Camille Kelley

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Camille McGee Kelley (1879–January 28, 1955) was an American juvenile court judge and author. She was investigated by the state of Tennessee for using her judgeship to aid Georgia Tann's ongoing adoption fraud operation conducted under the auspices of the Tennessee Children's Home Society and resigned shortly after this information became public.


Camille Kelley was the juvenile court judge in Shelby County, Tennessee, from 1920 to 1950. Known as the "Little Irish Judge," she never wore a judicial robe in court, opting instead for colorful dresses, jewels, and always a flower pinned to her shoulder. She was quoted as saying, "Robes would scare the children to death. They're not so timid when they appear before me and see that I am wearing a flower."

Kelley's formula in dealing with delinquents was simple: "We try the boy, not his offense. We seek to take away from him nothing but his mistakes." She was often quoted as saying that juvenile justice should be tempered with a sympathetic understanding of human problems. Shortly after she retired, she said favorable results were obtained in 85-90% of the 50,000 cases that she had handled.

Kelley authored three books inspired by her experiences at juvenile court.


Hallmark Productions was producing a movie based on her book, Delinquent Angels, but suspended production after her resignation from the bench in November 1950, in a storm of controversy and charges after the results of a special investigation ordered by Governor Gordon Browning were released. The investigation surrounded illegal adoptions-for-profit by Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children's Home Society. It charged that approximately 20% of the illegal adoptions at the home were funneled through Kelley's court, where she would remove parental rights and provide Tann with documents to place the children as she deemed appropriate. Kelley was never prosecuted for any crimes associated with the home. She died at her son's home over four years after the scandal first broke, from complications due to a stroke.


  • A Friend in Court (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1942)
  • Delinquent Angels (Brown-White-Lowell Press, 1947)
  • Kelleygrams (Self-published, 1949)


  • Report to Governor Gordon Browning on Shelby County Branch, Tennessee Children's Home Society. 1951, [Nashville] : State of Tennessee, Dept. of Public Welfare.

External links[edit]

  • Grave Camille Kelley Burial Site