In the 1950s and 60s, over a million women in the United States surrendered children for adoption due to enormous social pressure. At a time when “nice girls” didn’t get pregnant, women were expelled from high schools and colleges and forced to leave jobs as teachers and nurses before their indiscretion was apparent to others. They were rendered voiceless and invisible—banished to the towns of distant relatives or maternity homes to give birth and surrender their children so they could start over with a clean slate. But did they?
The women’s stories unfold over images of an idyllic post-WWII period in America that continues to dominate our national psyche. Educational films from the time period offer guidance about dating and sex, and scripted newsreels paint a picture of adoption from an era when secrecy prevailed. As the footage illuminates the past, the women’s stories—which are eerily similar—form a collective narrative as they recount their experiences of dating, pregnancy, family reaction, and banishment, and the long-term impact of surrender and silence and on their lives.