After 1929 rape, mom and daughter reunite

One of my family members devours biographies, a genre not known for tantalizing your average middle-aged woman. When I asked her why she loves them, she insists that the stories are better than fiction, that because they are true, they are much more interesting. A recent news story out of California fits that description pretty well.

The Associated Press picked up on an incredible story of how a 100-year-old woman reunited with her daughter seven decades after conceiving her out of rape, a story that seems like it could come from a book or movie.

On a summer day in 1928 while picnicking with girls from a sewing class, Disbrow and her friend Elizabeth were jumped by three men as they went for a walk in their long dresses.

Both were raped.

“We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what to say. So when we went back, nothing was said,” Disbrow recalled.
Months passed. Her body began to change.

Disbrow, who had been told babies were brought by storks, didn’t know what was happening.

Her mother and stepfather sent her to a Lutheran home for pregnant girls. At 17, she gave birth to a blond-haired baby with a deep dimple in her chin and named her Betty Jane.

Her daughter Betty Jane went on to marry and have six children, including astronaut Mark Lee, who has gone on four space flights and circled the world 517 times. You get snippets of religion here and there throughout the story, with the details that she was sent to a Luthern home for girls, how a pastor and his wife wanted to adopt her child and how she prayed to be able to see her child. But the story offers faith as an afterthought.

Perhaps faith wasn’t terribly prominent in her life and in her experience, you might assume. But if you look back to a piece from the Orange County Register, you get a different picture. Reporter Tom Berg starts off the story with the prayer that the woman prayed to be able to see her daughter.

Months turned into years. Years into decades. Until Disbrow woke up May 22, 2006, and after wishing happy birthday to her little girl, she
prayed: Lord, if you would just let me see Betty Jane, I won’t bother her, I promise. I just want to see her before I die.

Some might consider it a fool’s prayer. Disbrow was 94. And her baby girl, if still alive, would be 77.

To meet would take a miracle.

The piece doesn’t go in-depth into the woman’s faith, whether she was raised in one faith or became something else, but it does end with some details that offer a better picture of the outcome.

Disbrow’s family, friends and church all embraced her story. Grown men cried when she described it at Heritage Christian Fellowship in San Clemente.

And when mother and daughter met?

“It was like we’d known each other all our lives,” says Ruth Lee, now 82.

“It was like we never parted,” says Disbrow, who recently told this story to friends at her 100th birthday party.

Immediately after, Disbrow prayed again. She thanked God. She forgave the man who raped her. And she wondered something about him for the first time:

“I wondered if he ever watched the space shuttle take off, not knowing that perhaps one of those he was watching was his grandson.”

These few little details at the end of the piece offer a fuller picture of this already compelling story. Without them, it wouldn’t do her story justice.

Image via Shutterstock.

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  • Jerry

    This is such a compelling story with many different facets. And I agree that the small details make the story. I agree it deserves to be well told.

    Some stories seem to be fairly straight forward with one line being the best. But in this case at least two very different stories could be written.

    The obvious story is the very human desire of a mother to meet the daughter she never knew along with how the meeting came about.

    But there’s also a story about how America used to be and today’s America, abortion, and the role religion played then and now.

  • Jay DiNitto

    Not to be sort of OT on an emotional subject and nitpicky on ambiguous wording, but why were the three rapists wearing dresses?

  • John Willard


    Of course you are correct. Denying a child life is far preferable to placing them in an institution. Thank you for your perfectly rational critique of religion.