Cover Image: The Foundling

The Foundling

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

After reading Ann Leary’s Author’s Note at the beginning of The Foundling, I knew this book was a “must read” for me. Leary explains to the reader that she found information about her grandmother being placed in an institution for “the feeble minded.” A few years ago when my father passed away, I found a folder with my great-great grandmother’s name on it. I knew that my great-grandmother raised her siblings because something happened to her mother. I did not know the story. I found a letter in the folder from an attorney in Nevada, Missouri, informing my great grandmother that her mother was near death and would be buried in Potters Field if his office did not hear from her. In the folder, there were several letters from my great-great grandmother to her daughter written over a period of years. I put the folder away. I knew I had to read The Foundling which I devoured a few weeks ago. This lead me to read my great-great grandmother’s letters. Wow!

Mary Engle, The Foundling’s protagonist was raised in St. Catherine’s Orphanage. Her mother passed away and her father worked in a mining camp. He could only see her some weekends. When she was eighteen, she lived with her aunt while going to secretarial school. Her aunt was not nice to her. Hearing Dr. Agnes Vogel, the director of The Nettleton State Village for Feeble Minded Women of Child Bearing Age speak about the institution and the care provided, Mary spoke to Dr. Vogel. Mary was asked if she would come and work as a typist. 

Mary admires Dr. Vogel and Dr. Vogel eventually asks Mary to move into Dr. Vogel’s home. Mary is exposed to the girls in the institution and recognizes Lillian who she remembered from the orphanage. Mary also begins to discover some of the institution’s secrets. How can she help Lillian? Does she need to expose Dr. Vogel? Of course, I kept thinking about my own relative while reading this book. I can’t wait to have my book club read it. There is lots to discuss!
Was this review helpful?
The Foundling by Ann Leary is based on the author's grandmother. The main character, Mary, grew up in an orphanage and is now working under the guidance of an esteemed psychiatrist Agnes Vogel at an asylum in the 1920s. There Mary runs into a childhood friend. Mary is soon questioning what she knows about the asylum. This historical fiction novel has drama, twists, and is pretty intense. Read and enjoy!
Was this review helpful?
I was not very knowledgeable regarding eugenics before reading this novel.  I was fascinated by the story and could not stop reading so I could see how it played out. 
Many thanks Scribner and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
“I trust you’re familiar with the type of girl I’m referring to,” she tells the audience. “You’ve seen her slinking in and out of bawdy houses and illegal drinking establishments… she may seem normal enough—in fact, she’s often quite pretty. Until you see her again, a few years later, ruined and destitute, begging for handouts, surrounded by her own diseased and illegitimate children.”—Ann Leary, The Foundling.

So says Dr. Agnes Vogel, the administrator of the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as Dr. Vogel’s secretary at an institution for mentally disabled women. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel, who had been the only woman in her medical school class. 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 an inmate. Lillian begs her to help her escape and Mary faces a terrible choice. To whom should she be loyal: her childhood friend or her hero, Dr. Vogel? 

The Foundling was inspired by the author’s grandmother, who worked at Laurelton State Village in central Pennsylvania. The concept was to detain, segregate, care for, and train feeble-minded women of childbearing age (between the ages of 16 and 45 years). They warehoused women regarded as problem daughters, troublesome wives, and unwed mothers.

It’s hard to imagine women were institutionalized for being "feebleminded." What does that even mean? Besides abnormal behavior and very low scores on IQ tests, "feeblemindedness" was frequently linked to promiscuity, criminality, and social dependency. They deemed some women to have moral feeblemindedness because they defied social norms or their husbands and were involuntarily held in mental alyssums until they were no longer of childbearing age.

I read historical novels to learn something about the past. The Foundling taught me about eugenics, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the powerlessness women experienced in the first part of the 20th Century. 

The novel is authentic, the characters well drawn, and the book really opened my eyes to an ugly chapter of American history. I supplemented the book with audio but didn’t care for the narration. The Foundling is suspenseful, sometimes thrilling, and has a great ending. 4 stars.
Was this review helpful?
Leary's latest book is one not easily forgotten.  Mary Engel becomes a staff member at the Nettleton State Village for Feeble-Minded Women of Child-Bearing Age.  The plot is unbelievable and what is more unbelievable is that it is based on a true situation.
It is a terrifying tale with all the elements of a suspenseful read.  The subject of eugenics is deftly discussed and exposed.  There's intrigue, heartbreak, oppression, love and hate which keeps you turning page after page non-stop.  
What emerges from the book is the desperation and doggedness of the characters.  It's hard to believe that such places and people existed but the book proves otherwise.  The only negative is that some of the characters seem a bit contrived but, still, a fascinating read.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley.

This is a book that I will not soon forget. Mary, Lillian, and Dr. Vogel are three very vivid, complex characters, and their interwoven story, which is based in history, is horrifying and unique in equal parts. This part of American history is not well known, and it should be. What women and children in asylums went through, and in some places still do, shows humanity at it's very worst.

The story has many layers and returns to the questions of genetics, racism, sexism, classism, politics ,and religion throughout the whole book. Leary has bitten off a long, hard list of issues, and she does a good job of interweaving all of them throughout her characters and story. 

There are some snags along the way. Mary's rapidly fluctuating opinions and feelings about what is or isn't ethical, acceptable, or moral gets a bit dizzying. She goes from one extreme to the other; Lillian is lying and is insane to Lillian is right and shouldn't be in the asylum. Dr. Vogel is wonderful and amazing to Dr. Vogel could be wrong to Dr. Vogel means well, can all happen in one scene. As Mary is young and naïve, her shifting stances are completely understandable, but they do get tedious after a while. The event that does finally settle her feelings needed a bit more introspection after all that had come before. It felt abrupt.

Leary throws in a lot of red herrings, and while most of them are well-placed and do their part, some of them, especially concerning Mary's love interest, are left too late in the story and then are abruptly solved, which is a bit jarring. It felt like all the 'pieces' fell into place a little too easily. 

Overall, I found this a compelling read, and I highly recommend it.
Was this review helpful?
The Foundling
By Ann Leary
Scribner / Marysue Rucci, Books31 May 2022

“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.”

Mary Engle grew up in an orphanage until she was 12 years old, when her father arrived unexpectedly and took her home to live with an aunt. It didn’t turn out to be the best of homecomings, but it was something. She finally had a family, however dysfunctional, and a home.

As an 18-year-old, Mary was thrilled to be working as a secretary for her hero, Dr. Agnes Vogel, at the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. Mary believed she was helping unfortunate women and admired the doctor for her concern and dedication to the women in her care. 

Mary was shocked when she recognized one of the inmates as someone she grew up with at the orphanage. Fear led her to keep the relationship a secret, but it also led her to begin investigating the institution and the women living there. It wasn’t long until Mary realized that not all was as it appeared, both with Dr. Vogel and the institution over which she presided. 

Inspired by actual events from author Ann Leary’s family history, The Foundling is a fascinating and depressing look at institutional life in the early 20th century. It’s a fairly fast and engrossing read with insights into the horrors some women faced for not being able or willing to behave as society demanded

Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner/Marysue Rucci for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This was interesting to me because it was set in Pennsylvania so I recognized some of the locations that were mentioned. I spent half the time wanting to smack the main character over the head since she seemed super naive. I think the characters were well developed and it's something that very well happened in the past. At times it dragged on a bit, but overall was pretty good. 

**a warning that some of the terms used seem derogatory, but it's how they talked in that time period. I wasn't offended, but I'm sure some people will be.
Was this review helpful?
I was able to hear the author talk about writing this intriguing new book.  It was based on family history, and
a compelling true story.  The characters are believable, and the story interesting.  I recommended read for
fans of historical fiction
Was this review helpful?
The Foundling a thoughtful and original  piece of historical fiction, expands on  a snippet of information from Ann Leary's family about a time in the late 1920s when my home state, Pennsylvania, supported Laurelton Village for Feeble Minded women of Childbearing Age."  Her grandmother worked there for awhile, right when a US Census placed her there as an employee.  The long since debunked, but popular theory of eugenics, relied on to justify wiping out whole classes of people by Adolf Hitler in Germany, held that society could benefit from selective breeding to promote desirable characteristics and from ensuring those with "problematic" characteristics did not procreate.  In Germany, that meant Jews, Roma, gay people, Catholics, people with deformities and more.  

In the early twentieth century in Pennsylvania, this meant that women who, e.g., were considered intellectually or morally defective, based on IQ tests for some and behavior for others.  Women and girls could wind up in such a place for being prostitutes, having children out of wedlock or based on a husband's or parent's word that they were behaving in a manner that met the definition of feeble minded.  And, at least in the fictional Nettleton State Village for Feeble Minded Women of Childbearing Age, such women were admitted and could never leave until they were unable to bear children.  Dr. Agnes Vogel, a psychiatrist and rare female doctor at the time, runs "the Village."  She speaks widely on its mission, ensures that as a working farm and a purveyor of servants to local residents the Village is self-sufficient and she fiercely protects the reputation and acceptability of the Village.

Mary Engle, who lived in an orphanage until age twelve after her mother died, then spent the rest of her youth living with her aunt in Scranton. She has experienced a lot of childhood trauma from experiences with family when outside the orphanage, but generally recalls her time at the orphanage as positive.   At 17, she has graduated from secretarial school.  Her mentor at the school introduces her to Dr. Vogel and soon, she finds herself working an office job at the Village.  When she spots a childhood friend from the orphanage working in the Dairy Barn at the Village, Mary is puzzled. Lillian is an inmate and Mary is surprised   Lillian is feeble minded.  Vogel's speeches and discussions of her charges have fully won Mary over.  Through the course of the novel, we learn about the experiences of those living on the Village property as employees, as inmates and the slippage between high minded morality about the mission of the Village  and blatant disregard for even the recognized rights of the many women confined there, e.g. to food, shelter and personal security. We see the outside world evolving on the issue of eugenics, via a muckraker journalist friend to Mary.  We recognize, as we often must, that those we trust in powerful positions may use them for ill while others, including people with power, can change, grow and find the right path forward. 

Leary is a compelling writer and she creates an engaging story full of interesting characters, giving them challenges to meet or not.  This was definitely a couldn't put it down book.  Will check out Leary's other work.
Was this review helpful?
Mary and Lillian are two girls that meet and spend their childhood in a Catholic orphanage. Their lives change drastically when they are old enough to leave the orphanage and find jobs.

Mary gets a job as a secretary to a Dr. that supervises a state run facility that basically promotes eugenics by sterilizing women that they do not want to reproduce. The cover for this practice is declaring women mentally unstable or ‘imbeciles’. 

During her job at this institution, Mary comes across Lillian who she remembers from her childhood. Mary knows that Lillian is not feeble minded or unstable. She starts to explore the things that actually go on at the institution she works at. Soon she discovers the truth and her conscience forces her to make some decisions that may not only cause her to lose her job but endanger her life as well.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for the opportunity to read and give an honest review of this book.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed reading this but it was just ok. I really wish I would have like it more. Having just read another book about eugenics maybe it was just too much at one time?
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to the publisher for an ARC. Very compelling historical fiction in which the author Ann Leary had a personal connection and to which seemed very well researched. I’ve never read anything from this author before but reaTlly enjoyed this read, plan to read her other highly rated books,
this is a strangely compelling book, for being one without a tremendous amount of action.. Definiely a must read this summer. 

Thank you to netgalley and publishers for an advance e-copy in exchange for my honest opinion. It is a pleasure to recommend this book to anyone needing a good enthralling story
Was this review helpful?
It’s 1927, and Mary Engle, fresh from classes for secretarial school gets her first job working for an accomplished woman who runs an asylum for feebleminded women of childbearing age. Mary is is moved by the speeches given by her new boss and begins to believe in the mission espoused by the woman. As time wears on, Mary realizes that one of the inmates is a woman she grew up with in her orphanage they grew up in. The woman never seemed feeble minded to Mary. Mary is hesitant to ask about the woman’s learn the circumstances leading to her confinement and work detail at the asylum details. Eventually, the two women meet and Mary begins to question the asylum’s purpose and even the character of the imposing woman that runs the asylum. This novel takes the reader to the times when men committed wives for as little as voicing their own beliefs in opposition to their husband. A compelling read about a sad moment in the lives of American women, all the more poignant after recent Supreme Court rulings.
Was this review helpful?
I found the historical basis of this book really fascinating. The research and attention to detail was obviously there. However, I disliked the main character to a degree that was honestly distracting. I love a good anti-hero. I genuinely do not find it necessary to love characters in in books I read. But Mary was grating. I also didn't quite buy her growth.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Loved it! Did not expect the ending, at all. Two huge shock twists back to back. It was great! Left me wanting more.
Was this review helpful?
A great historical fiction story!  Back in 1927, 18 yo Mary Engle is hired as a secretary to the prominent Doctor Vogel who is the Director of the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age.  An odd name for an institution, Mary thinks, but apparently at the time there is a need to keep women who are "slow or feebleminded" "retarded" or "dangerous to themselves or others" out of society so they do not bear children thus passing along their deficient genes to their future offspring.  Mary is slightly in awe of the very famous, well-educated and rich Dr. Vogel and is so honored to have been chosen by her to be employed at the Village.  Eventually through several incidents, Mary becomes Dr. Vogel's personal secretary and also living in Dr. Vogel's luxurious home too.  While working, Mary discovers she knows one of the residents, a girl named Lila who she grew up with in an orphanage in Scranton.  Mary knows Lila is NOT feeble minded and wonders why she is there.  She hears stories but has trouble believe in them.  There is a lot going on in this story with Mary, Dr. Vogel and how she got to where she is, Mary's blossoming social life with new friends and a boyfriend, and also Mary discovering more about the Village and the residents and how they have ended up there.  Apparently this is sadly based on a true story.  IT is so interesting and I enjoyed every minute of it!  Great read!
Was this review helpful?
Very  interesting premise, based on real, horrible eugenics practices in the 20th century. The subject has clearly been well researched by the author, but the main character she employs to tell the story is insufferable for 95% of the book. The writing is good, though the ending gets tied up a little too nicely. Still, this was a compulsive read for me once it got going. 

Was this review helpful?
Book concept based on author's grandmother being involved with a similar facility.

Assistant knows inmate from her childhood; inmate convinces assistant to plan her escape; assistant has close relationship with head of institution.

This part of US history has been neatly ignored.  Many thanks to Ann Leary for writing such an intriguing book.  I felt very engaged as I was reading and liked how the main character developed over the course of the story.  I kept thinking about The Foundling after finishing the book, always worth a bonus star when that happens.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review ... and also for introducing me (yet once again!) to an author that I had previously missed.  Many thanks to Ann Leary the author and to Scribner, Scribner / Marysue Rucci Books.
Classified as Historical Fiction. Publish date 31 May 2022.
Was this review helpful?
I have read other historical fiction books that address the practice and popularity of eugenics in the 1920s. Most were set in Europe, with a few visiting Dr.s and financial backers making brief cameo appearances from the USA. So although I was aware the practice of eugenics was being done on American soil also, I never really understood how common and how widely it was accepted here. 
This story, about the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age, opened my eyes to the real extent the horror was practiced. That being said, for me that is all this book accomplished. I really don't want to write a negative review but this book never really hits it's intended mark. It is very well researched, based loosely on the author's grandmother, but the execution of the story is just off. This should have been a very dark, disturbing story, highlighting the miserable conditions these women were subjected to against their will. It comes off way too light, as if not taken seriously enough. I understand the main character Mary was sheltered in an orphanage full of nuns but come on now, just how naive for how long can you really be? How blindingly loyal to the great Dr. Vogel can she be until BAM! Conveniently she suddenly changes course and hates the Dr. and what she has been doing to these women? It just comes off as pretty unbelievable, Mary is very shallow and one dimensional, I did not like her right from the start and maybe that is what ruined this book for me. I found it very hard to stay focused on the book and it has taken me months to actually sit down and get through the beginning of it, I usually read a book a day or every other day, so for me this is a long, long time.  It does go a bit faster towards the end but it takes a real effort to get to that point. As I said, great eye-opening topic, just poor execution of the story. I have to give it a 2+ rating, bumped up to 3 because it isn't totally horrible. 
Thank you Scribner/Marysue Rucci Books and to Net Galley for the free ARC, I am leaving my honest review in return.
Was this review helpful?