022 The Girls Who Went Away | Ann Fessler

Share:

Ann Fessler’s critically accompanied book, “The Girl Who Went Away,” gives voice to the millions of women forced to surrender their babies in the decades before Roe v Wade. As an artist and a teacher, listening to Ann tell her story feels like you are walking into a lecture hall about to learn something new, and you are.

 

The Conversation – The Beginning

As an adoptee, adoption has always been central to Ann’s life. However, her understanding of adoption changed in 1989 when she had a seemingly casual greeting that changed her life.

“I was teaching at a college in Maryland and Maryland Institute College of Art, and I went to an opening for a graduate student I’d been working with. I was walking around the gallery, and a woman walked in. And she looked really familiar to me, but I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. A little bit later, I see her coming across the room directly towards me. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, who is she?’ She walks up to me, and with no introduction, she said, ‘You could be my long-lost daughter; you look exactly like the combination of myself and the father of my child.’ And I actually started to have a kind of physical reaction to that.” 

– Ann Fessler

Ann was one of those adoptees who had never given much thought to the possibility of finding her birth parents as she felt they didn’t want to know her. The chance meeting opened her mind to learning more about what both sides experienced during separation.

 

The Girls Who Went Away

Ann’s parents were very open about her adoption, but that didn’t address the societal issues that led to millions of women surrendering their babies. In the 60s, before Roe v Wade, many young women were being sent away in shame because being a single mother was taboo and unacceptable at the time. A single, unwed mother would harm their family’s reputation.

“The women I interviewed, many of them are my age. And I knew what happened if you became pregnant — you got out of town as fast as possible, because you would be absolutely ruined. If anyone knew, your reputation is ruined. You were told no man’s ever going to want you.” 

– Ann Fessler

Young ladies would disappear from school one day and return in a year with some excuse for their absence.

 

A Different Perspective

Ann was exposed to a different perspective when talking to the woman in the gallery. As someone who had gone through life as an adoptee and was well-versed in women’s history, she felt she had uncovered a painful secret.

“I realized that I was completely wrong. And that I had never considered that losing a child through adoption was any different than losing a child in any other way, that it’s a loss. It’s an enormous loss. And people talk about losing a child as the worst thing that can ever happen to you. But they never talked about that in relation to a mother who surrenders her child for adoption.” 

– Ann Fessler

To hear more from Ann Fessler and the story of The Girls Who Went Away, download and listen to this episode.

 

Bio

Ann Fessler

For more than 35 years, Ann Fessler’s work has focused on the stories of women and the impact that myths, stereotypes, and mass media images have on their lives and intimate relationships. Fessler turned to the subject of adoption in 1989 after being approached by a woman who thought Ann might be the daughter, she had surrendered for adoption forty years earlier. Though the woman was not her mother, Fessler—an adoptee—was profoundly moved by the experience. The conversation that ensued changed the focus of her work. Since that time, she has produced three films, numerous audio and video installations, and a non-fiction book on adoption.

Between 2002-05, Fessler conducted over 100 interviews with women who lost children to adoption during the 28 years that followed WWII, when a perfect storm of circumstances led to an unprecedented number of surrenders. Her short films on adoption have won top honors at festivals and have been screened internationally. Her book, The Girls Who Went Away (Penguin Press, 2006) was chosen as one of the top 5 non-fiction books of 2006 by the National Book Critics Circle, and was awarded the Ballard Book Prize, given annually to a female author who advances the dialogue about women’s rights. In 2011, her book was chosen by readers of Ms. magazine as one of the top 100 feminist books of all time.

In 2014, Fessler received the 2014 Adoptee Trailblazer Award.

The award was announced at the Eighth Biennial Adoption Conference at St. John’s University on May 31, 2014. The Adoptee Trailblazer award is to honor an adult adoptee whose work inspires and is foundational for professionals in adoption and foster care work. The award is unique in that it recognizes adult adoptees specifically for their pioneering work in a field in which they were “insiders” as adoptees, but through their hard work, innovation, professionalism, intellect, and dedication became leaders and often reformers of the practice of adoption.

 

Connect with Ann!

Website | The Girls Who Went Away

A Girl Like Her

 

The Girls Who Went Away | Ann Fessler

Ann Fessler’s critically accompanied book, “The Girl Who Went Away,” gives voice to the millions of women forced to surrender their babies in the decades before Roe v Wade. As an artist and a teacher, listening to Ann tell her story feels like you are walking into a lecture hall about to learn something new, […]

recent posts

READ MORE

Elizabeth Hines

The subject of reproductive rights has taken center stage in our society. Still, many people don’t understand the tentacles those rights have in every corner of society or within most families. On this episode of About Your Mother is my conversation with writer and editor Elizabeth Hines, who spearheaded the recent anthology Aftermath: Life in Post-Roe America. Our […]

READ MORE

EP020 The Baby Scoop Era - Kare Wilson-Buterbaugh

In our new series, What Happened Then, AYM features stories from a part of our history unknown to many. Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh spent twenty years researching and writing The Baby Scoop Era. In 2007, Karen founded the Baby Scoop Era: Research, Education, and Inquiry (BSERI) organization to support millions of women forced to surrender their babies between 1945 and […]

READ MORE

Ten Stories to Celebrate Mother's Day

For Mother’s Day, we are recapping ten powerful episodes from the last year. This review features a short clip from each conversation, so you can quickly get a feel for the content and guest. Timestamps and guest names are listed below. An interesting thing happens when the word mother is mentioned – a conversation rooted […]

recent posts

READ MORE

Steph Jagger AYM 018

This episode of About Your Mother is my conversation with Steph Jagger: a seeker, explorer, and writer. Her latest book, Everything Left to Remember, documents her adventure with her mother into the Rocky Mountains while they navigate the terrain of dementia and the meaning of remembrance. Steph’s life and work are as deep as the 4 […]

READ MORE

AYM 017 Beth Broday

This episode of About Your Mother is my conversation with Beth Broday – a pioneer in producing who put music videos on the map beginning with Prince’s Little Red Corvette. Beth Broday is a storyteller and has mastered the art of Becoming. Throughout the various stages of work and life, she saw the lessons in […]

READ MORE

AYM-EP016-Shanti Brien

On this episode of About Your Mother, we meet Shanti Brien, who has spent her career fighting for justice. Often, taking on the most complex cases where the rate of success is meager. When her husband’s company was under investigation, her career and personal life collided.   Shanti Brien is a litigator and author. She is also […]

recent posts

READ MORE

My Mother Next Door podcast with Diane Danvers Simmons.

In this episode of About Your Mother, we hear the story of Diane Danvers Simmons, whose mother left and moved next door with three college men when Diane was sixteen years old. A successful businesswoman, mother, and stepmom, Diane was on a trip with her daughter when she heard she needed to forgive her mother, […]

READ MORE

The Miracle of Adoption is Surviving podcast with Ashley Mitchell.

To honor National Adoption Month this November, I bring you a big brave story. In this episode of About Your Mother, meet Ashley Mitchell. Ashley Mitchell is the founder of Lifetime Healing Foundation, which supports birth mothers and those affected by such trauma. Her mission is unique but needed. Give it a listen, and you […]

READ MORE

Writing My Secrets podcast with Amy Ferris.

In this episode of About Your Mother, meet Amy Ferris. Amy is witty, brutally honest, talented, and regal, like Meryl Streep, and she looks like her too. Ruth Pennebaker of the New York Times described Amy’s memoir, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis”, as “poignant, free-wheeling, cranky, and funny. It is all those […]

recent posts

READ MORE

012 BLOG - ANGIE KIM

In this episode of About Your Mother, I am pleased to introduce Angie Kim. Angie’s debut novel Miracle Creek was named Best Book of the Year by Time, The Washington Post, and The Today Show. It went on to win many other prizes throughout the year. Before writing Miracle Creek, Angie Kim was the former […]

READ MORE

A brief encounter with a woman with cancer recently reminded me to slow down and acknowledge what is before us — even if what we see is hard to accept or comprehend. It was Sunday morning and I was walking through the Berkeley Rose Garden with my husband and son. I saw a woman sitting on a […]

READ MORE

Changing Lives With Empathy podcast with Peter Mutabaz.

In this episode of About Your Mother, you will meet Peter Mutabazi – a remarkable human being who survived a traumatic childhood, only to use that experience to transform lives. He ran away from an abusive father at the age of ten and was homeless on the streets for four years until a stranger asked […]

recent posts

READ MORE

Adoption Encapsulates Everything That Is Life podcast with Jeff Forney.

In today’s episode of About Your Mother, we have a poignant discussion on the meaning of the word Mother. Joining us is Jeff Forney, a photographer, visual story sharer, and a dear friend. Prepare to be inspired by a touching dialogue on the meaning of the word mother, the journey to finding his birth mother, […]

READ MORE

009 Amy Kelly Sarai Obermeyer

In honor of International Women’s Month, today’s episode of About Your Mother brings you a story highlighting the strength and power of maternal lineage. In this dual interview, we celebrate the life of Vera Obermeyer, who recently passed away due to COVID. Our guests are here to talk about her long and colorful life full […]

READ MORE

About Your Mother - Guest Melanie Spring

What does it mean to own and share our own stories? Why would other people want to hear our stories?  In today’s episode of About your Mother, we answer those questions with our special guest, Melanie Spring. Melanie is a vibrant speaker, an approachable bad-ass woman, and the facilitator of both personal and brand stories. […]

recent posts

READ MORE

007 My Eponymous Fashion Line As A Love Letter to My Mother | Olivia Joffrey

In the latest episode of About Your Mother, we have a conversation with Olivia Joffrey. Olivia owns an eponymous fashion line that serves as a love letter to her mother, Anne-Marie. Through osmosis, Olivia absorbed the colorful and artistic life that her mother has led — a life filled with sensory details, records, books, sand, […]

READ MORE

006 Pursuit of Truth With A Capital T | Julie Barton Part 2

We are in the second part of our series with the wonderful Julie Barton. In our previous episode, we talked about Julie’s childhood memories and her path to becoming a New York Times bestselling author with her book, Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself. Today, we explore what it feels like to […]

READ MORE

We have a two-part series conversation with Julie Barton, a New York Times best-selling author of the book, Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself. Her book is about her lifelong battle with depression and how it unravels an intricate family dynamic. In this first part, she brings into grasp the destructive power of depression […]

recent posts

READ MORE

Sugar Taylor - About Your mother Podcast

In today’s episode of About Your Mother, we speak with Sugar Taylor, a woman who exudes a ray of light. Sugar is a self-taught creative dynamo. She is a person who has battled anxiety and depression throughout her life and uses her creative energy as a means of healing. Her zest of life, spirit, resourcefulness, and […]

READ MORE

003 A Personal Breakthrough Inspired Sandra to Build a Business Helping Others To Be Unshakable | Sandra Possing

In the third episode of About Your Mother, our guest, speaker, and mindset coach, Sandra Possing talks about how building an Unshakeable Foundation and unleashing their inner badass empowers a woman. They also discussed in this episode, Sandra’s openness about her past and how it shaped her career path. Pay special attention to the part […]

READ MORE

002 My Mother Inspired Me to Build Platforms to Empower Women and Girls | Lauri Levenfeld:

Our next guest for About Your Mother is Lauri Levenfeld. She is a playful spirit and has a never-ending commitment to the female voice. Jennifer and Lauri collaborated together in the past on projects, but most recently, Lauri debuted an award-winning film called Mad World. Using her distinctive eye and straightforward and real words, she […]

recent posts

READ MORE

000 Welcome to the Podcast - About Your Mother

Welcome to our new podcast – About Your Mother, Where Your Story Begins. Host Jennifer Griffith is on a mission to celebrate and examine one of the most powerful and influential relationships in our lives: our relationship with our mother. The Power of Storytelling Each month, join Jennifer as she converses with compelling guests. She […]

READ MORE

FOLLOW ALONG @BYJENNIFERGRIFFITH