ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE: BEST PICTURE
Edna Gladney places thousands of orphaned children in homes and fights the government to remove from them the stigma of “illegitimacy.” Based on a true story. [Dir: Mervyn LeRoy/ Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Felix Bressart/ 95 min/ Drama, Biography/ Government Enforced Morality, Voluntaryism]
At one time, children born out of wedlock were marked for life in the public record as “illegitimate.” As a consequence, even if raised in the best of homes, they were considered, in a social sense, damaged goods. They were also ineligible for certain types of employment. The government’s motivation for publishing such information was, of course, to discourage out-of-wedlock births. But, ironically, the policy punished the hapless baby instead of the parents.
Edna Gladney knew well the sting of illegitimacy, as her adopted sister committed suicide when she and her fiancé discovered through the public record that she was born so. As this film dramatizes, she became a crusader against this policy in the course of creating her Texas Children’s Home & Aid Society, a charity of her own design that sought to place unwanted children in good homes. Her heroic efforts on a shoestring budget placed over two thousand children who otherwise would have ended up in the uncaring hands of the state.
This is an often moving story of one woman’s benevolent voluntary action touching the lives of many, and contrasts tellingly with the indifferent treatment abandoned children have often received at government orphanages. There are some minor flaws here from a libertarian perspective — as when her early efforts at providing day care fail and are “luckily” taken over by the city, and when at the end her character is given an unnecessarily sacrificial quality; otherwise, this is an appealing tear-jerker that libertarians will appreciate as a great example of private benevolence.
As Edna says to the Texas Senate in advocating the elimination of mandatory illegitimacy records, “Life can be made so much more beautiful by love, by sympathy and understanding than it ever can by intolerant rules, laws, and regulations … ” Indeed.