Georgia Tann

Georgia Tann

Philadelphia, Neshoba County, Mississippi, USA
Death 15 Sep 1950 (aged 59)
Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Burial Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi, USA
Memorial ID 38235660 · View Source
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Black Market seller of children for profit. Georgia Tann (Born: Beulah George Tann) became the director of the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Children's Home Society in 1927. Through trickery, deceit and outright fraud, she stole children from parents through a variety of sources such as baby scouts, corrupt Judges and even more corrupt politicians.

She placed over 5,000 children all over the country, many of them to Jewish families in New York, and to stars in California. Birth certificates were rewritten to make the children's background fit the desires of prospective parents. This included taking Christian children and giving them Jewish sounding names. Other records were destroyed, to cover the tracks of the Orphanage and their criminal acts of kidnapping.

Children were often taken from their mothers under the pretense of seeking medical care. The mothers were later told their children died, and had been buried without notification.

Many newborns were taken, and their mothers told they had been stillborn, and the bodies had been removed to lessen their grief.

Children were placed without consideration of the stability of the families they were going to. Some were adopted as servants and farmhands, some to pedophiles for sexual abuse, while some lucky ones were adopted into a life of privilege and wealth.

Tann ran ads in newspapers throughout the country with captions like "Want a real, live Christmas present?" Children would be delivered throughout the country by her workers, or her lesbian lover, partner and adopted daughter, Ann Atwood Hollinsworth , who 'volunteered' at the Tennessee Children's Home Society.

Edward Hull "Boss Crump" Crump was the political clout behind Georgia Tann. He wielded great power and influence in Memphis, and throughout Tennessee. He would send his cronies to handle any 'disputes', and use his influence to change laws to fit the needs of Georgia. Abe D. Waldauer Assistant City Attorney under Crump (also Georgias' personal attorney, and Chairman of the Tennessee Childrens Home Society), would rewrite laws to cover Georgias tracks. She contributed generously to Boss Crumps campaign coffers.

Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelly provided an estimated 20% of the children Georgia placed. Judge Kelly would use the court to remove parental rights, and to give Georgia the necessary documentation to take children and place them as she wished.

Later inquiries estimated that upward of 500 children that were not "easy to adopt", died, mostly through starvation and neglect. Many of their bodies have never been found.

It is estimated that Tann made millions of dollars through trafficking children. "Fees" for her services ran between $750 and $5,000 each.

Famous people who used Tanns services (who most likely were not aware of the history or tactics of Georgia Tann) include:

* Joan Crawford (Daughters Christina author of "No Wire Hangers", and twins Cathy and Cynthia came from Tann)
* June Allyson and husband Dick Powell.
* Actress Lana Turner
* The parents of Professional Wrestler, Ric Flair
* Governor Herbert Lehman of New York.
* Mobster Frank 'The Enforcer' Nitti and his wife adopted their son, Joseph, from Tann.

Mary Tyler Moore won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Tann in the television movie, "Stolen Babies," 1993.

Tann died of cancer (Carcinosis, primary location uterus, according to Dr. Alma Richards on death certificate) on September 15, 1950, three days before Governor Gordon Browning of Tennessee filed charges against Tanns home. The home was permanently closed in December, 1950.

The book "The Baby Thief" written by Barbara Bisantz Raymond, was published in 2007, which details the life of Georgia Tann. A new movie is in the works now (2017-2018).
Her Obituary

Services for Miss Georgia Tann, who had headed the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children's Home Society for 26 years, will be held at 4 p.m. today at National Funeral Home.

The Rev. James Watson, pastor of Whitehaven Presbyterian Church, will officiate. Burial will be at Hickory, Miss, her former home, tomorrow at 2:30, accompanied by services at the grave.

The veteran social worker died at her home at 91 Stonewall at 4:20 a.m. yesterday after a long illness, which had confined her to bed since last Easter and which had become critical in the past few days. Death was due to cancer. She was 59.

Miss Tann, who had operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis since 1924, during which time she had placed more than 5,000 babies for adoption was recognized as a national authority on adoption laws. Under her direction, the Memphis agency became one of the best known of its kind in the United States. She was the author of several magazine articles on the subject.

Born at Hickory, Miss., she was a daughter of the late George C. Tann, chancellor of the Second District of Mississippi for 27 years. The interest that her father took in orphans and foundlings, through the operation of his court, led her into child welfare work. She was engaged in this in Mississippi and Texas before moving to Memphis.

Among the first children she placed ware a small brother and sister, ages 9 and 5. They were adopted into the same home.

Miss Tann related recently that the girl, now grown, has a degree in music and that the boy has finished his law school courses and had begun practicing.

Four years ago she estimated that up to that time she had placed 5,000 children for adoption. While she kept no record of the subsequent total, the number is believed to run into the hundreds.

Miss Tann was educated at Martha Washington College in Virginia and took social courses at Columbia University, New York for two summers. Her father desired to make a musician of her and she took an extended piano course, but her interest in children turned her to another career.

Once Miss Tann was asked how adopted children turn out.

"The answer is" she replied, "That 100 of our children turn out, on the average, much better than 100 picked from homes at random. The reason is that ours is a selective process. We select the child and we select the home.

"The Organization keeps up with the child until it is 21 years of age, but the dealings are with the foster parents. We try to let the children forget. We stand in the background, ready to help if difficulties arise but never impressing it on the child that he is adopted."

Miss Tann said girls whom she has placed for adoption, and who had grown up and married, often come to show her their babies and even their grandchildren.

Miss Tann was a strong advocate of homeless children being adopted into private homes, instead of being placed into orphanages or similar institutions.

In her testimony before a Tennessee Legeslative Committee hearing at Nashville in 1947, when proposed changes in the state's Adoption Law were being discussed, Miss Tann declared there were more than 30 homes seeking babies for adoption for every baby available for adoption.

"Why are so many children kept in institutions at a cost to the taxpaying public of $10 or more a week?" she asked, illustrating her contention.

Miss Tann had placed infants for adoption in many states, some far distant from Memphis.

"It is better for the children for them to grow up in another city where there will be little or any possibility of interference by their former parents who have given them up" she once told a reporter. "They are beginning a new life in a new home and should not be molested."

Miss Tann leaves am adopted daughter, Mrs. June Tann Watson of Brandon, Miss; her mother, Mrs. Beulah J Tann of Hickory, an adopted sister, Mrs. Ann Hollinsworth of Memphis and a niece, Mrs. Beulah Elizabeth Tann Burns of Newark, N.J.

The Commercial Appeal, September 16, 1950

By Lois Cooper
The story of Georgia Tann is one of intrigue, fascination, horror, disbelief and many more words of description. It is a story of a very influential woman who was born and raised in Hickory, Mississippi. She achieved a position of outstanding prominence. Her life was one of fraternizing with the elite. Eleanor Roosevelt sought her counsel regarding child welfare. Pearl Buck asked her to collaborate on a book about adoption. She received a personal invitation to President Truman's Inauguration. She traveled in politically elite circles. And, while doing all of this, she visited with her mother often in Hickory. The beautiful Tann home, which is the second oldest home in Hickory, is located near Highway 503. There are residents in the home today and the home still has visions of grandeur.

Georgia Tann is buried in the Hickory Cemetery along with her parents, George Clark Tann and Beulah Yates Tann, and her brother, Rob Roy Tann. It is a very nice Tann burial plot. Standing over Georgia's grave in the Hickory Cemetery, the average person would never know the controversy she stirred up during her lifetime. She had one of the largest black markets for children ever seen in the United States. From 1924 to 1950, Georgia Tann stole, or otherwise separated, more than 5,000 children from their families.

Louise Bailey and I have long been interested in the Georgia Tann story and, in 2009, conducted extensive research on her activities using both primary and secondary sources as well as many interviews. A major source of information came from the book The Baby Thief by Barbara Raymond. The television movie, "Stolen Babies," was released in 1993 with Mary Tyler Moore portraying Georgia Tann. Articles on Tann's life also have been published in Good Housekeeping magazine. The Meridian Star did an article on Georgia Tann on March 25, 1993. Georgia Tann also gained national media attention on television series such as "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Probe."

We do not know much about Georgia's young years in Hickory. Georgia's father was the most influential person in her life. Her feelings toward him were a mix of love and hate, or wanting to prove herself to him and to defy him. Georgia's parents were Judge George Clark Tann and Beulah Yates Tann. George Clark Tann's grandfather had served under William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe and his father was a Confederate war hero. George himself was the most educated man in Newton County and Judge of the Mississippi Second Chancery District Court. While George was respected, he was not well liked for he was arrogant, argumentative, and domineering. Georgia had a brother, Rob Roy Tann, who was three years older. While serving in World War I, he suffered what was then called shell shock and for the rest of his life suffered from tremors. He died of tuberculosis at age 46.
Georgia majored in music and, after graduating in 1913 from Martha Washington College in Abingdon, Virginia, she taught school briefly in Columbus, Mississippi. However, she lacked the patience for teaching and may well have considered it an old-fashioned profession.

Georgia was also familiar with social work, at that time in its infancy, having long practiced a form of it herself. Charity work was a refuge during her adolescence, perhaps providing an excuse for her absence from local parties and dances. While other girls primped for the parties, she put on starched, long-sleeved blouses and skirts that swept the floor and visited the local poor.

By 1920, exploiting the lack of regulations on adoption and her father's position as a judge, Tann began placing children she had kidnapped from poor women. Georgia began working for Kate McWillie Powers Receiving Home for Children in Jackson which was affiliated with the Mississippi Children's Home Society. Georgia was run out of Mississippi for her "child-placing" methods and went to Texas. Georgia then moved to Memphis, TN. She became Executive Director of the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children's Home Society.

Barbara Raymond said in her book, The Baby Thief, "Scores of children in the custody of Tann's Tennessee Children's Home Society died, making Memphis' infant mortality rate the highest in the country. Yet Tann was publicly lauded for her work. She also amassed a personal fortune selling children to the wealthy (including actors June Allyson, Dick Powell, and Joan Crawford). Virtually no robbed parents got their children back."

There seemed to be no end to the pain that Georgia caused. While building her black market business, she had invented modern American adoption. To cover her kidnapping crimes, she falsified adoptees birth certificates, issued false certificates, and portrayed their adoptive parents as their birth parents.
In 1950, the Tennessee Governor finally acknowledged Georgia's crimes. The adoptive parents could not bring themselves to investigate whether their children had been stolen for fear of having to return them.

Georgia had many accomplices: Politicians, legislators, judges, attorneys, doctors, nurses, and social workers who scouted child victims. She operated for 26 years. It was not until she was three days from death with cancer that a Tennessee official told of her crimes.

If the story of Georgia Tann teaches us anything, it is the importance of ridding adoption of lies and secrets. Thankfully, much as been done since Georgia's death to help parents find children through well respected adoption agencies.

From The Newton County (MS) Historical and Genealogy Society,, written by Lois Cooper, August 8, 2010.

Camille McGee Kelley, judge of the Shelby County Family Court, was a jewel in the crown of the Memphis machine of Edward Hull Crump. At the time of her appointment in 1920, Kelley was only one of two female judges in the South and the only woman to sit as a juvenile court judge.
Kelley was highly popular in Memphis and Shelby County, an easily recognizable figure in her trademark dresses, furs and a large flower always pinned to her chest. Kelley looked precisely like what she was: a friendly, well-to-do grandmother who was somewhat smug and condescending in freely dispensing her maternal wisdom to anyone who would listen.
The Memphis Boss was always highly sensitive to the attacks of opponents on his political machine and Crump countenanced no graft or corruption from his subordinates. At the first hint of corruption, Crump moved with alacrity in removing the offender from office. Yet the reign of the matronly juvenile court judge would prove to be one of the worst cases of corruption in modern Memphis history and a sore embarrassment to Crump.
One cannot detail the life and service of Judge Camille Kelley without relating the history of Miss Georgia Tann, who operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Miss Tann would have a powerful, albeit malevolent, influence upon adoption of children. Like Judge Camille Kelley, Miss Georgia Tann had a matronly and benign appearance and no less than First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt believed her to be an expert in the field of childcare. Perhaps no one in the State of Tennessee had more to do with the confidentiality laws adopted by the General Assembly than Georgia Tann. Miss Tann used those laws to her advantage and apparently destroyed, altered or otherwise tampered with birth records to the extent where it became impossible to determine the parentage of thousands of children.
Miss Georgia Tann turned adoption into a money-making enterprise and at a time when adoptions in Tennessee cost the princely sum of $7, some adoptions brokered by Tann cost as much as $5,000, roughly the equivalent of $84,000 in today's currency. Miss Tann operated her Tennessee Children's Home Society before the extensive welfare state existed in this country; there was little in the way of support, financial or otherwise, single mother's could count on at the time.
Crump's Memphis was well run and Memphis won numerous awards for its cleanliness, safety, etc., yet one statistic likely vexed the Boss; it had the highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Miss Georgia Tann was born in 1891, the daughter of a judge in Mississippi. Georgia was a nonconformist at an early age, altering her name from Beulah George Tann to the more feminine "Georgia." Georgia was not an especially attractive woman and she displayed little interest in settling down and marrying. Instead, Georgia Tann pursued one of the few avenues available to women who wished to become professionals in that era: social work. It not only afforded Georgia the opportunity for a career, but a means to escape from her home and her domineering father.
Miss Tann rapidly concluded poor people could not possibly be fit parents. Her comments about poor people having children were both cruel and derisive; Miss Tann referred to them as "breeders" and the mothers as "cows."
When Miss Georgia Tann embarked upon her unfortunate career, adoption was hardly a common practice. She would refine it to an art form and one that paid handsomely.
Miss Tann was hired by the Mississippi Children's Home-Finding Society and she began finding homes for children, but soon discovered there were men and women who were nothing less than desperate to have a child and they were willing to pay. Miss Tann visited the home of a poor young widow named Rose Harvey, who lived in a cabin in Jasper, Mississippi. Rose was ill, suffering from diabetes, and pregnant. Her two-year old son, Onyx, was playing on the porch when Georgia Tann arrived and took the little boy. Rose's father was convinced to sign legal documents stating his daughter was an unfit mother and had abandoned Onyx. The brown-haired, brown-eyed little boy was given to another family and even though Rose managed to hire an attorney, she could not get her child back.
It was that same year that Georgia Tann adopted a child herself; Miss Tann adopted a baby girl whom she named June. Quoted in Barbara Raymond's book about Miss Georgia Tann, June's daughter Vicci said, "Mother said Georgia Tann was a cold fish; she gave her material things, but nothing else. I don't why she bothered to adopt her."

By 1924, Miss Georgia Tann was in Memphis, Tennessee and started the Tennessee Children's Home Society. In time, some of the wealthiest couples in the country would adopt babies from Georgia Tann. Several movie stars adopted babies from Miss Georgia Tann, including Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, and Dick Powel and his wife, June Allyson. Governor and Mrs. Herbert Lehman adopted a baby from Georgia Tann; Lehman was the lieutenant governor to Franklin D. Roosevelt and FDR's successor. He was also enormously wealthy, being the heir to Lehman Brothers.
Georgia Tann owned considerable property and purchased a home in Memphis at 91 Stonewall Street, a comfortable bungalow type structure of some 2,200 square feet, three bedrooms and two baths. Miss Tann lived there with her partner, Ann Atwood Hollinsworth. Tann officially adopted Mrs. Hollinsworth in Dyer County a few years before her death. Mrs. Hollinsworth had a son, Jack, who was killed in an American Airlines plane crash in 1943. Mrs. Hollinsworth would outlive her partner by almost fifty years, dying in 1995.
Once a baby was in Miss Tann's custody, she would alter the birth records beyond all recognition and create a more acceptable story accounting for the baby's birth, which was calculated to appeal to prospective adoptive parents. Rather than simply being the child of a single mother or poor couple, the baby was the result of a brief union between a young mother of good breeding and her boyfriend of equally social standing. Miss Tann was not above creating a background for a particular child to suit prospective adoptive parents.
Georgia Tann's personal appearance likely actually aided her in concealing her true nature. A rather dumpy woman, who usually looked rather rumpled, looked like anything save for the aristocrat she pretended to be. Her graying hair was cut short and seemed only haphazardly styled. Miss Georgia Tann looked quite innocuous; she did not seem in any way threatening. She appeared to be an inoffensive middle-aged woman and likely looked precisely like what many perceived to be a professional social worker.
Miss Tann, for all her faults and loathsome nature, was quite shrewd. She employed Abe Waldauer, a high-ranking member of the Crump machine, as her attorney. In Memphis, Waldauer was extremely well connected and he proved to be an effective ally in lobbying the Tennessee General Assembly. Waldauer was sympathetic to Miss Tann, as he was an adoptive father himself. Miss Tann's first contact with Abe Waldauer seems to have been in 1933 when she wanted the lawyer's help with her invalid brother. Georgia Tann wrote a petulant letter to Waldauer on January 28, 1933, complaining, "I have tried several times recently to see you and talk with you in regard to my brother's claim against the government."

Eventually Waldauer became both Georgia Tann's personal attorney as well as that of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. The Board of the Tennessee Children's Home Society included some of the "best" people in Memphis; Walter Chandler would go on to serve as Congressman from the district, as well as Mayor of Memphis. John Reichman was a former Shelby County sheriff and Mrs. E. W. Hale was the wife of the head of the Shelby County Commission. The famous author Pearl Buck even wished to collaborate on a book with Georgia Tann. Yet some suppose E. H. Crump knew exactly what Miss Tann was doing and she somehow enjoyed his personal protection. It seems unlikely she fooled practically everybody save for Boss Crump.
And Miss Georgia Tann had a lot of people fooled.
Georgia Tann helped to formulate the laws on adoption in Tennessee, some of which exist to this day. Due to the nature of her business, it was imperative to Miss Tann that adoption records remained confidential and closed. Miss Tann was quite secretive and there appear to be instances where she even deceived her own lawyer. Georgia Tann would contact Judge Kelley with a list of changes in Tennessee's laws which she believed needed to be changed. Judge Kelley would then send the list on her own stationery to Abe Waldauer, giving Waldauer the notion those changes were requested by Judge Kelley and the Shelby County Family Court.
Many of the children given up or sold for adoption by Miss Georgia Tann were fortunate enough to find loving homes, but there were many who were far less lucky. There were numerous stories of birth parents and mothers who literally spent their entire lives trying to locate their lost children.
Miss Tann conceived the idea of placing ads in local newspapers, complete with a photograph of a child well scrubbed and nicely dressed under the headline, "Want A Real Live Christmas Present?" Another featured a smiling little boy grasping a ball under the headline, "Yours for the Asking!"
The advertisement, which ran in the Memphis Press Scimitar on December 8, 1935, read:
"Yours for the asking!
"George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete the team. 'Catch this ball, Daddy!' How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year old to play 'catch' with you? How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bear-like hug? His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar.
"In cooperation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, the Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas."
Even the local newspapers believed they were rendering a real service to the children by finding them loving homes.
Like Judge Kelley, Miss Georgia Tann was actually lauded by an unsuspecting population for what most believed to be her good work. National publications referred to her as "the foremost leading light in adoption laws" in the country. Eleanor Roosevelt actually sought Miss Tann's advice on issues regarding child welfare and President Harry Truman invited her to his inauguration. If anything, Miss Georgia Tann was outwardly respectable.

Miss Tann's alliance with Judge Kelley gave her enormous power. Armed with not only the power of the court, Miss Tann had the resources at her command from the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County's sheriff's office through Judge Kelley. There is good reason to believe Judge Kelley was paid by Miss Georgia Tann for her cooperation.
By the 1940s, some uncomfortable questions were being asked. Miss Tann owned considerable property, including a motel, a large farm and home named "Tannwood" and was driven about town in a chauffeured Cadillac limousine. Evidently folks were encouraged to believe Georgia Tann came from a prominent and wealthy Mississippi family, so fewer eyebrows were raised than might have been the case otherwise. Very few social workers had the means to employ a chauffeur who actually wore a uniform.
The Crump machine suffered devastating defeats in the 1948 elections. Crump refused to support Senator Tom Stewart for reelection that year, preferring instead to back Cookeville Judge John A. Mitchell, whom the Memphis Boss had never even met. Crump's political partner, Senator K. D. McKellar, tried to change Crump's mind, but was unsuccessful. Senator McKellar did not believe Judge Mitchell was a strong candidate, a reality that became more abundantly clear as the Democratic primary approached. Both McKellar and Crump were backing incumbent Jim Nance McCord for the gubernatorial nomination in 1948, but Governor McCord was mortally wounded by having instituted a sales tax for education. Tennesseans apparently less appreciated the free textbooks for their children than they resented the new tax. McCord was opposed by former Governor Gordon Browning, a long-time opponent of both Crump and McKellar. The election of Gordon Browning and Estes Kefauver in the Senate race ended the long domination of Tennessee politics by Senator McKellar and E. H. Crump.
The whispers surrounding Miss Georgia Tann's Tennessee Children's Home Society soon reached the ears of Governor Browning. The governor realized were the allegations true, it would be a profound embarrassment to Crump and his machine. Browning authorized an investigation and announced the findings at a press conference. They were both appalling and devastating.
The focus of Governor Browning's comments had less to do with the children, their parents or the theft of babies than profiteering illegally while the Tennessee Children's Home Society received state funding. Browning's choice to lead the investigation was attorney Robert L. Taylor (later for years a federal judge sitting in Knoxville) who termed many of the adoptions by Georgia Tann as "mail order adoptions". Taylor's report revealed some judges in Memphis had urged that the Tennessee Children's Home Society be investigated years ago. Georgia Tann's operation had also been investigated by John Brown, U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee and a McKellar appointee. Brown's probe clearly indicated adoptive parents were being seriously overcharged for investigation and transportations costs. Tennessee's Commissioner of Welfare had concluded that more than 1000 babies sent to New York and California had cost the parents perhaps as much as $1,000,000, a sum roughly equivalent to approximately $9,700,000 in today's dollars.

Ironically, Miss Georgia Tann was by that time outside the reach of the law. Within days of the governor's press conference, Georgia Tann died from cancer inside her home and in the comfort of her own bed. Tann died from uterine cancer and strangely had never sought any kind of treatment. Death came for her before the law could.
Camille Kelley, for thirty years judge of Shelby County's Family Court, quickly announced she was resigning for reasons of health. It was readily apparent Crump had forced her resignation from the bench. Past seventy at the time, Judge Kelley also escaped prosecution, retiring quietly and living with her son, where she died from a stroke in 1955.
The victims, the children adopted out to families across the country, were only granted the right to view their birth certificates and records of their adoptions by the State of Tennessee in 1995. Some were reunited with members of their families and some are still looking to this day.

The Knoxville Focus, By Ray Hill, June 4, 2014

Family Members


  • Created by: Neil Loftiss
  • Added: 12 Jun 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 38235660
  • Neil Loftiss
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Georgia Tann (18 Jul 1891–15 Sep 1950), Find a Grave Memorial no. 38235660, citing Hickory Cemetery, Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi, USA ; Maintained by Neil Loftiss (contributor 47136115) .