5 Famous Adoptees Who Helped Shape the World

In Celebration of National Adoption Month, why not celebrate some famous adoptees who are changing the world for the better?  Whether a child is adopted by relatives or strangers, adoption in all its forms exists to create families that were meant to be.

Check out these five adoptees and their impact on the world as we know it today.

1. Steve Jobs

While pancreatic cancer stole Steve Jobs from the world too soon, this adoptee changed the world into the technology-driven one we know today.  The co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc., as well as a driving force behind Pixar was placed for adoption at birth.

Jobs’ birth parents gave him up because his birth mother’s family didn’t approve of his father; his birth parents met and began a relationship in their early 20s at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  His birth father was a Syrian immigrant and his mother was from the U.S. While his biological parents later married and had a child, Mona, his mother gave Steve up for adoption in 1954.  His adoptive parents, Paul and Clara Jobs, raised him in the San Francisco area until they divorced in 1962.

Related: How Adoption is Unique

After his death, news stories broke about Jobs’ secret philanthropy.  While he never spoke publically about his charitable giving, sources revealed that he had donated over $50 million dollars to hospitals in California to build a children’s medical center. He also gave millions to fund critical HIV and AIDS research.


2. Frances McDormand

Born in Chicago, Frances was adopted when she was 1.5 years old by Noreen and Vernon McDormand, a pastor.  The McDormands additionally adopted Frances’ two siblings.  The family lived all over the United States, including Georgia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.  She eventually attended the Yale School of Drama, and became the award-winning actress we know today.  She is one of the few actors to achieve the “Triple Crown” of acting; she’s won an Academy Award, a Tony, and an Emmy.

Never one to shy away from a difficult or nuanced role, Frances McDormand continues to bring many memorable characters to the screen and encourages important conversations about societal issues.  McDormand married director Joel Coen in 1984, and the couple adopted their son in 1994.


3. Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson was adopted by his step-father in 1956, when he was 15 years old.  He is the son of Helen Burns and Noah Louis Robinson; Burns gave birth to him at 16 years of age.  When Jackson was one year old, Burns married Charles Henry Jackson, who eventually adopted him.  Jesse Jackson has recounted being teased as a child as the son of an unwed mother; he said that in part, being teased encouraged him to succeed.  Jackson rose to become a key leader for civil rights in America; he worked with Martin Luther King Jr., eventually heading Operation Breadbasket in 1966.

Related:  A Tale of Three Adoptions

To date, Jackson has led a number of organizations focused on building and maintaining equality for minorities in the United States including PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition.  Additionally, in 1983, he traveled to Syria on behalf of the United States and secured the release of Navy pilot Lt. Robert Goodman. The next year, he led the negotiations to release 22 American hostages in Cuba.  Jackson has dedicated his life to politics and continues to remain active in causes supporting equality throughout the United States.


4. Sarah McLachlan

This famous singer was born in 1968 and adopted in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  In an interview for Parents magazine after the birth of her daughter India, McLachlan shared this about her adoption:

“I met my mother several years ago — my birth mother — and I’m thankful that she gave me up. Because she was an artist, she was way too young, she was 19 years old. She would have had to go and live in rural Newfoundland, and she wouldn’t have been able to pursue any of her dreams. And instead I’ve got a great family, who loved me and gave me every opportunity to pursue my dreams. It was a gift. It was probably the hardest thing she ever had to do. I’m glad she did it.”

Beyond performing for a variety of charities throughout her career and becoming a spokesperson for the SPCA, McLachlan founded the Sarah McLachlan Foundation, which supports the Sarah McLachlan School of Music offering “daily music instruction at no cost, to under-served and at risk populations”.  The school has positively affected hundreds of lives through the gift of music.


5. Jaime Foxx

Actor Jaime Foxx was born in 1967, in Texas.  His birthparents gave him up, and he was adopted by his mother’s adoptive parents — in essence, he’s a second generation adoptee.  He began his career as a stand-up comedian, and eventually moved into acting.

Throughout his long career, Foxx has earned many accolades including an Academy Award, BAFTA award, and a Golden Globe.  He founded the Jaime Foxx Foundation, which operates out of California.  Worldwide, the foundation works to provide “…for the health, education, and welfare of children throughout the world, including housing, and HIV/AIDS issues in Africa and Haiti.”  Additionally, the foundation focuses on literacy and adoption programs.

For more of Foxx’s views on adoption, check out an interview he gave to People magazine here.


4 thoughts on “5 Famous Adoptees Who Helped Shape the World”

  1. Interesting to read the stories of these famous adoptees but proper terms should be used. Children aren’t “given up” for adoption they are “placed for adoption”. As an adoptive parent I️ want to make sure proper terms are used.

  2. Amazing stories, but if you are trying to show the positives of adoption you should be using positive adoption language when sharing them with the world. Their birth parents didn’t give up their children; they made an adoption plan for their child because they loved them enough to put the child’s needs above their own. As an adoptive mother I know that my son’s birth mother made a very difficult decision to allow me to raise her son and not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about him; she didn’t give him up.

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