Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is based on the true story of the abuses that occurred at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the leadership of Georgia Tann from 1922-1950 in Memphis, Tennessee. The orphanage came to the attention of The Child Welfare League of America because of the destruction of birth records and illegal adoptions. They removed their endorsement and the Tennessee Children’s Society lost it license. It continued to operate without a license until it was shut down permanently for selling babies on the black market after a State Investigation was opened in 1950.
Tann was accused of kidnapping children from desperate and poor families then selling them to the Hollywood elite for high adoption fees which she pocketed most of the money to support her extravagant lifestyle.. Even worse, some described her as a serial killer because of the number of children that died under her supervision.
Her high standing and connections in Memphis society protected her from suspicion. In the end, no one was held accountable and Tann died of cancer in 1955 shortly after the investigation into her wrongdoings were underway.
The novel is centered around a happy family of five children, Rill, Camellia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion living with their parents, Briny and Queenie on a boat name Arcadia. Their mother, Queenie is in labor with twins on the boat when the midwife is unable to handle the delivery and Queenie is rushed to the hospital. She and her husband are told the babies died in childbirth.. While the parents are at the hospital, their children are kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children's Society..
Here is an appalling conversation between Miss Tann and one of her employees, Mrs. Murphy from the book overheard by the oldest child, Rill.
"Oh yes, the advertisements have already run in all the papers!" Miss Tann is saying. ' I've had such a brilliant vision, I must admit. Fair-haired cherubs for a fair summer season. Yours for the asking! Perfect, isn't it? All the little blonds.'
'Like a gathering of wood nymphs. And little elves and fairies,' Mrs. Murphy agrees.
'It is almost as compelling as the Christmas Baby Program. Customers have been calling already. Once they see the children, they'll be vying against one another."
Read an article from the Los Angeles Times about a family reunited.
Together Again : After 44 Tortured Years, a Mother Finds Her Stolen Child Via ‘Unsolved Mysteries’
By BEVERLY BEYETTE
AUG. 20, 1990
TIMES STAFF WRITER
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