts from the interviews.

There are striking similarities among the interviewees' experiences, particularly in terms of the long-term grief and guilt that plagued most of these women. Fessler addresses the increasing movement toward enabling the mothers and the adopted children to seek one another if they so choose, and points the interested reader toward resources for additional information on the contemporary status.


This collection of interviews and interpretation of about 25 years (1950s through early 1970s) in the history of American attitudes and family responses to a pregnancy outside of marriage is both interesting and poignant. There is a great deal of overlap in the stories, sometimes to the point of redundancy; however, this helps to drive home the secrecy and shame that attended this personal tragedy so often in the very young, helpless and vulnerable, women who were given no choice in the matter--baby must be given up as though this experience would be easily forgotten and the mother unaffected in the long term. This is an interesting inside look at a problem that was so shameful that those who were not involved likely have no awareness of its impact on families and individuals.


Fessler is a visual (multimedia) artist and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.


Penguin Books



Page Count