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AAC History

AAC – The First Years
By Penny Callan Partridge

The way I remember it, we came, as an organization, from Jean Paton. It was Jean, out in Cedaredge, Colorado, who thought the time had come for a better network.

By the late 1970's the United States had four kinds of "search and support groups." There were chapters of Jean Paton’s Orphan Voyage. There were chapters of Florence Fisher’s ALMA (Adoptees Liberty Movement Association). There were chapters of Lee Campbell's CUB (Concerned United Birthparents), and there were independent groups like Yesterday's Children in Chicago, Operation Identity in New Mexico, and Adoption Forum in Philadelphia, the group I was part of.

Jean made a conscious, and I think wise, choice to stay very much behind the scenes in the formation of a new alliance.  She was a real character, and there might have been people who would not have gotten involved had they seen it as her thing. I also think she was looking for more leaders to emerge – more people to do the work.  We will learn more of Jean's perspective on all this, by the way, with the publication of her biography by historian Wayne Carp.  Before Jean died, Carp spent a fair amount of time with her.

Someone Jean had "appointed" began contacting people across the country. This led to a 1978 gathering in Washington, D.C. It was very exciting to hear from Ken Watson and Lee Campbell about their experience on the federal Model Adoption Act Panel.  This panel ended up recommending identifying information for all three sides of the adoption triad when the adopted person reached majority. That part of the Model Act was later cut out of it. Senator Tower of Texas – we supposed at the request of the Edna Gladney Home – was the culprit.

In the spring of 1980, we gathered in Kansas City, a hugely symbolic place, because if you were born on the Kansas side of Kansas City, you could have your original birth certificate; if you were born on the Missouri side, you couldn't. We were at a training center for TWA flight attendants. There was a kind of conversation pit outside our bedrooms, where many of us came at night. It was like a small carpeted stadium where we sat in circles on different levels. I think we really learned from each other in these otherwise quiet, unglitzy surroundings. An unplanned conversation was open to all who walked by.

Bill Pierce, of the newly formed National Committee for Adoption, had come with one of his staff to check us out. He said he sympathized with the adoptee who wanted to find her birth family, but he was convinced that if women could not be promised anonymity from their children, they would turn to abortion. Of course, there were birthmothers and others there who argued with him. I remember sitting next to Dr. Marshall Schechter, the psychiatrist who had first found adopted children overrepresented in clinical settings. He would later write/edit two books with David Brodzinsky: the more academic one, The Psychology of Adoption, and then Being Adopted. Sandy Musser was there – who would later go to federal prison for illegal search tactics (after someone framed her by posing as a birthparent).  I was rooming with my now good friend, Mary Ann Koenig (and her baby, now twenty-five), who would go on to do the book, Sacred Connections – Stories of Adoption.

On Sunday morning, I was elected President of the AAC; we decided that the next gathering would be in San Antonio (hosted by Lutheran Social Services), and we decided to use the already going Open Arms Quarterly as our temporary newsletter. I later represented us on the Phil Donahue Show. My birthfather's son, whom I had not yet found, saw me on this show, not knowing that I was his sister. I have to say I was a terrible president and resigned with an ulcer before my term was up. Ever since then, I have admired all the people hanging in there, doing jobs that many of us could not do. I am grateful to them.  I really like that there is room for all kinds of talents and efforts in this movement. And I still think one of the most important things we do is to support and encourage each other in our various efforts to make adoption more honest and open.