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Sinners? Scroungers? Saints?: Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth-Century England [Hardcover]

Pat Thane , Tanya Evans

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Book Description

July 21 2012 0199578508 978-0199578504
This is the first book to describe the real lives of unmarried mothers, and attitudes towards them, in England from the First World War to the present day. The focus is on England because the legal positions, and other circumstances, of unmarried mothers were often very different elsewhere in Britain. The authors use biographies and memoirs, as well as archives and official sources, to challenge stereotypes of the mothers as desolate women, rejected by society and by their families, until social attitudes were transformed in the "permissive" 1960s. They demonstrate the diversity of their lives, their social backgrounds, and how often they were supported by their families, neighbours, and the fathers of their children before the 1960s, and the continuing hostility by some sections of society since then. They challenge stereotypes, too, about the impact of war on sexual behaviour, and about the stability of family life before the 1960s. Much of the evidence comes from the records of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, set up by prominent people in 1918 to help a social group they believed were neglected, and which is still very active today, as Gingerbread, supporting lone parents in need of help. Their work tells us not only about the lives of those mothers and children who had no other support, but also another important story about the vibrancy of voluntary action throughout the past century and its continuing vital role, working alongside and in co-operation with the Welfare State to help mothers into work among other things. Their history is an inspiring example of how, throughout the past century, voluntary organizations in the "Big Society" worked with, not against, the "Big State".

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... a work that should make readers cheer, fume with rage and on a couple of occasions laugh out loud ... a valuable study. Mary Evans, Times Higher Education provides a series of painful snapshots of how difficult life was in this period for many umnarried mothers and their children ... Poverty, rather than motherhood per se, emerges as the real social evil here Emily Wilson, Times Literary Supplement This scholarly book will fascinate readers curious both about the lives of unmarried mothers and their children, and about family life and community networks more generally. Joanna Bourke, BBC History Magazine The new histories of the entire twentieth century represent a welcome historiographical trend, and this specific narrative links policy history to social history in a highly productive and readable fashion. Lucy Delap, H-Soz-u-Kult this ambitious book makes for an interesting read... For anyone interested in the history of the phenomenon of unmarried motherhood, the changes to the situation of the families concerned, the expansion of welfare provision and the role of the National Council in providing lobbying for their welfare, this is an invaluable book. Journal of Social Policy Thane and Evans make an important contribution to deconstructing the often negative stereotypes of both unmarried mothers themselves and also the milieu within which they became pregnant out of wedlock in the twentieth century. Lesley A. Hall, Population Studies: A Journal of Demography This is an engaging study of the changing policies and practices affecting unmarried motherhood across the twentieth century. Simon Szreter, American Historical Review For anyone interested in the history of the phenomenon of unmarried motherhood, the changes to the situation of the families concerned, the expansion of welfare provision and the role of the National Council in providing and lobbying for their welfare, this is an invaluable book. However, more broadly, the book deserves a wider audience as the idea of unravelling the history of particular group alongside a longstanding voluntary organisation such as the National Council could usefully be applied to other groups. Tina Haux, Journal of Social Policy

About the Author

Pat Thane's publications include: Maternity and Gender Policies: Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States, 1880s-1950s (1991); Old Age in English History: Past Experiences, Present Issues (2000); Women and Ageing in Britain since 1500 (2001); Unequal Britain: Equalities in Britain since 1945 (2010); Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the Twentieth Century: What Difference did the Vote Make? (2010). Tanya Evans is working on a transnational history of the family in Australia and Britain from the eighteenth century through to the present. Previously she was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London. Her publications include 'Unfortunate Objects': Lone Mothers in Eighteenth-Century London (2005). She is co-editing a Special Issue of Australian Historical Studies on Biography and Life-Writing. She curated an exhibition on Lone Mothers, Past and Present at The Woman's Library, London Metropolitan University in 2007-8 and she has been commissioned to curate another on 'Family Life in Colonial New South Wales' by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales for the Museum of Sydney in 2013.

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