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One of 1921's strangest stories kept getting stranger and stranger as the coverage increased. Perhaps had I access to old newspapers from Atlanta and Jacksonville, I'd know the full story. As it is, I have to accept the notion that the two men involved were among the most trusting – and oblivous – husbands who ever lived.

Syracuse Journal

Wife Deceives Atlanta Man With Waifs
ATLANTA, Ga., February 5 (United News) – After 14 years of happiness in the belief that he was the father of a yearly more numerous family, F. E. A. South has discovered that the several young ones whom he loved as his own were waifs adopted from a local foundling asylum and, therefore, is quitting his wife.

“You have played hell; pack up my things and let me out of here,” Smith shouted when his wife, in tears, admitted that she had never had a child of her own. “You have made me a slave for these children all these years and now I find I have been working for somebody else’s kin. You have acted a lie. I won’t stand it.”

South was at work Friday when word reached him that there was reason to suspect that the children bearing his name were not his own. Newspaper reporters had accidentally uncovered the strange case of deception. Pausing in his work, South denounced the information as an “infernall lie” and started home to comfort Mrs. South. She, however, was worn out at last by the constant living of a deception.

So instead of denying the story, Mrs. South sobbed a confession to her husband, which stunned himm for a moment, and then electrified him with wrath.

“Nature would not permit me to be a mother,” she sobbed, “and I loved children. I do not like the movies. I do not enjoy going to theaters. I don’t like to go out of my home. Children are my whole life.

“Can’t you understand,” she pleaded, “that that is why I did it. When I knew I could have none of my own my heart went out to the poor little waifs in the maternity wards without a name, without mother-love, not wanted by their own kin – without a chance in the world.”

After the first storm of South’s rage at his discovery, Mrs. South became determined to abide by his decision if need be, but never to part with her adopted little ones.

“No matter what you do,” she said, “whether you leave or stay, these children shall remain with me and I will raise them to be good men and women.”

It was a strange combination of circumstances that brought about the discovery. Mrs. South is a member of the ladies’ cradle roll of Saint Paul’s Methodist Church. About a year ago this society decided that it would take the financial and moral responsibility of educating as Methodist missionaries the first set of triplets to be born to a member. Being the daughter of a Methodist minister, now deceased, and having been reared in an atmosphere of prayer, she thought it a splendid chance to divert three waifs from their sad future into the life of the missionary among the heathen.

Being 52 years old, Mrs. South said she felt that her chances of adopting more children and convincing her husband, who is 60, that they were their own were diminishing. So she gambled with exposure to adopt the last three who were to complete the family. On New Year’s Day she “presented” her proud husband with triplets.

“I hoped by this to be able to send out three teachers of the gospel. I was taught as a girl that it was my duty to train as many good children as possible whether they were my own or not.”

But Mrs. South reckoned without the feature news sense of the genus reporter. Newspaper men went after human interest stories on this Rooseveltian family and there were various small matters that aroused suspicion. Finally, with Mrs. South’s confession in print, officers of the maternity hospital fully corroborated her story as to the adoption of the “triplets.”

Oswego Daily Times

Wife Confesses She Adodpted
Eleven As Own Children

ATLANTA, February 5.—Stunned, humiliated and broken, F. E. A. South, 60, was today endeavoring to solve his life's greatest problem.

South sought an answer to the problem he was confronted with last night when his wife, 53, confessed their eleven children were waifs adopted from foundling and maternity hospitals during the past fourteen years.

"I want to do the right thing — God knows I do—but such a problem— such a problem,” South told the United Press.

“The fact that those children, nine of whom are living and are at home, were waifs — probably nameless — does not matter so much; it's the deception.”

Last night, while stunned by Mrs. South's confession, which came like a bolt from a clear sky, South declared he was going to leave home—never to return.

Deliberation and mature thought caused him to change his plans. But today he didn't know what he would do.

"Go away and let me think," he told reporters.

A longing for children because she was denied motherhood was the reason given by Mrs. South for the deception.

It didn't take long for the couple to resolve the matter; at least, in Mrs. South's mind. Her optimism shines through in the last paragraph of the following story.

New York Tribune

Borrowed Triplets Given Up;
Husband to Adopt Other Six

Special Dispatch to The Tribune
ATLANTA, Feb. 5 – The three babies which Mrs. Alice South obtained from a maternity home and convinced her husband and the public were “triplets” born to her, were returned this afternoon to the foundling asylum from which they were taken several weeks ago.

The return of the “triplets” is said to be the result of an agreement by Mrs. South and her husband F. E. South, a grocery clerk, following the revelation that the “triplets” and eight other chiuldren which she had said were hers had been informally adopted by Mrs. South. It is understood that the Souths agreed to send back the “triplets” and legally to adopt the six others who are nowing living in the South family. Two babies, whom Mrs. Smith passed off on her husband as her twins, later died.

A nurse from the maternity home came to the South home and carried the “triplets” back in an automobile. They are now awaiting adoption by some other foster parent.

Until 1 o’clock this morning, Mrs. South said today, she and her husband and the children sat up in their little parlor, discussing the situation and praying to God for guidance. At last she agreed to give up the “triplets” if Mr. South would keep the other children, and to this, she says, he consented.

While Mrs. South told this story to callers at her home, South was noncommittal. He said he would make a complet statement later, but in the meantime he didn’t want to say what he was going to do.

“That’s all right,” said Mrs. South, smiling when informed of her husband’s attitude. “He’ll come around all right. I know he meant what he said last night when he agreed to keep the other children He kissed me goodby this morning as he always does and he told me he loved me better than anything else in the world.”

Ah, but the story was about to take a surprising turn, one that indicates Mr. South had to know his wife was still lying about one very important matter and he apparently was willing to remain quiet about it. Why? I'm not sure, but Mrs. South very definitely had had a child of her own. Presumably Mr. South was the biological father.

Trouble is, their daughter had been keeping secrets from her husband, and perhaps from her father, who may have been one of those people who sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts, "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!", to drown out things they don't want to hear.

In any event, if Mrs. Alice South was unbelievable, her husband was even more so.

Syracuse Journal

Adopts Babies As Mother Did,
Fools Husband

ATLANTA, February 14 – Mrs. Alice South, who for fourteen years made her husband think that eleven children obtained from foundling home had been born to her, has added to her startling confession by stating her daughter had also obtained five children in the same way without knowledge of her husband.

The daughter is Mrs. Willis H. Swan, of Jacksonville, Fla., who has been happily married since 1914. Her husband is an electrician. Three of the children obtained by Mrs. Swain are living, the oldest born four years ago. The other two are twins, born in 1918. The two that died were twin boys who lived about a year.

Atlanta is even more stirred by the second confession than by the first. An agitation has been started by the state child welfare agencies for passage of laws regulating homes, such as the one from which Mrs. South and Mrs. Swain obtained their babies and requiring legal adoption of the infants.

Mother Aided Daughter
The home is a private institution where unmarried girls about to become mothers may be cared for an their babies disposed of.

In her statement Mrs. South said her daughter was the only person except the proprietor of the institution who had known how her eleven children had beem obtained.

When no babies were born to Mrs. Swan after she had been married two years, she decided to adopt her mother’s method. She has successfully kept her secret for nearly five years, but when Mrs. South confessed, the other revelation followed. Mrs. Smith said yesterday:

“It is another story of mother love. My daughter grew tired of lavishing her affections on a poodle dog, and I helped her obtain her babies and give ‘birth’ to them in my home.

Deception Explained
“Like myself, she had a great desire for children and when they did not come she was bitterly disappointed. She felt that her home life was incomplete without them and she thought her husband needed them, too. We discussed it for several lmonths in letters and then I fixed it for her.”

Mrs. South said her daughter came from Jacksonville to Atlanta and stayed at her home for two months before the first baby was “born.” On the to successvie occasions she stayed with her mother long enough to deceive her husband before the “births” too place. Each time Mrs. South picked the babies out for her daughter and carried them to her home without the knowledge of her husband.

Niagara Falls Gazette

Admits She Followed Her Mother
in Adopting Children Hubby
Thought Were His Own

By Associated Press
ATLANTA, February 14—Mrs. Eva May Swain, daughter of Mrs. Alice South, has admitted to representatives of the Georgia board of public welfare in Jacksonville that she followed in the footsteps of her mother in adopting a number of children as her own and that she obtained them from someone in Atlanta, according to announcement made here today by officials of the board.

Her admission, It was said, followed the statement Saturday of Mrs. South that the children were obtained from the St, Mary's Maternity Hospital operated by Mrs. M. T. Mitchell, where the Atlanta woman herself obtained 11 babies; including two pairs of “twins" and "triplets"; that she aided her daughter In her scheme, and that the father was not aware of the rfact that the children were not his own.

William P. Swain, husband of the daughter of Mrs. South, stated that he had always been under the impression the children were their own.

“Mrs. Swain, in tears, refused to discuss the matter,” he said. “I have not questioned her closely and while I can hardly bring myself to believe she has deceived me, it makes little difference, as I believe that whatever she did, she did believing it was right.”

Mrs. Swain was reticent regarding the adoption of the children, which she is said to have obtained on several occasions during extended visit to her mother here. “I have notified the children’s home society of Florida, and have given them the names of the children, where they were born and who the parents are,” she said.

When shown messages concerning her daughter’s secret addition of children,, Mrs. South said:

“Well, it’s every bit true and it’s another story of mother love; my daughter grew tired of lavishing her affections on a house full of poodle dogs and I helped her secretly obtain her babies and give ‘birth’ to them in my home.”

Mrs. Swain is the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. South and is now 34 years old, just 15 years younger than her mother.

In 1909, she was married to George Pew, a machinist of Richmond, Va., Mrs. South said. “Their marriage was an utter failure, and after four years they separated,” the mother continued. “No children had blessed their home.”

Perhaps Willis Swain actually believed his wife's stories about "their" children. After all, he remained at home in Jacksonville while his wife visited her mother for the purpose of having the babies in Atlanta. An electrician couldn't be expected to take a two-month leave to be with his "pregnant" wife.

But there's something fishy about F. E. A. South's naive act, especially since he had to be around the house a great deal of the time his daughter was visiting. Or maybe he truly didn't have a clue about where babies come from. ("Look out the window, honey; tell me if you see a stork heading this way!")

Unfortunately, like many of the 1921 tales I read, this one had no follow-up ... which means (sob!) I've had no closure.

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