A Girl Like Me

Guess what I am going to see this Saturday?

A GIRL LIKE HER film trailer_Fessler from Ann Fessler on Vimeo.

It is screening here.

Flickers-Rhode Island International Film Festival
SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 2:00PM, Metcalf Auditorium, RISD Museum, Providence, RI

 Film Synopsis (from website)

“A GIRL LIKE HER reveals the hidden history of over a million young women who became pregnant in the 1950s and 60s and were banished to maternity homes to give birth, surrender their children, and return home alone. They were told to keep their secret, move on and forget. But, does a woman forget her child?

The film combines footage from educational films and newsreels of the time period about dating, sex, “illegitimate” pregnancy, and adoption—that both reflected and shaped the public’s understanding of single pregnancy during that time—with the voices of these mothers as they speak today, with hindsight, about the long-term impact of surrender and silence on their lives.”

2130 N. Kenmore

I have had quite a few inquiries lately about Gehring Hall.  The interest is rooted in the new Illinois law that is releasing OBCs to adult adoptees.  Many adoptees are finding that their mothers listed their address as 2130 North Kenmore, Chicago, IL.  A quick google search of this address will show you that it is a building that is now part of DePaul.  What the Google search may not tell you is that in the early 1980’s, it was a maternity home for expectant mothers. I have found that there are some misconceptions about Gehring, who ran it, who stayed there, etc.  I am writing this bulleted list post to help those that may be searching.   I welcome updates to my information from anyone who has them.

  • As noted, Gehring Hall was located on 2130 North Kenmore, Chicago Illinois. This address is located in Lincoln Park, pretty much right on the DePaul University Campus. The nearest El stop serving the address at the time I lived there was Fullerton Avenue. The picture above is a picture of Gehring.
  • The home (and I use that term loosely) was associated with St. Joseph Hospital. Nearly all (as far I know) expectant mothers that resided there delivered their babies at St. Josephs
  • Many mothers who lived there also worked at St. Josephs. If you did not work at St. Joe’s you likely worked at the consignment shop the home ran around the corner. A portion of your pay check went towards your stay at the home.  Mothers also worked as nannies and babysitters for affluent Lincoln Park families.
  • Contrary to what some people have been lead to believe, Catholic Charities was not the only adoption agency placing babies born to mothers at Gehring. When I lived at Gehring mothers were there courtesy of Lutheran Family Services, Catholic Charities, Evangelical, and Easter House. (There are likely others. Please comment.)
  • While the majority of the mothers there during winter of 1986 were from IL, many were from out-of-state (as I was).  Easter House was notorious for finding mothers in other states and flying them to IL to take advantage of IL adoption laws.  Searching adoptees should not assume that their mother was from IL if she lived at Gehring.
  • To me, personally, Gehring was a prison.  I hated it and was pretty depressed during my stay.  Friends at the time (many still friends today) would say they enjoyed it, it “felt like a big dorm party”.   I had no such feelings but did my best not to show my depression, anger and disgust. It was the only place I had to live. IF I did not follow the rules, do what I was told, go to work to pay my rent, I would have been homeless.
  • Not all mothers who lived there surrendered their children. Several I know were blessed to get away with babes in arms  This generally happened with the father of the baby finally expressed support (thereby taking her away to marry her) or if the parents of the expectant mother came to their senses. I don’t know exact numbers but I will guess 5% of Gehring residents were able to bring their babies home.
  • Mothers were allowed to stay at Gehring post surrender for a few days or weeks depending on your situation.  Many had no where else to go so the home did let them stay while they figured that out.  Those that had families willing to take them back returned to their homes or their universities.  Easter House gave me a plane ticket and sent me back east to my parents. (Within weeks I would return of my own accord and start my life there on my own. Home was not an option for me.)
  • Gehring Hall closed sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. Reports state that the records went to a newly formed facility called the Madonna Center located on W. Grace. I have not been able to find truth in that statement. Several mothers attempted to located records and were unsuccessful. St. Joseph Hospital will also state they no longer have records.
  • I remember many of the names of mothers who lived there from January 1986 till June of 1986. If you were born during this time frame and your OBC lists your mothers address as Gehring, I likely knew her or know someone who did.
  • This is not specific to Gehring but I feel it is worth nothing. If your OBC does not list a father or states father unknown, do not believe that until you ask your mother herself.  My daughters father was very much known and in fact had surrendered his rights to her prior to her birth. However, since he was NOT present at the time of her birth, the records person would not allow me to put his name on her birth certificate. He had to be present and agree he was the father.  Totally fucked up if you ask me but that was the law. It disgusts me to this day.

Feel free to comment and add information that you feel may be helpful.