Happy 90th, Helen Doss! ("The Family Nobody Wanted," 1954)

She lives in Yuba City, California.

For those who don't know this wonderful book, it's about Helen and
Carl (a Methodist minister) who somehow managed to adopt 12 children
that nobody else wanted because they were of mixed race. This was the
1940s, however, so when they tried to adopt Gretchen, a German girl
who was half black, they got nowhere. (She went to a black family
eventually - pretty important in her case because she already knew, at
four, that she was different from all the kids in the German orphanage
and she kept begging for white stockings so her legs would look
white.) The other kids were mainly mixes of Asian, Latino, Anglo and
Native American. They also had one foster child (in 1947?) whom no one
would have because he was Japanese-Filipino!

The kids were all born between 1942 and 1952. The book is very
humorous and is easy enough for 9-year-olds to read alone.

Funny thing is, when I first saw the title as a kid, I didn't
understand that Helen meant that nobody else wanted to be a parent to
the children. I thought the title meant that nobody wanted to live
next to them for some mysterious reason. (That, of course, was before
I had any idea just how many noisy kids were IN the family at any
given time.)

First, in 1942, they lived in California - in Santa Ana and Cucamonga
- then they moved to Hebron, Illinois (in 1945?), then back to
California, first to Forestville (in 1948) and by the end of the book,

To give you an idea of how little money they were working with (and
how generous another certain minister was), here are a few figures
from the Inflation Calculator. In 1942, before they adopted their
first child, $10 was equal to $139.40 in 2007 dollars. On the same
page in the book, Carl announces that they're moving to Cucamonga and
would be living rent-free at the parsonage, with a salary of $900 per
year, which is the 2007 equivalent of $12,546.08. (Small wonder he
thought they couldn't afford a baby at that time.) Finally, in 1949,
when Helen decides to start a garden at the parsonage in Forestville
to cut the food bill for the family of nine, Carl is earning $2,800 a
year, or $23,872.03 in 2007 dollars.

"In 1951 they were radio's Christmas Family of the Year."

(Carl & Helen, in 1954, on Groucho's show "You Bet Your Life")

In 1956, TV's Playhouse 90 had an episode about them!
(includes amusing trivia near the bottom about the 1975 movie)

Lew Ayres played Carl and Nanette Fabray played Helen.

There was a 1975 TV-movie based on the book which, at the end, listed
a few of the jobs the kids now have. Shirley Jones played Helen,
James Olson played Carl, and Willie Aames played Donny.

The book was rereleased in November 2001 with a new epilogue by her
and an introduction by a professor of humanities from Wheelock
College. Before then, there were already 36 reviews in Amazon, and one
review was long and very thoughtful and another boldly pointed out
that the book is not exactly great literature - "what it lacks in
intellectual matter, it makes up for in pathos." I also remember
someone in alt.adoption saying the book was sappy and simplistic - she
said the book "embraces the usual adoption mythos." That is, since
Helen was willing to discuss racism well enough in the chapter "All
God's Children," she could have talked a good deal more about the very
real emotional and ethical issues of adoption in general (how young,
frightened, pregnant women were routinely lied to and forced into
choosing adoption, for example).

One thing I'm interested in is how today's parents and grandparents
who remember the book fondly are going to explain to young kids how
Carl and Helen could possibly call atrocious people like Mrs. Pickles
"friends" as opposed to "acquaintances." Nowadays, after all, we're
not even supposed to say hello to such people when we run into them,
and even back then, I would hope most whites wouldn't say that God
meant for blacks to be slaves. So telling kids that such people were
the majority of whites and that you had to make friends with them
if you ever hoped to convert them isn't going to fly too well. (Yes, I
remember what MP says near the end.)

From April of 2007 (Amazon reader review): "By the way, my parents
never ever talked to me about racism. We had no friends of different
races. I imagine I formed my beliefs that 'we are all brothers'
regardless of color, mostly from this book."

And from June 21, 2005: Debra Koehler "Debra Ritchey-Koehler" (San
Diego, CA) "My Uncle Don was part of this family." (I'm guessing that
he's her uncle by marriage, because if one of Donny's siblings were
her parent, chances are she'd say so.)

For those who haven't gotten their hands on the new edition......


If memory serves - Donny is now a computer wizard, as are Teddy and
Diane, Timmy is in real estate, Alex joined the Air Force and now
lives in South Korea with his wife, Susie and Dorothy are artists,
Laura (now spelled Lora) is a beautician, Rita cares for old people,
Elaine is a housewife, and Richard was a farmer before he died of
cancer. Gregory, I'm sorry to say, died tragically after a mugging.
(Those last two apparently died before the mid-1990s, as you'll see
below.) Helen's update in the book is not much longer than what I just

Also, Teddy and Timmy were in Vietnam - and returned.

From what I understand, despite conflicting reports of dates, Carl and
Helen divorced in 1964 (sadly, it's not too surprising, when you read
the book) and he died of cancer in 1994. Helen said that he lived to
see most of his grandchildren (there are now 37). She has remarried.
Most of the adoptees are now grandparents themselves!

Here's an interesting, shall we say, review of the book from a
different perspective:


"The Rad Trad Review"
"Engaging the culture with an examination of movies and books from a
Traditional Catholic Perspective"

"Written from the wife of a protestant minister's perspective, there
is nothing about Catholicism in the book. However, the open hearts and
generosity of the minister and his wife, in adopting 12 children from
many different ethnic groups, gives a very good example regardless of
religion, and is well worth the read.
Excellence: 2 stars"

(Let's just say the reviewer has no sympathy for Carl and even makes
mean remarks about his choosing to become a Methodist minister.)

And here's another religious review with a very different perspective
(she sympathizes with Carl):

More info:


"I did verify that they did divorce- it apparently was in 1964. Carl
remarried in 1966 to Maxine Mapes. He and Maxine lived in Redlands, CA
until his death in 1994. At the time of his death Don, Diane, Dorothy,
Elaine, Rita, Tim, Ted, Susan, Laura & Alex were still living. Maxine
has since passed away as well.

"Incidentally, Carl left his ministry and had a career in real estate.
Later he retired from real estate to do sculpturing."
Lori | 08.17.07 - 12:01 pm | #

Gravatar "Hello: I am the wife of Don Doss the first child adopted by
the Doss's in the book The Family Nobody Wanted. Yes, Carl and Helen
divorced in 1964. Helen is still alive and is married to someone named
Roger Reed."
Sharon | 09.11.07 - 7:05 pm | #

(bits and pieces)

(includes a color photo from 2005 - it's about Helen's anti-cancer
charity work)

(photo from 2004 - the article is mainly about her stepdaughter)

(scroll halfway down to see three covers for "The Family Nobody
Wanted" - two are very old color editions!)

(includes B&W photo from the 1951 LIFE Magazine)

You can see photos of ALL the kids here, with the 1949 Reader's
Digest(?) article by Helen:


I was browsing in a huge used-books store in San Francisco's
Tenderloin district some years ago and found a copy of Helen's short
hardcover "The Really Real Family" which is full of photos and is
mainly about Laura's and Elaine's rivalry.

*I* have some questions:

What does Helen think of the current controversies surrounding putting
black children in white homes when there aren't enough black parents
looking to adopt?

Now that healthy, happy babies/toddlers available for adoption are
probably the exception rather than the norm, regardless of color, IS
there such a thing nowadays in the U.S. as a healthy child under 5
whom no one
WANTS to adopt? If so, what are the most common reasons for that?
(Assuming the child does not have truly terrifying behavioral

Why did there seem to be so few older children available for adoption
in the 1940s, when, as Helen made clear in the first chapter, there
were all sorts of reasons then, as now, for children to be needing
foster and adoptive homes? Even then, healthy white babies weren't
always easy to get.


A brother the size of me - 1957

The Family Nobody Wanted: A Three-act Comedy Based Upon the Book by
Christopher Sergel, Helen Grigsby Doss - 1957

If You Adopt a Child by Carl M. Doss, Helen Grigsby Doss - 1957

All the children of the world - 1958

Friends Around the World by Helen Doss, illustrated by Audrie L
Knapp - 1959

The really real family - 1959

Jonah - 1964

King David Illustrated by Norman Kohn. 1967
"Helen Doss' powerful story of this biblical personality presents King
David as a man who sometimes ruled his kingdom and often was himself
ruled by his emotions."

Where can I find God? - 1968

Young Reader's Book of Bible Stories - 1970

All the better to bite with 1976

Your Skin Holds You in 1978

The U. S. Air Force: From Balloons to Spaceships 1981

Language Skills and Use - 1986