From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good House, the story of two friends, raised in the same orphanage, whose loyalty is put to the ultimate test when they meet years later at a controversial institution—one as an employee; the other, an inmate.
It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as a secretary at a remote but scenic institution for mentally disabled women called the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel.
Dr. Vogel had been the only woman in her class in medical school. As a young psychiatrist she was an outspoken crusader for women’s suffrage. Now, at age forty, Dr. Vogel runs one of the largest and most self-sufficient public asylums for women in the country. Mary deeply admires how dedicated the doctor is to the poor and vulnerable women under her care.
Soon after she’s hired, Mary learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates. Mary remembers Lillian as a beautiful free spirit with a sometimes-tempestuous side. Could she be mentally disabled? When Lillian begs Mary to help her escape, alleging the asylum is not what it seems, Mary is faced with a terrible choice. Should she trust her troubled friend with whom she shares a dark childhood secret? Mary’s decision triggers a hair-raising sequence of events with life-altering consequences for all.
Inspired by a true story about the author’s grandmother, The Foundling offers a rare look at a shocking chapter of American history. This gripping page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats right up to the stunning last page…asking themselves, “Did this really happen here?”
Leary's gripping latest (after The Children) chronicles a na ve young woman's role in a eugenics program at a Pennsylvania asylum in 1927. Mary Engle grows up in an orphanage and, at 18, gets her first job as secretary to Agnes Vogel, head of the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age, where women are imprisoned for reasons including prostitution, same sex or biracial relationships, drinking, or having children while unwed. These "unfit" women are forced to perform unpaid farm labor until they are past childbearing age, at which point they are released. Mary is in awe of the accomplished Vogel until she recognizes new inmate Lillian, who was a close friend at the orphanage and was sent to Nettleton for having a child out of wedlock with a Black musician. Lillian begs Mary to help get her out, but Mary initially remains loyal to Vogel. Meanwhile, Mary falls in love with a journalist who tells her that Vogel and the institution are corrupt. As she learns about Vogel's cover-ups of black market liquor dealings and the sexual assault on an inmate, she realizes neither Vogel nor Nettleton are what they claim to be. Leary makes an engrossing drama out of Mary's shifting allegiance, and this ends with an impressive twist. Readers will rip through this tale of historical injustice. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME.
Incredibley brilliant!An Astonishing premise of early America that has been buried by history.Sanitariums for Feeble Minded women of child bearing age.Basically workhouses in America for bar girls that were deemed by society to be unfit.Ann Leary has such heart and compassion for her characters.Its a page turner and I am only sad because I read it so fast!
Interesting that it was based on facts
The writing itself was not very literary. It was a story that needed to be told. But maybe it could have been told in a better way. I don’t think the reaction of the protagonist was overwhelming enough. She didn’t really come across as horrified as she should have been.
Heart wrenching yet full of female courage
While this book is a work of fiction it was based off of the eugenics ideology that weaker genes are inherited through ancestors that were afflicted by any kind of illness, disease or mental capacity as defined by some humans who’d been given the power to decide who was worthy and who wasn’t a superior person genetically, using antiquated methods to cull a human race from any weakened body in the physical mental and morality of their behavior, religion, place of birth, color of their skin and even the religion they practiced and especially if they didn’t. These people were typically women who were born poor, had little or horrific families that would have them sent to insane asylums in many cases by a man, usually their husbands when he was done with her and wanted a new wife or life. The horrible negligence and abuses that occurred while there were even more grotesque than the reasoning behind their admittance. Thousands of women died behind locked asylum gates, having no burials, no real records to the gross abuse, maudlin experimental and grave practices performed on them without their consent as they were deemed too unfit to make sound decisions and these asylums were legally accepted and given grants by our lawmakers, the government and the powerful political powers that were the only unsound and unfit of the minds of these eras. There’s been a bit more of legislature that’s protecting women in our era but not by much. There’s still such a biased approach towards the poor, the female gender and those who don’t resemble the white “Nordic” race as this book and eugenics bases their superior genetic code. It’s fair to say, these people who’ve identified with this superior race and oppress those who don’t look like them, act like them and conform to their idealism and rules of law will be severely punished and in todays case these people usually end up in the privatization of prisons and institutions that profit from imprisonment of humans and enslave them by robbing them of their identity, free will and freedom altogether. This country in particular is extreme in its effort to imprison humans and keep them locked away to profit from their cost to the taxpayer and government but had there been any rehabilitation, fair and honest systems in place without racial gender or other biases and made opportunities and education equal for all as well as advancement into careers, salaries and ensured the poverty stricken society was bailed out as Wall Street has been and capitalism wasn’t the driving force in the country but humanity was, there would be a lot less prisons, a healthier environment society and economy yet it’s these powers that be, who refuse to accept their actions and their greed as the result of the poverty the oppression the crime and the uneducated inexperienced and horrific mentality that a 40 hour work week isn’t assurance you can feed your family shelter yourself or even live at a reasonably healthy level- it’s not going to change any time soon until we’ve stopped the 1% from running the world and buying their privilege because most of them have earned that money in fraudulent cases by not paying for labor, health, or insurance of any kind, by filing false tax returns and buying off the government and legal services. It needs to end- or perhaps I need a new country to call my own