Hollywood’s Patron Saint of Orphans circa 1950

Just after World War II, Hollywood film star, Jane Russell, searched Europe in a bid to adopt a child after finding out she could not have her own. At the time intercountry adoption was considered an embarrassment by countries whose children were adopted by wealthy Americans. In fact members of the British Parliament demanded that: “American movie stars stop “stealing” British and Irish children”.  http://tradescant.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/jane-russell-and-south-lambeth-adoption.html

Russell formed an intercountry adoption agency, W.A.I.F., and used it to promote the concept of  “saving orphans”  and to normalise the moving of children from their own country to the US. In the process Russell adopted 3 children and was responsible for over 40,000 intercountry adoptions, including babies from Ireland.  There is a reference to Russell in the movie Philomena.


“After discovering firsthand that adoptions overseas were mired in red tape, Russell succeeded in lobbying Congress to ease the regulations then in force. To aid her cause, she also founded and helped finance the Women’s Adoption International Fund to facilitate U.S. adoptions of foreign orphans”.

Behind her screen image she was an evangelical Christian


Russell was married 3 times, suffered from alcoholism and depression.  She entered rehab at the age of 79. She described herself in her later years:

““These days I’m a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist,” she told The Daily Mail of London in 2003. Bigotry, she added, “just means you don’t have an open mind.””


Russell’s backer throughout her career was the billionaire Howard Hughes. See Jane Russell on the Biography Channel,  8 Feb 2013.

“She walked the halls of congress and was instrumental in getting 4000 children into the US every year”. According to her friend and movie star, Adrian Booth Brian, even though Howard Hughes wanted her to maintain her public profile as a sex goddess not a “mother of orphans”, he “Literally paid her way around all the time she was doing it [saving orphans]”.

The Biography channel painted Russell as a “big hearted actress” who had adopted and formed the WAIF organisation because of the number of orphans left after the war.  However the reality was that because of her infertility, caused by a botched abortion, she felt compelled to adopt and this led, as it still seems the case, to put her energy into saving orphans globally.  Russell first tried to acquire a little boy in Europe. She states:

“I hoped I would be able to find a boy in Europe, but it seems to be impossible … the British law will not allow me to take a child from England. In Italy I could not get a child because I am under 40; and, anyway, there were difficulties because Italy is a Catholic country and I am a Protestant. Now I have been advised to try Ireland; but I am worried in case the same difficulties would arise there. My husband is Irish, and he would very much like to adopt an Irish baby. If it is possible, I would like to fly to Dublin this week to pick out a child and make all the arrangements for bringing him to America”.  Historian  Moira Maguire discusses the event and the outcome:

“A member of the Church of Ireland Moral Welfare Organisation advised Russell that she would be unable to adopt a child from a Protestant institution without the requisite home studies and background investigations, so Russell set her sights on a young Irish boy who resided with his parents in England. The chain of events that led Russell from Ireland to England is sketchy at best, but somehow Russell convinced an Irish couple, the Kavanaghs, to allow her to adopt their son Tommy, and within hours the Irish legation in London issued a passport in Tommy Kavanagh’s name. The British press gave considerable coverage to the incident, which in turn fuelled a flurry of reports in other European newspapers about Ireland’s adoption policy …The most damning and worrying article appeared in 1951 in the German Uhr Blatt newspaper, in response to English press coverage of the Russell case … it raised the specter of a black-market baby ring that sold Irish children to the highest American bidder, the irony being that while Irish agencies were willing to do almost anything to rid themselves of the moral and financial burden of caring for illegitimate children, American couples were willing to pay dearly for the privilege of adopting healthy white Irish children. According to a translation of the Uhr Blatt article, an Irish welfare worker in England accused the Irish government of turning a blind eye to the export and sale of Irish children:

‘Our country has today become a sort of hunting ground for foreign millionaires who believe they can acquire children to suit their whims just in the same way as they would get valuable pedigree animals. In the last few months more than one hundred children have left Ireland, without any official organisation being in a position to make any enquiries as to their future habitat.’

… officials were quite willing to issue passports to allow illegitimate children to travel overseas for adoption, [as long as the Catholic Church agreed], but consistently refused passports to legitimate, even orphaned, children”.

(Maguire, M. (2002).  ‘Foreign Adoptions and the Evolution of Irish Adoption Policy, 1945-1952’, Journal of Social History, 36(2), Winter, pp. 387-404).

The article goes on to explain how the church and state conspired to ship thousands of babies of single mothers overseas, to be adopted by wealthy Americans, the only criteria being that they be brought up as Catholics.   So it does not matter how Hollywood spins adoption at its heart it has always been about the interests of those in more powerful positions, not those of the mother nor her child. It seems some things never change

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For Bio info click on - About - tab and 'A bit about me' Dr. Christine A. Cole Convenor Apology Alliance Australia
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4 Responses to Hollywood’s Patron Saint of Orphans circa 1950

  1. eagoodlife says:

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    Nothing changes!!!

  2. Lara/Trace says:

    Reblogged this on LARA/TRACE (author) and commented:
    The Hollywood connection to Adoption Trafficking – WOW!!!

  3. Lara/Trace says:

    I thank Von for her reposting so I could repost – my deepest thanks for your research and this blog!

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