Georgia Tann was in charge of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a home that catered for infants and children with a view to finding them suitable adoptive homes in Memphis, Tennessee. For several years, she issued thousands of babies to adoptive parents but then, it was later discovered that she had indulged in several unethical behaviors in the discharge of her duties, largely for profit. This article brings to light the kind of woman Georgia Tann was and her conduct during her time as the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Georgia Tann’s Background
Tann was born on the 18th of July 1891 in the state of Mississippi. She had what many would consider a comfortable upbringing being the daughter of a Judge. Records show she had a younger brother but little else is known about her family, especially her mother. However, it is a known fact that her father had wanted her to grow up to be a professional pianist and to that end had her enrolled her for piano lessons right from the tender age of five. Even though she continued to practice and play the piano until she was a grown woman, she had absolutely no interest in becoming a professional pianist, instead, she favored the practice of law like her father.
After graduating with a degree in music, she went on to study for and pass the state bar examinations in a bid to become a lawyer. This ambition never came to fruition because at the time it was frowned upon for a woman, let alone a single woman to practice law.
With her legal profession career hopes dashed, Georgia Tann had to settle for social work which was one of the careers that Mississippi of that time freely allowed women like her to engage in. She landed a job at the Mississippi Children’s Home Society in 1922. Her employment at the agency came to an end two years after due to complaints about her practices in the acquisition and placement of children. She promptly moved to Shelby County, Tennessee where she took up an appointment at the County’s branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
How Did She Steal and Sell Babies?
Georgia Tann’s move to Tennessee proved very lucrative for her unscrupulous practices. As investigations would reveal many years later, she engaged in child trafficking at an unprecedented scale. The laws in the state of Tennessee prohibited Children’s homes from charging more than a minimal amount when placing children with adoptive parents, this was a measure to guard against possible monetary centered trafficking of children.
Tann smartly circumvented the law by placing the babies with adoptive parents in New York and California where there were a lot of wealthy couples needing babies. She had people working for her who would transport the babies to these states on a monthly basis. She would go on to charge exorbitant amounts of the prospective adoptive parents for adoption of the babies as well as the costs of transporting them among other logistical charges.
There were mostly no background checks done for the babies and very often the background information provided to adoptive parents were fictitious so in most cases, they never knew the true nature of the babies’ health. A great percentage of the proceeds from these unethical baby placements went directly to Tann. Many of the checks were written in her name as opposed to the Children’s Home Society.
In order to keep up with the demands for adoption, Georgia Tann resorted to all manner of unethical dealings, including taking babies away from single mothers on the guise that they would be unable to cater to the babies’ needs. In addition to this, she would take babies away from divorced parents on the pretense that the babies would be better cared for. She would also steal babies by taking them from nurseries, prisons, and mental institutions only to claim that they died, whereas they had been sold off for profit. Over the course of the 1940s, she had sold a reported 3,000 babies to adoptive parents in California and New York. All told, she sold a reported 5,000 plus babies through the course of her evil spell.
The babies in the Children’s home were often subjected to several forms of abuse. Some were placed in foster homes where they were used as slaves while others were left to die due to negligence on the part of Tann and her staff.
Georgia Tann became an influential figure with friends who wielded the necessary powers to help her perpetuate her activities without being caught for a long time. One of those friends was Judge Camille Kelley, a family court judge who regularly helped separate children from their parents in divorce and other cases only to hand them over to Tann and the Children’s Home Society.
Investigation and Closure of the Children’s Home Society
In 1950, an investigation was opened by the Tennessee state government to look into the activities of Tennessee Children’s Home Society owing to several complaints by helpless mothers and adoptive parents. Although Georgia Tann passed away from cancer a few days after the investigation began, the Tennessee Home Society was eventually shut down.