For forty years -- and as many as 5,000 babies -- Georgia Tann used political influence to steal children and operate a nationwide adoption business. Meet the relentless woman who wrecked thousands of families, presided over the deaths and abuse of countless -- and brought adoption into the American mainstream.
First, thanks to the Georgia Tann authority, Barbara Raymond.
Before you listen to the show, we'd first like to thank Barbara Bisantz Raymond, whose captivating book The Baby Thief is the primary source of the rich details and reporting that make this kind of storytelling possible. The book is full of so many more captivating people and stories, and when it came out, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes called it both "fascinating and important."
You should definitely get a copy of your own.
So on with the episode:
It's what Georgia told poor parents whose children she had taken. But we can't forget them, and the tragedy that can unfold when a political machine protects its one at all costs.
Beulah "Georgia" Tann, the paradox. She almost single-handedly removed the national stigma associated with adoption and brought it into the mainstream, yet, at the same time, she operated one of the most ruthless and wide bread child-trafficking rings in American history.
Georgia Tann's business card (courtesy Jack Watson/The KnoxvilleFocus)
In a rare photo (above), Georgia Tann brings a child described only as "Baby Lucy" in for a haircut. (courtesy Neil Loftiss/Find a Grave).
Memphis' political powerbroker, E. H. "Boss" Crump, was known nationwide for his grip on the city of Memphis. Above, he appears on the cover of a 1946 TIME magazine.
The baby ads.
Georgia Tann is also notorious for the brazen baby ads she ran in the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Even in the summer of 1940 as the Nazis marched on Paris, the front page had room for Georgia Tann's ad for "Nancy." (Memphis and Shelby County Room, Memphis Public Library and Information Center)
A city that won't forget them.
Nineteen of the children who died at the Tennessee Children's Home Society were buried in a 14x13 lot at the historic Elmwood cemetery in Memphis with no headstones. Tann bought the lot sometime before 1923 and recorded the children buried there simply by their first names, "Baby Estelle," "Baby Joseph," and so on. In 2015, the cemetery raised $13,000 to erect a monument to their memory.
Nestled in the shade of a giant magnolia tree, it reads, in part, "In memory of the 19 children who finally rest here unmarked if not unknown, and of all the hundreds who died under the cold, hard hand of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Their final resting place unknown. Their final peace a blessing. The hard lesson of their fate changed adoption procedure and law nationwide." (Stinson Liles)
Again, the source of all sources is Barbara Bizantz Raymond, who went on the road to find the people and places that play a big role in the story of Georgia Tann. Part history, part personal adventure, her book The Baby Thief is a captivating read.
The story of political Boss E.H. "Boss" Crump is a fascinating story in its own right, and is one that is perhaps best told by Memphis author G. Wayne Dowdy in his book, Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis.
And the credits:
Sound Design/Audio Engineer:
Music from the Episode:
"Cold Sober," Kevin MacLeod
"Tumult," Kai Engel
"Interloper," Kevin MacLeod
"Funkorama," Kevin MacLeod
"Sonata No 1 in F Minor (Beethoven)," Daniel Veesey
"Dark Hallway," by Kevin MacLeod
"Iron Horse," Kevin MacLeod
"Blue Feather," Kevin MacLeod
"All Who Are Weary," Hyson
Compositions and performances licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License.Associated Press.
Associated Press. "Elmwood to honor victims Tennessee Children's Home Society." September 27th, 2015.
Dowdy, G. Wayne. Interview. February, 2017.
Memphis Press-Scimitar, Archive. Memphis and Shelby County Room, Memphis Library and Public Information Center, 2017.
Raymond, Barbara Bizantz. The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Union Square Press, 2008.