December 11, 2009
Reunion Marks End of Adoption Saga
02 Dec 2009
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Later this week, a unique family reunion will add a joyful ending to a story which began 72 years ago at an infamous Memphis adoption agency. It also puts the spotlight back on a woman whose actions to personally change the lives of thousands of adopted children became motivated by her own greed.
She was the politically shrewd daughter of a Mississippi judge. But, in one of the darkest chapters in Memphis history, for over a quarter of a century beginning in 1924, Georgia Tann, as the revered Executive Secretary of the now infamous Tennessee Childrens' Home Society adoption agency, wielded unparalleled power.
History would record Tann sadistically altered the lives and fates of thousands of defenseless babies and desperate unwed mothers who turned to her for help while unwittingly staring at the face of pure evil.
As a Tann adoptee in 1937, Devy Bruch counts herself among the lucky to have survived, when as a weeks-old newborn, she was taken from her unsuspecting mother who had been driven to Memphis and placed in Tann's care by her brother.
Bruch, who now lives in Texas, reflects, "She had to sign the surrender papers when she was in the throes of childbirth under sedation. And was told when she came to, she had a baby boy who had died. So, that she would not search, I suppose. I'm the baby boy that died."
Yet, for decades, Tann maintained a national reputation as a highly regarded child advocate while at the same time covertly, with the alleged knowledge of a collaborative juvenile court judge, lawyers and police, she conducted her lucrative "Black Market Babies" operation.
Her agency adoptions, many of which were legitimate, brought her in contact with Hollywood stars such as Joan Crawford. Two of her four children came directly from Tann's agency as dramatically portrayed in the film "Mommie Dearest."
While Burch's adoption to a successful family in Pennsylvania proved to be a dream come true for her, others of the over 5,000 babies Tann had a hand in adopting weren't so lucky.
Burch relates, "A lot of Georgia Tann's babies didn't live or died right after they were placed. Many with pedophiles and she didn't care about the family. She only cared about their ability to pay her exorbitant fee which was $2,000 a baby plus expenses."
Burch continues, "She appeared to be very compassionate. In fact, my adopted father was sending her $25 every Christmas time because he thought that her work was so worthwhile and he wanted to contribute to her."
Tann would die of cancer in 1950, just weeks before an investigation would eventually expose her entire operation. But, years later, Tann's "babies" still search to find the truth about their heritages.
Burch, with the help of her daughter's research, can again count herself among the lucky. In just two days, she will travel from Texas to finally be reunited for the first time with her 66-year old sister in Memphis.
An excited Burch says, "I feel very strongly that each of us will be able to add so much to the other's life."
Years after details of the scandal emerged, a critic once said of Georgia Tann, "she thought she knew better than God."
But, in the end, Devy Bruch's reunion proves He's very much still in charge.
*Georgia Tann is the "mastermind" behind the idea of "sealed records" that states adopted into law. These "sealed records" were not enacted to protect the identity of first mothers, because they did not ask for it. They were enacted to protect the newly formed adoptive family. However, they create a climate for conflict of interest and unethical practices. It is past due time for all states to restore the unconditional rights of all adult adoptees to obtain their obc's. An adoptive mother, Barbara Bisanzt Raymond, wrote a book about Georgia Tann called "The Baby Thief", which details her life and adoption history.