Monthly Archives: August 2013
In addition to Jean Paton’s many activities pioneering the adoption reform movement in the 1950s—setting up the Life History Study Center, writing The Adopted Break Silence, traveling around the country interviewing adult adoptees—she was an omnivorous reader, revealing a remarkable appetite for interdisciplinary study, including history, religion, politics, psychology, science, genealogy, anthropology, and sociology. In 1957 alone, Jean read nineteen books and in the next year and a half she consumed another twenty-five. In addition, Paton read for the first time a number of books written by or about adopted or orphaned individuals. For example, she read William March’s 1954 novel, The Bad Seed, which centered on Christine Penmark, a young mother who discovered that her eight-year-old daughter, Rhoda had murdered three people and a little dog. For a variety of reasons, Penmark discovers that she had been adopted, that her mother was a notorious serial killer, and fears that she has passed on to Rhoda her criminal genes. The subject of eugenics and the inheritance of personality traits was topic that Paton began during this period and developed a life-long interest in. She also read A Cornish Waif’s Story: An Autobiography, which told the story of the pseudonymous Emma Smith, who had been born out of wedlock and abandoned by her family. Smith endured slave-like labor conditions at the hands of an itinerant organ grinder and his wife from age five on, escaping at to take refuge in a convent. Ultimately, Emma Smith found happiness and marriage with a home and family of her own.
Below is a partial list of the books that Jean Paton compiled with her notes during the years 1956-1959.