Sept. 22 Pitt Forum to Feature Author Discussing Adoption Prior to Roe v. Wade

Issue Date: 
September 22, 2008


Between the end of World War II and the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, 1.5 million American women gave up their children for adoption because of enormous family and social pressure.

Ann Fessler, author, artist, and filmmaker, will discuss her film in progress based on her book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (Penguin Press, 2006) at 8 p.m. Sept. 22 in the University of Pittsburgh Frick Fine Arts Auditorium.

Lucy Fischer, Pitt Distinguished Professor of Film in the School of Arts and Sciences, and Jeanne Hood, of Adoption Network Cleveland and a birth mother, will offer brief responses following the film’s screening.

This showing of Fessler’s as-of-yet-untitled film likely will be the only screening until its release in 2009. The film explores the gap between the private experiences and public images of single women who became pregnant in the three decades leading up to the feminist movement of the 1970s.
“This film is a heartbreaking collision of the authoritative ‘educational’ films and scripted ‘newsreels’ of the time that reinforced shame and perpetuated the notion that babies born outside of marriage were unwanted, and the voice-over testimony of the mothers who lived through the experience,” said Fessler, who is an adoptee.

The Girls Who Went Away is based on oral history interviews Fessler conducted between 2002 and 2005 with “surrendering” mothers across the country. She was awarded a prestigious Radcliffe Fellowship for 2003-04 at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, where she conducted extensive research for the book. In 2006, her book was selected by the National Book Critics Circle as one of the top five nonfiction books of the year.

Fessler is a professor of photography at Rhode Island School of Design and a specialist in installation art. She also is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the LEF Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, and Art Matters, New York. In 2008, Fessler received the Ballard Book Prize given annually to a female author who advances the dialogue about women’s rights.
The Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies (PCAS) and Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, Women’s Studies Program, Department of English, and Cultural Studies Program are sponsoring the event.

PCAS is a group of scholars and writers in the Pittsburgh area who want to advance the understanding of adoption in both academic and nonacademic settings and includes faculty members from Pitt, Duquesne, Carlow, and Carnegie-Mellon universities. Units at all of these universities have contributed to funding. Through a coordinated series of events, the consortium provides a prominent forum for students and faculty whose research, writing, and/or teaching deals with adoption, spreads information about adoption-related courses, and also serves the public need for more understanding of adoption.

Information about PCAS is available on For information on the event, contact Marianne Novy at