I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when in the mid-1990s when I first got seriously involved in adoptee rights, I had never heard of Jean Paton.
My ignorance was disabused at the Seattle AAC conference (I think it was 1997) E. Wayne Carp, who had just released his pioneering work Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption was first day keynoter. Among the special guests that day was Jean Paton.
As I remember it, some of us Bastard Nationals were running around with little homemade “nametags” with Bastards are Beautiful” handprinted on them with a magic marker–mainly as a dig at the goody-2-shoes AAC crowd and, of couse, to advertise ourselves. Someone, and I don’t remember who, (maybe it was Jean) pointed out that this phrase was not original with Bastard Nation. It was an original Jean Patonism.
Well, who was Jean Paton? Only the mother of the adoptee rights movement in America! That’s who!
It was almost like opening your OBC and learning that you had a name and a history. As a trained historian I was shocked to learn that I hadn’t done my homework. I knew about Joanne Wolf Small, B J Lifton, ALMA and a few other historical anecdotes but not Jean Paton, Orphan Voyage and the roots of our movement. I think I actually started to cry a little. We weren’t in a vacuum. Hells bells! The movement had started 40 years (now 60 years) earlier and we were just hearing about it now!
I was fortunate enough to meet Jean that day. She was up in years but spry and sharp as ever. We talked for awhile and she approved of Bastard Nation. I didn’t have any further contact with her until Measure 58 passed in Oregon and she sent us a congratulatory note.
I’ve learned much about Jean since then, but now there is an opportunity for all of us to learn much more.