The Hicks Babies

In the mid-1940s, Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks opened the Hicks Community Clinic in the small town of McCaysville, Georgia, mere steps from the Tennessee state line.  Within a decade, he was not only performing illegal abortions but selling newborns on the black market.  Some birth mothers knew they were placing a baby for adoption, some thought they had an abortion, and some were told their infants died.

The former Hicks Clinic as seen from the back alley today. Newborns were handed out a window to waiting adoptive parents.

 

At the other end of the transaction, adoptive parents drove to a window in the alley behind the clinic, shelled out $1,000 or more—big money for the time—and were handed a newborn.  The so-called “Hicks Babies” had falsified birth certificates, and Dr Hicks kept no records tying them to their biological families.  Many had no idea they were adopted until well into adulthood.

There was a tip-off, though.  No matter where they grew up—most often in the industrial cities of Ohio—their birth certificates said they were born in the Hicks Clinic in McCaysville, Georgia.

A falsified birth certificate from the Hicks Clinic. Used with permission of Bill Palmisano.  Both of his adoptive parents are deceased.

 

At least 200 babies had their identities stolen.  Now, they are using the power of DNA to reunite with their biological families.  I am honored to be part of the behind-the-scenes team of passionate and compassionate people who helped some of them in their journeys.

You can follow their life-changing stories in a three-night series, Taken at Birth, airing October 9th-11th, 2019, on TLC.

 

Additional Reading

Corinthios, Aurelie. 2019. New TLC Special Taken At Birth Dives into Shocking ‘Hicks Babies’ Black Market Adoption Scandal. People, accessed 17 September 2019.

Bragg, Rick. 1997. Town Secret Is Uncovered In Birth Quest. New York Times, accessed 17 September 2019.

Bruen, Matthew Steven. 2016. Babies For Sale: The Secret Adoptions That Haunt One Georgia Town. Narratively, accessed 17 September 2019.

Chang, Juju, Jasmine Brown, Geoff Martz and Lauren Effron. 2015. ‘Hicks Baby’ Adoptee Sold by Georgia Doctor 50 Years Ago Reunites With Birth Mother, Brother. ABC News, accessed 17 September 2019.

Table, Dave. 2017. Busted not for selling babies, but for the abortion clinic. Appalachian History, accessed 17 September 2019.

 

 

46 thoughts on “The Hicks Babies”

  1. i am interested in the hicks babies i supposely had a brother who died in the early 1950s i would like to know if he is still alive

    1. I am watching the TV documentary on Dr. Hicks and do not believe he should be so vilified. Were it not for him encouraging these women to have their babies, these children would have never been given a chance at life. $1000 was not a tremendous amount of money when you think about the birth mothers’ room and board for one month (they had no money, they paid nothing) prior to the birth, plus 24 hr a day Nursing care. Just keeping an RN on duty, even in the 1950’s -‘60’s, was a big expense. He deserved to be paid for his time and services as well – after all, this was time he could have spent seeing other patients, and medical equipment and supplies are not cheap. His family did not live like they had money – in fact most of his money appeared to be put right back into the town of McKaysville – into businesses which kept folks employed and kept the town thriving. Remember that these women had no where else to go, no one to turn to. They wanted to be rid of their babies and were desperate. He gave them good care. And he gave the babies to equally desperate childless parents. What he did was completely illegal, but was it less moral than aborting these babies? He took HUGE risks for essentially very little in return, in fact he did lose his medical license in 1964 for performing an abortion. I believe that he provided a valuable service, giving women an alternative, giving a baby a chance at life, giving a couple a chance to be parents. He did not have any choice but to lie on the birth certificates. All in all, I cannot condemn him.

      1. What Dr Hicks did was illegal. He told women their babies had died when they hadn’t. He sold those babies for a profit. One thousand dollars in 1955 would be nearly $10,000 today. And he was more than happy to perform abortions.

      2. So telling a mother that her baby died at birth while he sold it out his back door was fine with you? Not a mother who wanted to give her baby up for adoption, but a mother who trusted her doctor? If you find ANYTHING humane or OKAY about that then God so help you! It sickens me to see any one make what he did look OKAY! I can promise you this, if there’s a hell, he is in the front row seat! These folks deserve to know where they came from!

        1. Apparently these women were seeking abortions, not babies. Instead of killing the children he delivered live infants, told the “mothers” their babies were dead, and gave the babies away to parents who wanted them.
          This is a story of a doctor who saved lives??
          This is a different story than what I expected!

        2. If they went there to have abortions and he told them what they wanted to hear, saved the lives of their babies and put them into the arms of loving parents, that makes him a hero in my eyes. You got a problem with that?

      3. I realize Dr. Hicks is not here to defend himself or answer questions, but I cannot imagine how you can defend him after what you heard. If he was truly compassionate and a good man he would not have lied to the mothers and told them they delivered a stillborn baby or that the baby died. That seems to be a repetitive theme amongst the living relatives. And then the consistent low birth weights are concerning. Why am I rehashing this. You saw it. You made your decision. My decision is there was something very wrong going on. It may have started with good intentions, but these “babies” deserve the truth and they deserve it now. Time is running out. I sincerely hope more can make connections before its too late.

      4. This man told women that their babies had died or were stillborn. What part of that is okay? How many women died themselves never knowing that they had a child or children out there and how many children, now adults, will never know their biological parents because it’s just too late and most of them have passed? These weren’t all women seeking abortions, a number of these women were seeking medical care for themselves and their unborn babies only to be robbed of that precious life. You’re as crazy as he was if you think he should even get a pat on the back for his time and services. He was a monster, a murderer, and a kidnapper, but he wasn’t a good man doing a good thing for helpless women.

      5. What people don’t realize is Doc Hicks started his practice in Tennessee. He delivered many babies in Tennessee before they ran him out of the state. He then relocated just across the line in McCaysville Georgia. One of those babies he delivered in Tennessee was my oldest brother who was supposedly still born. Mama named my brother Von Gordon. His name would have been Von Gordon Prince. Mama never got over this. She said she heard her baby cry then Doc Hicks told her he was still born. Mama told me they ran the doctor out of Tennessee after that because he was killing so many babies. I submitted my DNA in hopes that I might find my brother or some of his family.

        1. My heart aches for your mother and your whole family. I hope your brother decides to test someday.

      6. What he provided were lies to young mothers and fathers who wanted their babies ! I know this first hand because of how it deeply hurt my mother for many, many years! You should be ashamed of yourself because you have no idea of the pain he caused many families!

  2. Interesting. My Hicks line starts in New York in 1833. Moves to NE Ohio and then to Michigan from 1868 to this day. My dad moved us to New Mexico when I was in my early teens but I have a brother who stayed in Michigan. My YDNA indicates I am not Hicks. You gotta wonder if this was a routine operation throughout history.

  3. i am from polk county tenn we are trying to find if our brother danny is still alive we have learned 3 dead babies in my family it is interesting

  4. we are not in the dna data bases but i would be glad to give my dna to find out what happened just point me in the right direction i will be watching tlc hicks babies

    1. Dr Hicks didn’t keep records of the births and adoptions, so the only way to find your brother, if he’s still alive, would be if he decided to look for you using DNA. If he does, you’ll want to be in whichever database he decides to use. Since you can’t know which one in advance, your most cost-effective strategy is to test with AncestryDNA and 23andMe and then transfer the “raw data file” into the other databases for free.

      Test prices are here: https://thednageek.com/dna-tests/
      23andMe is on sale right now, so it’s a good time to buy. Their lower-priced test is fine for your purposes.

      Instructions for how to transfer the “raw data file” to MyHeritage and FTDNA are here: https://thednageek.com/how-to-transfer-your-ancestrydna-test-to-other-databases/

  5. Should anyone believe or just want to be a part of the DNA registry for The Nick’s Babies..please visit us on our webpage (Hick’s Adoptees)

    Thank You
    Melinda, of the ‘Hick’s Babies’

  6. I have a missing, supposedly deceased infant sister, born in supposedly michigan in 1967, 1968 or 1969. My mother remarried in 1969 in GA, I cannot locate any information about her daughter except a clipping cutout from the obituaries in michigan, NO GRAVE, BIRTH OR DEATH RECORDS can be found, can you help, The connections of Georgia and Michigan and Ohio seemed odd, we desperately desire to locate her

    1. Do you know where she was born (which clinic or hospital)? If it was a black-market clinic, there probably aren’t any records of the transaction. If she’s still alive and knows she’s adopted, she may be looking for you using DNA. Have you taken a DNA test yourself? I recommend that you test with AncestryDNA and 23andMe, then consider transferring the raw data file into some of the other databases if you don’t have luck at the first two. 23andMe is on sale right now.
      https://thednageek.com/dna-tests

  7. My name is Judy Swafford Walker. I have been advised by a man named Bill Miller from Cleveland Ohio that I was a Hicks baby but cannot find out if this is true. He states that he chased the car down the road from where hicks’ office was to try and get me before they took off in 1954.

  8. Jane needs to get a DNA test and compare it to Doris Abernathy, the town historian. They look exactly alike. Same ears, chin/jaw line, nose, and eyes.

  9. I am wondering if any possible hicks babies that have not found relatives has DNA done? I have my ancestory DNA done and would love to try to match some names with my DNA relatives. I have a great sample of relatives going back many generations

    1. Many of the Hicks babies were able to do DNA testing as part of the TV show. I’m sure there are also many, many Hicks babies out there that have no idea they are Hicks babies. They may not even know they’re adopted.

  10. Why dig up a grave when dna could have given these people the answer if they were siblings? Aside from giving the adopted daughter her answer.

    1. To give Sallie an answer. To push the boundaries of DNA science. To have an unequivocal reference sample for any other Hicks children who want to know their origins.

  11. My Grandma has been gone several years now, but she told us numerous times that in 1952 when she gave birth to my aunt that she remembers having two babies and the nurse telling her she had a boy. Dr Hicks quickly hushed the nurse and gave my grandma something to make her sleep. She said the whole time she was having the babies that there was a very nice dressed lady sitting in the room across the hall from her. When she woke she only had one baby. When she ask Dr Hicks about it he told her it was the medication making her think that. She always thought she had a boy out there somewhere.

  12. There are always three sides to any story: One side, the other side, and the truth (which is usually somewhere in between). Dr. Hicks obviously cannot give his side of the story. What we have now is the mother’s side of the story. But let’s be honest, no one is going to admit that they willingly sold their baby. This was rural Appalachia in the 50s and 60s, a lot of poor families. And most of these women were likely unmarried, which was a huge no-no at the time. So for that reason, I think we’re putting too much faith in these womens’ stories. You’ve got poor, pregnant, unmarried women, who then need to come up with a story for their friends and/or families as to why there is no newborn …. saying the baby was stillborn could have been nothing more than a cover story for them. On another point, I’ve heard it said that Dr. Hicks disposed of aborted babies in the river. Yes, that’s a horrible thought. But what does anyone think was ‘normally’ done with illegally aborted babies during that time … I can tell you, they were likely disposed of in with the garbage. How is the river any worse, I ask you? And then today, with abortions being legal, aborted babies are having their body parts SOLD … what a repugnant thought. I do truly feel for the Hicks babies for not knowing; I know that must be hard. But honestly, my suggestion would be for them to live for today. They should at least be thankful that they weren’t aborted.

    1. I can attest to the fact that some of the mothers were married (yes, to the biological fathers) at the time their infants were sold.

  13. Thank you so much. I only wish Mama had lived long enough to know her baby is most likely alive. She grieved her the rest of her life for her first born son. She did tell me she heard her baby cry and Dr Hicks told her he was still born.

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