This was the only book I managed to read for the month of April. I didn’t plan it that way, it just sort of happened. BUT, it was phenomenal book and I’m glad I picked it up. Before We Were Yours is a historical fiction novel based around the true events involving the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home and a woman named Georgia Tann. If you aren’t familiar with these events, prepare to have your mind BLOWN. I knew nothing about either subject until I picked up this book and I’m honestly still in disbelief.
Here’s a brief backstory of the historical aspect this novel is based on: Georgia Tann was a woman who, between the years of 1924 and 1950, is believed to have stolen and sold as estimated FIVE THOUSAND CHILDREN in the United States! She operated mainly within Tennessee but sold children to states all over the country. She would steal children from their front porches; on their way to school…she would take babies right out of the maternity ward and pay off doctors to tell the mothers that their babies were stillborn. If not that, she would have the women sign papers while still drugged from childbirth, signing over their rights to their children without realizing what they were doing. She took children from the poor, unwed and whom she deemed “unworthy” and essentially brokered them out to rich, famous and/or people of power like senators, judges or actors. She acted under the guise of a Children’s Home caring for “unwanted” children—though many are believed to have died in her care due to neglect, malnutrition and abuse. She was able to get away with this for so long because she had powerful people (judges, police, doctors, etc.) in her back pocket that turned a blind eye and even helped facilitate her operation. People were paying $5,000 at the time for a child, which is about $70,000 today. When she was finally stopped, it wasn’t because authorities finally stepped in—just when she was about to come under fire for her atrocious acts, she died from cancer, never being made to answer for her crimes. Her entire operation was finally stopped two months later…26 years after it began. Once everything hit the fan, the courts ruled to seal all adoption records. Tann championed the practice of secretive, closed adoptions, a practice that still exists in some states. Since children’s names were changed, their records falsified, many parents and children had no way of finding one another again, though some were lucky. That ruling wasn’t overturned in Tennessee until 1999! Finally, the records were released and families were able to try and piece themselves back together. Of all her atrocities committed, one thing that we can maybe view in a positive light, is the fact that Tann popularized adoption. Prior to her reign of terror, adoption was uncommon and had a negative connotation in the United States. Without Georgia Tann, it’s hard to say if adoption in the United States would be viewed as positively as it is today.
I really could keep writing about the history aspect, but you get the idea. If that doesn’t just grab you by the collar and yank you in, then maybe don’t read this book. But if you’re like me, put this one next on your list. I give it a SOLID 5 stars. I absolutely loved and was just enthralled by the subject despite how horrific it actually was. In addition to that, I did really enjoy Wingate’s writing–it was a first for me by her.
If you read or have already read the book and are looking for some more information and research, here are a few that I’ve dived into:
- Stolen Babies –movie made for TV
- The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption
- Several podcast episodes: