Black Market Babies

September 16, 1950

As many as seven babies at one time have been taken from the Tennessee Children's Home Society at 1558 Poplar in the middle of the night for transportation to foster homes, a former nurse at the home told The Commercial Appeal yesterday.

Why, I frequently took them out and put them in the car myself," the nurse said. "If they were real little, we would put two in the same bassinet; the bigger ones we just placed on the car seat.

That interview occurred in the days after Gov. Gordon Browning launched an investigation of the facility and its operator, Georgia Tann, alleging as many as 90 percent of the children sent to the home were exported to California and New York. It evolved into one of Memphis' biggest scandals, and we've had some major scandals, as investigators found Tann had operated a lucrative black-market baby-selling network since 1923. Many of the children were stolen, usually from poor, uneducated single mothers, and sold to wealthy people across the nation, including movie stars Dick Powell, June Allyson and Joan Crawford. Children who were sick or otherwise unmarketable often were allowed to die of malnutrition, neglect or abuse (19 are buried in tiny graves at Elmwood Cemetery). Many others have never been located.

Tann was never prosecuted because she died of cancer amid investigation, but the sordid details led to major adoption reforms in 1951.

Georgia Tann is shown in a photograph dated August 1947. The Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children's Home opened in 1922. It was to close 28 years later amid national publicity fueled by charges that the director, Miss Tann, was operating a black market baby racket. (The Commercial Appeal)