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Dangerous Mothers: Infanticide to Infant Welfare

This week’s seminar explores issues around mothers as a source of danger to their infants, ranging from the outcry about the high levels of infanticide in the 1860s to national anxiety about the survival of infants in early decades of twentieth century as expressed in the infant welfare campaign. Infanticide flew in the face of the idealisation of motherhood, and linked to anxieties about milk supply, high infant mortality and baby-farming scandals. Increasing concern about the health status and physical shortcomings of servicemen during the Boer War and First World War led to stepped up activity to save babies’ lives and improve the health of young children, to prevent the numerical decline and physical and mental deterioration of the race. Starting with a focus on the welfare of infants, emphasis only slowly shifted to maternal health in the twentieth century. The health of mothers and babies became a source of concern for governments, with efforts being made primarily to reform mothers and improve their mothering skills and encourage breast-feeding, and to encourage ‘scientific motherhood’.


Primary sources

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Maternity: Letters from Working Women, 1915 (Virago ed. 1978).

Document on ‘Infantile Mortality. The Huddersfield Scheme’, 1908.

* Meg Arnot, ‘Infant death, child care and the state: the baby-farming scandal and the first infant life protection legislation of 1872’, Continuity and Change, 9 (1994), 271-311.

Meg Arnot, ‘The murder of Thomas Sandles: meanings of a mid-nineteenth-century infanticide’, in Mark Jackson (ed.), Infanticide: Historical Perspectives on Child Murder and Concealment, 1550-2000 (2002), 249-69.

Tony Ward, ‘Legislating for human nature: legal responses to infanticide, 1860- 1938’, in above, 249-69.

Christine L. Kreuger, ‘Literary Defenses and Medical Prosecutions: Representing Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Victorian Studies, 40 (1997), 271-94.

* George K. Behlmer, ‘Deadly Motherhood: Infanticide and Medical Opinion in Mid-Victorian England’, Journal of the History of Medicine, 34 (1979), 403-27.

Lionel Rose, Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Great Britain 1800-1939 (1986).

* Ann R. Higginbotham, ‘”Sin of the Age”: Infanticide and Illegitimacy in Victorian London’, in Kristine Ottesen Garrigan (ed.), Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class (1992), 257-88.

Josephine McDonagh, Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900 (2003).

Patricia Branca, Silent Sisterhood: Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Home (1975), chs 5 and 6.

* Elizabeth Peretz, ‘The costs of modern motherhood to low income families in interwar Britain’, in V. Fildes, L. Marks and H. Marland (eds), Women and Children First: International Maternal and Infant Welfare, 1870-1945 (1992), 257-80.

Lara Marks, ‘Mothers, babies and hospitals: “The London” and the provision of maternity care in East London’, in above, 48-73.

* Jane Lewis, ‘Mothers and maternity policies in the twentieth century’, in Jo Garcia, Robert Kilpatrick and Martin Richards (eds), The Politics of Maternity Care (1990), 15-29.

* Elizabeth Peretz, ‘A maternity service for England and Wales: local authority maternity care in the inter-war period in Oxfordshire and Tottenham’, in above, 30-46.

* Hilary Marland, ‘A pioneer in infant welfare: the Huddersfield Scheme 1903- 1920’, Social History of Medicine, 5 (1993), 25-49.

* Alisa Klaus, ‘Depopulation and race suicide: maternalism and pronatalist ideologies in France and the United States’, in Seth Koven and Sonya Michel (eds), Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Policies and the Origins of Welfare States (1993), 188-212.

* Rima D. Apple, ‘Constructing mothers: scientific motherhood in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, in Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden (eds), Mothers & Motherhood: Readings in American History (1997), 90-110.

* Lyubov G. Gurjeva, ‘Child health, commerce and family values: the domestic production of the middle class in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain’, in Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Hilary Marland (eds), Cultures of Child Health in Britain and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century (2003), 103-25.