WEATHERFORD — By JUDY SHERIDAN
Aledo resident Sherrie S. McLeRoy, historical scholar and prolific author, has something new out this spring: a biography of Edna Gladney, whose fight for children’s rights and adoption reform has made her a singular figure in Fort Worth and Texas history.
Entitled, “Texas Adoption Activist Edna Gladney: A Life & Legacy of Love,” the engaging narrative, published by The History Press, made its formal debut March 27 at the 50th anniversary of the ‘Blossoms in the Dust’ Luncheon Fashion Show and Bazaar, hosted by the Gladney Family Association.
Since then, McLeRoy has been sharing Gladney’s story through speaking and book-signing engagements; Thursday she was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the North Fort Worth Historical Society.
McLeRoy said her book is the first on the compassionate, behind-the scenes crusader, who served as superintendent of the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society from 1927 to 1960, inspiring the agency’s board to rename it in her honor.
She was granted exclusive access to all of Gladney’s personal papers and photos, she said, and was able to interview relatives, “whose wonderful stories helped bring her to life.”
Filled with photos — some never before published — the book not only relates Gladney’s true story — a good one with no embellishment — but also compares and contrasts it with her portrayal on film by Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, which produced ‘Blossoms in the Dust’ to national acclaim in 1941.
The idea for making such a movie reached MGM through a screenwriter who adopted a young girl from Gladney, according to the book.
Committing in a big way, the studio decided to film in Technicolor — a relatively new and costly process — to make the most of the captivating red hair of rising star Greer Garson, chosen to play Gladney.
Despite dealing with the topic of illegitimacy, which some found offensive, the film was on the year’s top 10 list.
“Every time it’s shown, I’ll hear from people,” McLeRoy said. “I’ve used it as a basis to tell her story.”
McLeRoy has been writing about Gladney, who died in 1961, since the late 80s. In 1993, she and her husband, Bill, now Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Aledo, made a personal connection with her legacy, adopting a days-old “Gladney baby” after a two-year application process.
A grateful and gracious Ann Elizabeth McLeRoy is now 21 and a student at the Art Institute of Fort Worth.
“I remember proofing the galleys for ‘Red River Women’ — which Gladney appears in — while holding her with one arm,” Sherrie McLeRoy said.
In 2000, when the Gladney Center for Adoption moved to its current campus in Southwest Fort Worth — across from Harris Methodist — McLeRoy researched the history of adoption, writing the text for the first half of an exhibit.
While researching her new book, she uncovered an underlying reason for Gladney’s passionate — and ultimately successful — struggle to persuade legislators to remove the embarrassing “illegitimate” stamp from the birth certificates of those born out of wedlock; Gladney herself, was illegitimate.
Even Gladney’s cousin, Mary Owen, who had worked alongside her from 1942 to 1946, didn’t know that.
“When I told her Edna was illegitimate, she almost fell out of her chair,” McLeRoy said. “The man that was Edna’s father was a man Edna’s mother married when she was seven. No one knows who her real father was.”
Gladney’s other accomplishments include securing the same inheritance rights for adopted children as for biological children, McLeRoy said, and convincing the Home’s board to buy a small hospital so birth mothers could have a place to live and access to prenatal medical care — a then-radical concept that resulted in healthier babies.
The Gladney Center has been able to place more than 30,000 children with adoptive parents, McLeRoy said, and has touched so many lives that everywhere she tells Gladney’s story, she gets at least one in return.
“It hardly ever happens that someone doesn’t come forward,” she said, “a Gladney adoptee or parent.”
“Texas Adoption Activist Edna Gladney: A Life & Legacy of Love” can be purchased for $19.99 online at www.historypress.net.