ALMA et al v. Lefkowitz et al, 1977

The narratives excerpted below were just a few of the numerous adoptee affidavits filed in the case of ALMA et al v. Lefkowitz et al, a 1977 class action suit that challenged the constitutionality of the New York adoption records law. ALMA, the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association, was a reform organization founded by Florence Fisher in 1971. Although ALMA pursued a bold legal strategy that emphasized the rights of adoptees to equal protection before the law, most of the adoption narratives emphasized themes of long-term emotional damage rooted in the trauma of telling, the stigma of illegitimacy, or psychopathology traceable to the fact that sealed records denied adoptees fundamental knowledge about their backgrounds and identities. The lawsuit did not succeed.

Now comes ROBERTA BLACKER VAN LAVEN, nee GLORIA JOYCE GALLUB. . . .

1. According to my altered certificate of birth, I was born on May 9, 1934, on Staten Island, at the Staten Island Hospital (which has since been closed). On November 13, 1940, the Honorable Leone D. Howell, Surrogate's Court, Nassau County, at Mineola, New York, signed an order of adoption whereby I was adopted by George Blacker and Helen (Sherman) Blacker. The order of adoption shows that my name at birth was Gloria Joyce Gallub. My adoption was handled by the Louise Wise Agency (formerly the Free Synagogue Adoption Service). I entered my adoptive home at the age of five, after a period in two foster homes. I recollect appearing in court at the hearing of my adoption proceeding.

2. Although I cannot remember being specifically told never to mention my adoptive status, I quickly became aware that this was a forbidden subject, never to be mentioned. I believe that my personality was damaged by the trauma of adoption at the age of five, for I was made to deny my prior existence by secrecy and evasion. In addition, I believe it had a profound effect on my ability to mother and nurture my own daughter, now nineteen. I have lived most of my life with a feeling of being an outsider. I am detached, cold, unemotional. I believe my intellectual and professional attainments have been limited by a persistently faulty memory, since I learned at the age of five that to be loved and accepted I must learn to forget the past.

3. My actual search for the past did not finally begin until I was nearly thirty. . . .

5. Having finally unburdened this heinous secret to a psychiatrist, I was then able to reveal it at last to my husband of ten years. He was shocked beyond belief—not at the fact of adoption, but at the fact of my secrecy. Surely, our marriage suffered damage at this time. But later, with his encouragement, we set about to find my past. . . .

6. We went to Louise Wise in 1966, and spoke to Barbara Miller. There we were met with hardened attitudes and evasions from social workers with pretentions to wisdom and omnipotence; they in their professionalism denied us information which they had. . . .

* * *

Now comes JOYCE AARON, a/k/a JOYCE ANN FUNK. . . .

1. According to information given to me by a clerk at the Louise Wise Agency, I was born on December 14, 1935, in the Bronx. About six months after my birth, I was adopted by Aaron Joel Funk and Bobbie (Greenwald) Funk, who were living at the time in the Bronx. My adoptive father died in 1966; my adoptive mother is still living. My father was a lawyer and he had my adoption papers. Since his death I have thus far not been able to locate them.

2. I was first informed that I was adopted at the age of four. At that and later times, when I asked what happened to my actual parents, I was given conflicting stories, which led me to suppose that my adoptive parents were attempting to conceal from me that I was illegitimate. I was very much affected by this information, and by my adoptive parents' obvious anxiety about my inquiries, and I began to fantasize about my natural mother, to the extent that when I would observe a woman on the street with similar facial features, I would surmise that she must be my mother.

3. I became severely emotionally disturbed as a result of lack of knowledge of my origins and true identity, compounded by the attitude of my adoptive parents, and, at the age of fifteen, I began psychiatric treatment. I am now forty-one, and of the twenty-six years since I started psychoanalysis, I have spent about fifteen in analysis. My weekly schedule of hourly appointments with the analyst has varied between two and five times per week. During the periods I have been in analysis, I have spent many thousands of dollars on this treatment. It has helped me to some extent, but, in the end, my analysts have told me that it cannot fill the void, the emptiness, created by my lack of knowledge of my origins and personal identity. . . .

8. What I have suffered from all my life is the lack of knowledge of my origins and identity. I believe that the record should be unsealed and opened to me. I am not afraid of what I may find in investigating my origins. Nothing that I might find could be worse than the unknown. . . .

* * *

Now comes ELEANOR B. BARRON. . . .

1. According to my original birth certificate, I was born on January 29, 1923, at the Lying-In Hospital in Manhattan. My natural parents were Stanley Weiser and Evelyn Simon. I obtained my original birth certificate in May 1971 as a result of my search. According to information I obtained from the Louise Wise Agency, I was adopted within a year of my birth by Andrew V. Bekay and Blanche (Offer) Bekay, who were living at that time in Brooklyn.

2. My adoptive parents never told me that I had been adopted. At about the age of seven, I found in a drawer an envelope with the words written on it: “Eleanor's Adoption Papers.” Inside I found papers, one of which indicated that my original name had been Geraldine Simon. . . . When I made this discovery, I was alone in the house. When my adoptive mother returned, I asked her what these papers meant. She became hysterical and said, “Never tell your father! If you do, I will commit suicide and you will have that on your conscience!” I was never able to discuss my adoption with my adoptive mother. Each time I tried, she would threaten me again. I did not discuss my adoptive status with my adoptive father until my mother was dying, about ten years ago. When I mentioned this to him, he told me, “That must be why I could never find your adoption papers. Your mother must have thrown them out. I always thought you knew.” Nevertheless, he proceeded to tell me that all their relatives and friends had been sworn to secrecy (i.e., not to tell me). It was then that I began to understand why all these relatives and friends had always seemed uncomfortable with me: evidently, they were afraid they might slip up and tell me.

3. From the time I discovered those papers onward, life was never the same. The relationship between my adoptive parents and myself was always very strained. . . .

5. Since my mother had impressed me that the consequences of my revealing my adoptive status to family or friends would be so terrible, I concluded that adoption must be a terrible disgrace, and this has colored my thinking about myself ever since. . . .

 

Source: ALMA et al v. Lefkowitz et al, affidavits, Viola W. Bernard Papers, Box 164, Folder 1, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
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(541) 346-3118
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
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