Bookmarks Issue: 
Ann Fessler

The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decade Before Roe v. Wade

A-The Girls Who Went AwayFrom the end of World War II to the Roe v. Wade decision, approximately 1.5 million babies were born out of wedlock. Partially because of changing social mores and inadequate contraception technology, women who got pregnant were encouraged, sometimes even forced, into relinquishing their babies. Then the young mothers were told to resume their lives as if nothing had ever happened. Ann Fessler—an adoptee herself who searched for her birth mother—interviewed more than 100 women who made this hard choice; her research revealed the long-lasting guilt and emotional strain of letting their children go, even when it appeared to be the "right" decision.
Penguin. 368 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1594200947

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Clearly … these are stories of damage and trauma, and in their vivid sorrows and occasional humor they reanimate the feel of an era that, for all its nearness, seems in some ways extremely remote." Maureen N. McLane

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"She doesn’t tell us that adoption is right or wrong. She simply lets her material speak to us directly—and it does so powerfully—of the unresolved emotions that often last a lifetime." Marjorie Kehe

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s easy to imagine that once the chorus of voices came to an end the silence they left in their wake demanded Fessler discover just how it was for the woman who lost her. By then she would have been aware of all that was held in common by the girls who went away, and of the importance of hearing each separate voice." Kathryn Harrison

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[Fessler’s book is] a collection of deeply moving personal tales bolstered by solid sociological analysis—journalism of the first order, moving and informative in equal measure." Robert Speer

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps for fear of alienating her sources, she seems to avoid hard questions and fails to follow up on explanations that don’t hang together. Or maybe her methodology accounts for the dubious aspects of her survey." Michael Mewshaw

Critical Summary

Perhaps it’s no surprise that this story has gone untold for so long, considering the personal nature of the subject and the moral dilemma heaped upon the young women who gave their babies up for adoption. What is astonishing is that Fessler, a photographer and video installation artist writing her debut book, manages to tell this compelling story with a perfectly honed sense of restraint and respect. She handles the large volume of source material nimbly, letting each individual story breathe. The only complaint is that her research method—using a self-selected group—isn’t up to snuff for academic rigor. In the face of such glowing critical praise, that lone complaint seems, well, a little academic.