For almost three decades, Georgia Tann was nationally lauded for her work at her children’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. In reality, she was selling many of her charges—often neglected, abused, and stolen from their birth parents—to wealthy clients nationwide.
Drawing on extensive interviews and correspondence with many of Tann’s surviving victims, Barbara Raymond shows how Tann not only popularized adoption – which until then had been feared and discouraged – but also commercialized and corrupted it. She tells how Tann abducted babies or coerced women to leave their children in her care and then sold them. To cover her kidnapping crimes, she falsified birth certificates, a practice that was approved by legislators who believed it would spare adoptees the taint of illegitimacy – and one that still holds today in the form of “amended” birth certificates and closed adoption records.
Uncovering many life-shattering stories along the way, Raymond recounts how Tann openly sold more than 5,000 children and killed so many through neglect that Memphis’s infant mortality rate soared to the highest in the country. She explores how Tann’s operation was able to thrive in a Tennessee governed by “Boss” Ed Crump and the political network that allowed her to operate with impunity. And she portrays the paucity of options available to women, affecting not only the birth mothers she robbed but Tann herself, who turned to social work after having been barred from a “masculine profession” — the law.
Written by an adoptive mother, The Baby Thief is a riveting investigative narrative — part social history, part detective story, and part exposé — that explores themes that continue to reverberate in the modern era.