The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler
Fessler's book contains the oral histories of unmarried women who became pregnant, entered homes for unwed mothers, and surrendered their babies for adoption during the 1950s and 60s. On the one hand, this book contains the kinds of stories you'd expect -- the women interviewed are mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly Catholic, and mostly woefully uninformed about sex. The stories echo one another almost to the point of saturation. And yet, the cruelty and denial of parental rights each woman was subjected to is so egregious that their stories stand alone, each heartbreaking and unforgettable.
The treatment the women received at the hands of their families and their babies' fathers is awful, though somewhat predictable, knowing what we know about gender roles and sex ed. in those days. More shocking, however, are the psychological games that social workers played with the new mothers. Lines like, "What do you have to offer this child?" and "He'll be called a bastard on the playground," and "She'll be better off with this nice family," are repeated over and over, as though scripted. The women in the homes were encouraged to forget about their children, being told, "You can have another one."
And, of course, this did not prove to be a good coping strategy. Many of the women interviewed spoke of entering into abusive or hasty marriages, either believing that they deserved no better or hoping to give birth to a child they could keep.
A horrifying social history that tells you a good deal about what you think you already know about sex, the double standard, and unwed motherhood in the 50s and 60s.