, born Beulah George Tann (1891 - September 1950), operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society
Tennessee Children's Home Society was an orphanage operated in the state of Tennessee during the first half of the twentieth century, and is most often associated with its Memphis branch operator Georgia Tann as an organization involved with the kidnapping of children and their illegal adoptions....
, an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers....
. Tann used the unlicensed home as a front for her black market baby adoption
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents...
scheme from the 1920s until a state investigation closed the institution in 1950. Tann died of cancer before the investigation made its findings public.
Tann used pressure tactics, threats of legal action and other methods to take children from their birth parents—mostly poor single mothers—and sell them to wealthy patrons. Tann also arranged for the taking of children born to inmates at Tennessee mental institutions and those born to wards of the state through her connections.
Tann also arranged for what her victims (now adult) refer to as kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...
. In some cases, single parents would drop their children off at nursery schools, only to be told that welfare agents had taken the children. In others, children would be temporarily placed with the society because a family was experiencing illness or unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...
, only to find out later that the Society had either adopted them out, or had no record of the children ever being placed. Tann was also documented as taking children born to unwed mothers at birth, claiming that the newborns required medical care. When the mothers asked about the children, Tann told them that the babies had died, when they were actually placed in foster homes or adopted.
Tann's crimes were accomplished with the aid of Memphis Family Court Judge Camille Kelley
Camille McGee Kelley She wrote three books regarding handling problem children in the juvenile court system: "Kellygrams", "A Friend in Court", and "Delinquent Angels"....
, who used her position of authority to sanction Tann's tactics and activities. Tann would identify children as being from homes which could not provide for their care, and Kelley would push the matter through her dockets. Kelley also severed custody of divorced mothers, placing the children with Tann, who then arranged for adoption of the children into "homes better able to provide for the children's care". However, many of the children were placed into homes where they were used as child labor
Child labour refers to the employment of children at regular and sustained labour. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations and is illegal in many countries...
on farms, or with abusive families.
When an adoptive parent discovered that the information on the child was incorrect, such as in cases of falsified medical histories, Tann often threatened the adoptive parents with possible legal action that would force a surrender of their children (ordered by Judge Kelley) by demonstrating that they were unfit parents.
Tann destroyed records of the children that were processed through the Society, and conducted minimal background checks on the adoptive homes. Many of the files of the children were fictionalized before being presented to the adoptive parents, which covered up the child's circumstances prior to being placed with the society. As a result, the Child Welfare League of America dropped the Society from its list of qualifying institutions in 1941.
The Georgia Tann/Tennessee Children's Home Society scandal resulted in adoption reform laws in Tennessee in 1951.
Under Tennessee law at the time, the Home charged about $7 per adoption. Adoptions in states such as Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri could be arranged for $750.
But Tann also arranged for out-of-state private adoptions where she charged a premium - upwards of $5,000 per child - for her "services". It is alleged that she pocketed 75% of the fees from these adoptions for her own personal use, and failed to report the income to either the Society Board and the Internal Revenue Service.
The Tennessee Children's Home Society was closed in the 1950s, and is not to be confused with the Tennessee Children's Home
, which is accredited by the state of Tennessee. The Tennessee Children's Home has no legacy connection with Georgia Tann or the Society which she operated.
Notable personalities who used Tann's services (but were not aware of the tactics used by Tann to acquire many of the children processed through the Tennessee Children's Home Society) included actress Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....
(daughters Christina Crawford
Christina Crawford is an American writer and actress, best known as the author of Mommie Dearest, an exposé of alleged child abuse by her mother, actress Joan Crawford.-Early life and education:...
, and twins Cathy and Cynthia were adopted through the agency). June Allyson
June Allyson was an American film and television actress, popular in the 1940s and 1950s. She was a major MGM contract star. Allyson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance in Too Young to Kiss . From 1959–1961, she hosted and occasionally starred in her own CBS anthology...
and husband Dick Powell
Richard Ewing "Dick" Powell was an American singer, actor, producer, director and studio boss.Despite the same last name he was not related to William Powell, Eleanor Powell or Jane Powell.-Biography:...
also used the Memphis-based home for adopting a child, as did the adoptive parents of professional wrestler Ric Flair
Richard Morgan Fliehr is an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name Ric Flair. Also known as "The Nature Boy", Flair is one of the most well-known professional wrestlers in the world....
and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, who signed a law sealing birth certificates from New York adoptees in 1935.
The scandal was also the subject of two made for television films: (1982) (1993)
- Barbara Raymond. The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. 2007. 320p. Carroll & Graf.
- PROFILE: Mary Margulis St. Louis Post - Dispatch St. Louis, Mo.: May 10, 1993. p. 1 Section: EVERYDAY MAGAZINE
- Report to Governor Gordon Browning on Shelby County Branch, Tennessee Children's Home Society. 1951, [Nashville] : State of Tennessee, Dept. of Public Welfare.
by Linda Astin (amazon.com link)
- Edna Gladney or Georgia Tann? A comparison of contrasting legacies in adoption history
- Grave Georgia Tann Burial site
- Grave Camille Kelley Burial site
- Grave Ann Atwood Hollinsworth Burial site, Georgia Tann's adopted daughter and partner