Jean Paton as Artist


As many of you know, Jean Paton was a wonderfully creative artist as well as the first adoption reformer.  This rare photo of Jean, age 39, taken in 1947 in Manchester, New Hampshire, is the only one I know of that shows her working at her artistic craft.  When this photo was taken, Jean was employed at the New Hampshire Children’s Aid Society.  In the evenings, she took lessons in sculpture from Maria Kostyshak, “a very interesting young woman of Russian extraction, a painter herself” at the Museum School in Manchester, acting upon a suggestion from her mentor and social work teacher, Jesse Taft, who was responsible for first suggesting that Paton take up artistic endeavors.  Paton ventured for the first time into bas-relief, as well as three-dimensional figures.  Creating art from clay to affect adoption reform became a life-long avocation..


Jean Paton Graduates from the University of Wisconsin, cum laude, 1932


In 1928, with the financial support of her father, Jean Paton went off to the University of Wisconsin to study economics and sociology.  But Jean’s scholastic difficulties followed her to the Badger University, discovering again that her inner demons prevented her from engaging in the vigorous life of the mind that professors demanded of all students.  In 1929, at the end of the academic year, she traveled to Philadelphia, to work at the Children’s Aid Society in Philadelphia. This position was, in Paton’s words, “my port of entry into social work . . . after a miserable failure at college.”  Jean had just turned twenty-one, and she was “utterly inadequate to the task” of functioning as a social worker.  After floundering in this position for several months, Jean decided to return to the University of Wisconsin, and three years later, she received her B.A. degree cum laude.  Looking back, Paton blamed the extraordinary length of time she spent at college to an unidentifiable “psychological blockage to get myself to classes,” which resulted in failing some courses.

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Jean Paton at CUB conference


I traveled to Harrison, AR during the summer and interviewed Jean Paton’s life companion, June Schwantes, who is 90 years old.  During my visit I stumbled on many wonderful photographs of Jean and a few of June.  I will be putting some of them up on this blog soon.  This particular photo of Jean is undated.  If anyone recognizes the CUB conference in the photo and can date it, I would greatly appreciate it if you could get in touch with me.

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Jean Paton’s home in Harrison AR

Jean Paton's home, Harrison May 2009

The Names of Jean Paton

Jean M. Paton, an extraordinary woman of many talents, intellectual interests, and emotions, was also a woman of many names.  Born at 3:45 p.m. on December 27, 1908, in Detroit’s Woman’s Hospital, her twenty-three-year old unwed mother, Emma Cutting, named her Ruth Edwina Emerson, the middle name honoring Emma’s “favorite lady doctor” in the maternity home.  (Like most unwed mothers of the time who feared the stigma of illegitimacy, Emma registered at the Women’s Hospital under the assumed name of Cassie Emerson, made up of the reversed initials of her given name).  Adopted 4½ months later by Harry Dean and his wife Millie, Ruth Edwina was renamed Madeline Viola Dean.  A year and half later, she was adopted for a second time by Thomas Woodburn Paton and Mary M. Paton.  They changed her name to Jean Madeline Paton.  Paton would self-publish two books, numerous pamphlets, and newsletters under a combination of names.  Most frequently, she used the name given her by her second set of adoptive parents, Jean Paton or Jean M. Paton.  But she also published under the names Ruth Kittson and Jean Paton-Kittson, honoring the surname of her alleged birth father, James Kittson, the bastard son of James Jerome Hill, and builder of the Great Northern Railroad.  To complicate things even more, Jean sometimes melded her given first and middle names, then added her alleged birth father’s surname and published as Ruthena Kittson.  As a variation on this theme, she also used her alleged birth grandfather’s last name and published as Ruthena Hill Kittson.  Paton also published under the name of Ruth Edwina, which was a constant source of puzzlement to her readers.  To Jean, the explanation was self evident: when she had something really important to say about adoption reform, she published it under the name her first mother had given her.