The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler

In the years after World War II birth control was tightly restricted; abortion was still illegal in most states, and was prohibitively expensive or life endangering. At the same time, the postwar economic boom brought millions of families into the middle class, along with intense social pressures to conform to a model of family perfection. While young men who engaged in sex often saw their reputations enhanced, single women who became pregnancy were shunned by family and friends, evicted from schools, and sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, often treated with cold contempt by doctors and nurses. They were told that surrendering their children was by far the best solution, and that doing so would allow them to simply move one and forget.

“You know what? You’re gonna forget all about, you’re gonna go home, and you’re gonna met a nice young man, and you’re gonna get married, and you’re gonna have other babies, and you’re never even gonna remember you had this one.” (pg. 325)

On a complete accident I managed to stumble across The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade on GoodReads while typing in another title and I have found a new love, which is surprising because I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction works.

I am surprised that his book did not get more press coverage when it was published because (a) it discusses something that most people tried to hush up and (b) it calls for a pro-choice stance.

“If they’re going to do away with Roe v. Wade, I’m afraid I’m going to have to get on a train. I’ll be in Washington to protest, because I can’t even imagine the injustice of it for every girl who follows behind me. It’s such a knife in the heart of the women of this country. And threat comes from a Catholic!” –Maureen II (pg. 296-297)

I cannot seem to put into words how much I enjoyed this book other than this a powerful book that I think everyone on both sides of this debate should read. I, personally, am a big advocate for real sex education in high schools like how to put on rubbers and such. Not this pansy abstinence only sex education that teaches kids that condoms aren’t affective so they shouldn’t even bother.

“Obviously, no one would want to advocate early sexual activity among teenagers, but leaving young people uninformed only postpones and complicates the problem-a problem that ultimately becomes one of unplanned pregnancy.” (pg.296)

This book only reaffirmed that belief for me but it also helped me understand why people are also against abortion. Many of these women who were forced to give up their babies and never given the chance to be mothers to their children said they still do not regret having their child.

The Girls Who Went Away puts into words what I cannot. It’s gripping and emotional and something I wish I was able to say came from my own personal bookshelf.

Book Mentioned:

  • Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9781594200946. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Penguin. Retrieved: February 3, 2008.


  1. creistyt

    Thanks for not only deciding to read this non-fiction (I can only wish it had been fiction) book but also for your enlightening review. I am one of the mothers whose stories is in this book. While I have been reunited with my son for going on 17 years, the pain is only buried…it will always be a part of our lives both together and apart. I can only hope that in some way this book will save other mothers and babies from suffering the same fate that my son and I have lived with all these years.Thanks again for your insightful


  2. I’ve been meaning to read this one forever and do own a copy. I really need to get to it soon. Great review – you really showed why it’s an important book and reminded me to read it. 🙂


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