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Jean Paton and her second adoptive family

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.


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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