A Girl Like Her

A film by Ann Fessler

US | 2012 | 48 minutes | Color | DVD | English | Order No. 131099


From 1945-73, 1.5 million unmarried young American women, facing enormous social pressures, surrendered babies to adoption. Lacking sex education and easy access to birth control, they were forced into hiding while pregnant and then into “abandoning” their infants. In her latest film, Ann Fessler, Professor of Photography at Rhode Island School of Design, reprises the subject of her award-winning The Girls Who Went Away (National Book Critics Circle; Ballard Book Prize), which Ms. readers named an all-time best feminist book.

Drawing on interviews with 100 women, Fessler lets them have their say and brings hidden history to light. We hear only their voices, which detail wrenching experiences against images from vintage newsreel and educational films reinforcing stereotypes of women’s roles following WWII. This gripping documentary will help today’s students grasp what life was like before the sexual and feminist revolutions had fully dawned.


"***1/2 Highly Recommended...The movie punches up the personal accounts, creating a jaw dropping picture of "ideal" womanhood in an America that existed only 50 years ago."

Video Librarian

“A compelling glimpse into an era in which voiceless young women had no rights, rarely saw or held their newborns and were threatened with psychiatric commitment if they questioned the mandate to relinquish a child."

Silverdocs Film Festival

“Heart-wrenching,..precise, daunting, and also allusive, this story recalls those bad old days when ignorance, silence, and repression were the preferred social strategies.”

Cynthia Fuchs PopMatters

“A Girl Like Her packs an emotional wallop greater than most other films released this year, documentary or fiction.”

Dan Schindel Otste

Of all the films screened by the Indy, Ann Fessler’s A Girl Like Her, stands out as one of the most thought-provoking. This one will hit you in your gut and keep you up at night.”

Bret Wright Colorado Springs Independent

“Quietly devastating.”

Tricia Olszewski Washington City Paper

“A Girl Like Her”, a new film by Ann Fessler, visually expresses the trappings of an era unthinkable by the standards of today … with a punishment that far surpassed the crime. Scenes in the movie unleashed all too familiar memories. That evening I grieved for all the young mothers and yet felt liberated to see that our ordeal had been real, not imagined.”

Donnie Davis Decree, Journal of the American Adoption Congress

“Women recall … in riveting detail … their parents’ reactions, life in the unwed mothers home and the lifelong emptiness they have felt as a result of losing a child. Think times have changed? Two words: Rick. Santorum.”

Lisa Sorg Independent Weekly

“A Girl Like Her Ann Fessler’s haunting group portrait of women who surrendered their children for adoption in the 1950s and ’60s juxtaposes their voices with stock archival images from an era when wrenching human drama was buried beneath airbrushed images of family and sexuality.”

The Washington Post, “Ten movies not to miss at Silverdocs”

“Fessler offers a sociologically rich and important deconstruction of a devastating double social standard that was in effect in those days. In revealing the painful legacy that permanently impacted so many birthmothers, Fessler has finally and respectfully given them a voice and created a powerful collective portrait that will benefit everyone touched by adoption.”

Geneva Anderson Art Hound


  • International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
  • Montreal World Film Festival
  • Mill Valley Film Festival
  • Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
  • New Orleans Film Festival
  • Silverdocs Documentary Festival
  • Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival
  • Watch Docs Human Rights Film Festival
  • Milwaukee Film Festival
  • San Francisco Documentary Film Festival


Ann Fessler

Filmmaker and author Ann Fessler turned to the subject of adoption after being approached by a woman who thought Ann might be the daughter she had surrendered forty years earlier. As an adoptee, she was profoundly moved by the experience and has since produced three films and written an award winning non-fiction book on adoption. Her film, A GIRL LIKE HER, reveals the hidden history of over a million unmarried women who became pregnant in the 1950s - early 70s, and were banished to maternity homes to give birth, and surrender their children. The film combines footage from educational films and newsreels of the time period about dating, sex, "illegitimate" pregnancy, and adoption with the voices of these mothers as they speak today, about the long-term impact of surrender and silence on their lives. A GIRL LIKE HER has been screened at festivals, colleges, and conferences around the globe and has been subtitled in five languages. Her book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (Penguin Press, 2006) was chosen as one of the top 5 non-fiction books of 2006 by the National Book Critics Circle, and was awarded the Ballard Book Prize, given to a female author who advances the dialogue about women's rights. In 2011, it was chosen by the readers of Ms. magazine as one of the top 100 feminist books of all time.


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