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Motherhood c. 1970-1990: An Oral History

About the research:

Important social, cultural and demographic changes took place between 1970 and 1990, which all potentially impacted on motherhood in Britain. Growing feminist activism encouraged a reassessment of the place of women in the family and society. The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 precipitated a sharp increase in the divorce rate. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed increasing rates of cohabitation. This collapse of the assumption that childbirth would take place inside marriage was a profound change. Industrial unrest and male unemployment from the mid-1970s meant that the political and economic climate was also altered. Additionally, growing numbers of ethnic minority women, particularly from South Asia, immigrated to Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. Significant developments occurred in the provision of maternity care with the Peel Report of 1970 calling for 100% of births to take place in hospital and the 1974 reorganisation of the health services.

This project questioned how this new social climate challenged existing conceptions of motherhood and what women felt about its consequences. The research wasbased on over sixty history interviews with Oxfordshire women. These were contrasted with sociological and medical studies, educational and advice literature and media representations of motherhood. Reflecting the ways in which oral history offers both objective and subjective information, the research aimed to uncover the experience of motherhood c. 1970-1990, but also to demonstrate how interviewees constructed their accounts. Oral history reveals the subtleties in the experience of motherhood and the diversity of responses, which can challenge existing assumptions and traditional historical accounts.



The project was undertaken by Dr Angela Davis of the History Department at the University of Warwick between 2008 and 2010 as part of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. If you have any questions in relation to the project please contact Angela Davis at