Monthly Archives: November 2009
Jean Paton delighted in growing vegetables and flowers, which she took up in earnest for the first time in Ojai, California in the late-1950s. Jean spent hours in her garden, cultivating sweet peas, Swiss chard, beets, lettuce, and broccoli, as well carnations and roses. Such activities would remain a life-long pursuit. This photo is unidentified but it is probably taken in the backyard of Jean’s home in Harrison, Arkansas, during the summer. It looks as if Jean is inspecting the tomato patch.
Jean thrived in her second adoptive home, which was located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a small city of 15,000 people, thirty miles west of Detroit. The Patons were prosperous and much better off than her first adoptive family, the Deans. They lived in a large, imposing, three-story house, located on 122 Normal Street and had just purchased a new EMF automobile for Dr. Paton, a general practitioner, to conduct his house calls over the muddy and rutted roads in and out of Ypsilanti.
For those of you who are serious history nuts, car buffs, or just plain curious: the letters “EMF” stand for the initials of the last names of Barney Everitt, Bill Metzger, and Walter Flanders, who founded the E-M-F-Company in 1908. Within three years the company was “the largest employer in Detroit and was producing more cars than any other company in the United States other than Ford.” The primary reason that the name of the car is unknown today is because the Studebaker Brothers purchased the entire company in 1910.
This is a photo of Jean Paton, age 2½ or 3, with her second adoptive father, Dr. Thomas Paton and her seven-year-old foster sister, Virginia. Jean was adopted twice. The first time, she was adopted on May 10, 1909, by Harry and Millie Dean, a lower-middle class couple who also lived in Detroit. The Deans renamed the baby Madeline Viola Dean. Baby Madeline lived with the Deans for only two years. At age 44, Harry Dean, a house painter, contracted cancer of the liver and died on May 6, 1911. (I have not been able to locate any photos of the Deans). The last six months that Madeline lived under the Deans’ roof were filled with illness and the smell of death. Some seventy years later, Paton believed that her first adoptive father’s death had left her with “an undying and fierce hatred of the spectacle of human suffering.” Impoverished by her husband’s death, Millie Dean was unable to support Madeline. She returned the child to the Children’s Home Society of Michigan, which again placed Madeline in a foster home. Madeline stayed in that foster home for 7½ months. Then on December 11, 1911, Dr. Thomas and Mary M. Paton of Ypsilanti, Michigan, adopted Madeline and renamed her Jean Madeline Paton.
In June 1998, I spent a week interviewing Jean in her home in Harrison, AR. I had just published my book, Family Matters: Secrecy and Openness in the History of Adoption, and thought I knew something about the adoption reform movement. But after talking with Jean, I realized that I would have to rethink and rewrite much of that history because I had missed how important she had been to its creation and growth. During that week, we hit it off and had quite a meeting of the minds. At age 90, Jean’s mind was sharp as a tack and her memory was excellent. She had a great sense of humor but also was extremely serious when it came to issues that mattered to her. She got angry at hearing the name of Bill Pierce and teared up when talking about her mother. I felt honored that she chose me to write her biography, and fortunate that she left me with the historian’s gold mine of her papers. As you can see, I am still at it.
In 1955, Paton hired a private investigator for $35.00 to find her mother. The investigator found her mother’s sister, Viola, who was still living at the old family address in Michigan, with her husband and a child. Paton then went off to Michigan on one of her fieldtrips to interview adopted adults but also to initiate the reunion with her first mother. Jean met Viola, who ventured to act as an intermediary, contact Jean’s mother through a neighbor’s phone, and get back to her the following day. The rest is history, as they say. See next photo.
Jean Paton, age 47 met her first mother, Emma Steiner, nee, Cutting age 69, on a spring-like day in early March 1955. Paton’s reunion with her mother, which she described as a “strange and potent experience,” made a deep and lasting impression on her. To one correspondent, she wrote, it was “wonderful beneath knowing,” to find one’s mother; as there was “no more specters, no more fantastic living, no more paralysis of will for avoiding the deepest desire of nature.” Paton also universalized her reunion with her mother, making it the basis for advice she gave to correspondents who sought her help. This photo was probably taken in Florida, where Emma moved in retirement with her husband Eddie Steiner, some years after the reunion. (Yes, Emma was short: she was only 4’9″).