' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: An agency lies, a mother grieves, a son is lost

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

An agency lies, a mother grieves, a son is lost

Lorraine with thinking cap in her garden 
A terrible "misadoption" story about the horrific Louise Wise Agency in New York City was in my inbox days ago, well before it actually appeared in The New York Times. It the story of a Jewish teenager who reluctantly gave up her son in 1961 after immense pressure from family, and critically, the agency worker who lied to her when she wanted to get her son back before he was adopted.

At the time. Wise (ironic name, should be Louise Liar) kept babies for a couple of years in some cases to see that the merchandise was healthy before the children were adopted. (What happened to those who were deemed unfit is unknown. But I have a good guess. More about that later.)That is what happened to Margaret Erle, who was a 17-year-old high school student when she became pregnant.

She and the baby's father went to the agency in 1962 and told them they were planning to be married soon, and since the agency still had their son, could they have him now? George Erle was 19 at the time; Margaret was four weeks shy of 18.

The awful woman whom Margaret talked to got her alone and told her that her son was about to be adopted by a "diplomat," which turned out to be entirely made up out of thin air. That she, Margaret, would not be a good mother. That if she didn't sign the papers now, the boy would stay in foster care for "who knows how long." "You have nothing to offer him," the woman said. Margaret signed the papers, but she did not forget her baby.

Over the years, she stayed in touch with the Wise people, hoping to give them updated medical information that would be passed on. At one point, she was threatened with the police being called if she didn't go away.

I had trouble focusing on the details of the story because in so many ways it replicated mine when I was trying to find out how my daughter was, when I felt she needed me. I wrote to my agency Hillside Terrace, in Rochester, New York, three times and got innocuous letters back each time basically telling me that my daughter was fine and happy with her new family.

When in fact, the agency person knew absolutely nothing about how my daughter was, and in fact, her adoptive parents and her doctor had been trying to locate me because of my daughter's epilepsy.  My first letter to the agency was written about the time of my daughter's first seizure. Something kept telling me to write. Ultimately they did contact the adoptive parents but that was long after I got these letters telling me she was fine. My daughter's doctor's letter was never answered. 

The particulars of our stories are different, of course, I didn't knock on Hillside's door because after I slunk out of town after my baby's birth and moved to Albany and only went back twice soon after she was relinquished for a few days.

The story says that Margaret read about ALMA in The New York Times in the mid-Seventies--it must have been the same article by Enid Nemy that turned me on and made me realize that I was not the only crazy person in the world who wanted to know my child, the one I gave up. Margaret also attended ALMA meetings back then, and so did I, and so did others. I assume it's likely that she and I were at the same meeting one time or another.

Louise Wise was a terrible, terrible agency. RIP isn't even fitting. It does mean: Rest in Peace. Louise Wise should have been on trial for all the terrible things that agency did over the years. When Florence Fisher and I testified in Albany in 1976 for unsealing adoptee birth certificates, our main opposition among those testifying was a lawyer representing Louise Wise: Shad Polier. He went on at some length, and these words were in his testimony: havoc, harmful, disaster, pathology. He was not unlike the judges who testified in January of 2014 when a clean bill in New York seemed possible.

You can imagine my anger. My fury.

Polier died a few months later. I rejoiced when I read his obit in The New York Times, riding a crowded bus on a hot day in Manhattan. It's one of those moments about which I have a crystal clear image in my mind.

When I was researching my new memoir and expose, Hole In My Heart, I discovered that Polier was married to Louise Wise's daughter. I will remember Shad Polier along with Bill Pierce as two of the most destructive people involved in adoption, right up there to the ultimate baby-snatcher, Georgia Tann.

There's more to the Margaret Erle story--through DNA testing she and her eventually reunited--but the son died a few months later. The link below will tell you the sordid details and what a terrible terrible agency Louise Wise was. All the words that the Polier used about unsealing birth records could be said about Louise Wise. Those supposedly "unfit" babies? Read this tale below and decide what you think:

Footnote 33 in Hole In My ♥:
Louise Wise Services went out of business in 2010 after a couple of well-publicized lawsuits. In one, a couple was  told that they were adopting the son of a bright, accomplished college student who helped support her mother and whose fiancĂ© had unexpectedly died, and she got pregnant soon after during a rebound affair. In fact, the mother was a lobotomized schizophrenic, and the father was also a mental patient;  the couple conceived when both were institutionalized. At the adoptee’s insistence, his parents sued Louise Wise Services. He had schizophrenia and died at 29 of undetermined causes. The agency also separated identical twins as part of a social experiment. 

I found I couldn't even get too outraged when I read this new story of chicanery and deception by an adoption agency. All I could think was--how common is this? How many lies did agency workers tell to get babies? They are still doing it today--Bethany, some offal of a agency called Adoption Rocks in Alabama which basically used the police to steal a child, and god knows how many others. Natural mother and friend Mirah Riben has written extensively and dramatically about the great abuses in adoption, and she writes about them now clearly and strongly at Huff Po, and hopefully more people will become aware of just how shoddy a business is modern adoption in many instances still is today.--lorraine
A Son Given Up for Adoption Is Found After Half a Century, and Then Lost Again

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA
by Richard Hill 
"...one man embarks on a nearly three-decade quest to find his biological family...Hill's prose is clear and straightforward throughout, marked by a methodological tone that reflects his careers in science and marketing. Seamlessly and descriptively, he folds a decades-long process into a comprehensible narrative. His years of meticulous note taking translate into an inspiring story about his dedicated search for the truth. An engaging, page-turning memoir that thoughtfully puts together the pieces of a family puzzle."--Kirkus Reviews

The Dark Side of Adoption
by Mirah Riben
"A terrific book...it is dynamic! I will be asking my members to...purchase your book...I am constantly rereading sections." Parent Finders, Ontario "Although not an easy book for an adoptive parent to read, this is certainly an important book for anyone striving to understand all sides of the adoption triangle. The good news (for adoptive parents) is that Riben is not slamming adoptive parents...her really big guns are leveled at The System. I recommend that adoptive parents read this book." Gigi Wirtz, Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE) --Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE)


  1. Lorraine.just as your blood boils on hearing or reading stereotypes and other mistaken ideas about adoption, my blood boils at people promoting stereotypes about mental illness. First of all the word itself-"schizophrenia"- needs to be thrown out and substituted with a more accurate and human-sounding one to describe this illness without making the people afflicted with this sound like space aliens or something. Second ,you are perpetuating the stereotypes about "damaged goods" in adoption that you object to. And third of all, the rate of schizophrenia is only slightly higher among the children of schizophrenics as compared to the general population.It is a complex disease with many contributing factors. Most people with this difficult illness do not have children because of all the difficulties and hardships they face just getting through each day and due to lack of financial resources I personally took a computer course with a man who met his wife while they were both in a psychiatric hospital diagnosed with schizophrenia She was from a wealthy family so they were lucky Most aren't They got married and had 4 kids- none of whom were sick.

  2. The point is--the lies that Louise Wise told to the adopting couple. Schizophrenia is the medically recognized term that The New York Times used in their coverage of this story (as I recall, it was on the front page) and is still used today.

    The point is Louise Wise staffers or perhaps Louise Wise herself was the liar who perpetuated the two instances of falsehood that resulted in adoption. The son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia himself asked that his parents continue the lawsuit against Louise Wise.

  3. Damn! How did/do these people sleep at night?? The agency worker who talked Margaret out of keeping her baby, and the one who lied to you about your daughter's well being...That level of heartlessness and evil is staggering. Lorraine, I so appreciate your candor --> "I rejoiced when I read his (Polier's) obit" AMEN to that. Here's hoping there really is a hell.

  4. I just had a similar case out of Michigan, early 1970s, a biracial boy. His parents married and went back to the agency to get hin back, but were told he was already adopted. Turned out to be a lie; he was in foster care for years before eventually being adopted by a black couple, who were upper middle-aged with a daughter in her teens. The adoptive father passed away shortly after, and the adoptive mother could not handle the boy, so turned him over to a guardian. In the late '80s or esrly '90s, the young man, then in the military, contacted the agency and asked about finding his family. The agency refused, as the records were sealed, and this was before MI's CI program had been established. Fast forward to this year. The father has passed away, and the mother contacts the agency to inquire about her lost son. The agency writes a letter to the last-known address, which is returned. They make a half-hearted, unsuccessful attempt to find him, close the file and tell mother there's nothing they can do. After months of protest, the agency finally makes another try and locates the adoptive sister who puts them in touch with the adoptee now living in Europe. I do believe this was a result of the mother posting on social media, rightfully embarrassing the agency.

    On another note, I do have to say that Louise Wise cases are the easiest to solve. Spence Chapin is the administrator of the defunct agency's files now and usually give very good, detailed non-identifying information reports to adoptees, which makes my life a lot easier. As you know, Spence Chapin is supportive of adoptee rights and the trend toward openness in adoption.

    1. Of course the Michigan stories always touch my heart because that is where I grew up and I always feel especially bad when I hear stories out of my native state. Priscilla, do you remember what county that MI case was in? The Detroit or Flint area?

      Glad to hear that about Spence Chapin, I knew it, but it always bears repeating for someone who might not know and be adopted from there. It also makes a point for SC or Louise Wise mothers to go back there and update their files and make known their willingness to be contacted. Yes, the records are still sealed but the more action there is, the more willingness there will be on everyone's part to make sure openness is pushed further.

  5. A note on Louse Wise separating identical twins fr experimental purposes. Twins Wise separated wrote a book about being separated and finding each other, "Identical Strangers." Growing up, neither knew she had a twin. The twins likened Wise's participation in the twins experiment to the work of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

  6. Being in the NYC metropolitan area, I have heard more Louise Wise horror stories over the years than I can count from the people who lived them, including the horrid separation of twins. We had a mother who used to come to our meetings whose boy and girl twins were separated by Louise Wise. placed in the same area, and the agency never told the adoptive parents they were twins or gave them the opportunity to adopt both. The mother was told nobody would want to adopt them together. The possibility for incest in this situation was very real; at least the mother found them and was able to tell them they were twins.

    To anon of July 15, schizophrenia is a medical term for an awful disease, and calling it something else would not make it less devastating. There is a hereditary component to schizophrenia similar to that of diabetes; if your parents and other close relatives have it, you are more likely to also have it. You also may never develop the disease, but the risk is increased. Two schizophrenic parents are not good odds.It is not simple direct heredity like hemophilia, but the risk is there and real and people with schizophrenia in their family history need to know this, as does anyone adopting a child with this history. I wonder how old the four children of those two mentally ill parents are? Typically schizophrenia does not manifest itself until adolescence or early 20s. My best friend's son was a perfectly normal little boy until about 16 when the disease hit, and he will never be able to fully function despite heavy medication and sheltered living. he is almost 50. Yes, there are multiple causes and many are unknown, but my friend was told to investigate her family history when her son got sick and found an uncle who had been in a mental institution for many years.

    The actions of Louise Wise in lying to those adoptive parents about their son's medical history and separating twins for experiment were cruel and criminal and they richly deserved to be put out of business.It is ironic that some of most vicious and evil agencies in the past were under religious auspices.

  7. Pun alert:

    "You say this cat Shad is a bad mother?"

    [background singers] "Shut your mouth!"

    "I'm talkin' 'bout Shad!"

    [background singers] "We can dig it..."

    Sorry, but that version of "Theme From Shaft" pops up in my mind every time I read a reference to Shad Polier: a bad mother who took babies away from good ones.

    I feel Margaret's pain.

  8. The social worker from Louise Wise told my birth mother that a doctor on Long Island wanted to adopt me. She embellished the story by telling my birth mother that the doctor had a pony waiting for me. I was six at the time. The year was 1951. As soon the Wise agency got hold of me they put me back into the foster system. Then they placed me with a mother and father that were psychos. He tried to kill me once. She was a moron and vicious. I ran away by joining the service when I was 17. My birth mother found me in 1973 thanks to Florence Fisher. My birth mother was shocked beyond belief when I told her what had happened to me. We had a good reunion. I can't think you enough for exposing the evils of the Louise Wise agency. Until tonight I thought the lies told to my birth mother was the exception. Keep up the good work!

  9. My husband was adopted from louise wise around october 1959. He was supposedly born January 3rd 1959. He too was supposedly biracial...mother jewish father native American indian police officer in New York. I need help finding information since he is now deceased and I can't get his original birth certificate. The only information I have is what louise wise told us through a letter. Help! I need to know who her parents were for medical reasons for his children

    1. Jen, This is an old post and read only by a few. I suggest you go to Facebook and search for New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, as well as FMF's current post, (3/9/2018) and at leasts sign up with the NY Registry. As it stands now, New York is a very hard nut to crack. Speak up and help change the law for your children's sake!

  10. My mother was 16 yo who quite possibly stade at some facility that louise wise kept teen mothers, in 1967, prior to their birth. I was born in staten Island NY. so I belive the facility might have been there. would anyone know the name of the ficility and hospital the agency used

    1. David Grate /Allen KahnDecember 20, 2022 at 5:24 AM

      We must have been neighbors. You won't want this information, but you were born in Staten Island Foundling Hospital. If you are a fan of the tv show Gotham, you've seen it: it was Arkham Asylum in the show.

  11. David Grate (formerly Allen Kahn)December 20, 2022 at 5:22 AM

    I was born in 1967, Staten Island, in one of their warehouses. My birth mother was 17; she had found out she was adopted herself and had gone wild. Her fellow was 19 and a bi-polar, malignant narcissist. My mother, and her parents, knew his situation and disclosed it to LW.

    I was adopted at five months old by a wonderful older couple. They lived in Manhattan and were guaranteed that my biological parents were not from NYS; my biological parents lived in Riverdale, NY. They were given no information about me or my biological parents.

    My family moved to Riverdale a few years later; I found, through Ancestry, my biological family had interacted with me many times. My father begged in the streets in Riverdale and my mother actually worked at the same place, at the same, time, as me.



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