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Feminism, the family and the state, 1914-1939


The Modern Records Centre has a large amount of material relating to the development of the welfare state during the 20th century, a small selection of which have been included in our digital collection on British healthcare between 1900-1948 (including documents relating to maternity and motherhoodLink opens in a new window). The MRC's collections also include various sources on families and parenthood (particularly motherhood) - ranging from a 1936 handbook on 'Mothercraft and housewifery'Link opens in a new window to documents relating to the family planning clinics established by Marie StopesLink opens in a new window.

= This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.

Selected sources:

The state and sexual morality, 1920Link opens in a new window

Report published by a Committee of Inquiry of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene. The committee was formed in part to look at legislation and "remedial treatment" in regard to prostitution, venereal disease, and other issues of sexual morality. The First World War and the growth of the suffrage movement are cited as reasons for the increased interest in the state and sexual morality.

'Woman's place in the state', 1920Link opens in a new window 

Typescript copy of an article or speech by an unnamed woman (using the title of an 1890 anti-suffrage article by Goldwin Smith). The author comments on the changing status of women and calls for further equality in marriage and education.

'Mothers' pensions', 1921Link opens in a new window

Election leaflet produced by the Labour Party, promoting their campaign for state pensions for mothers in need, "whether she is a widow, a deserted or separated wife, or the wife of an invalid". It includes an extract from a speech by Mrs Kane of Moss Side, Manchester.

Report of deputation to the Minister of Health, 1924Link opens in a new window

The deputation was formed by members of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations, and asked questions about the government's policy towards the Washington Convention on the employment of women immediately before and after childbirth (and related issues).

Achievements of the state in health services: The work of maternity and infant welfare centres, 1926Link opens in a new window 

Memorandum produced by the Joint Research Department of the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party. It includes information about the type of care provided by the centres, described as developing from "schools for mothers" funded by philanthropists to part of a public health service. It also comments on child and maternal mortality.

'Motherhood', 1931Link opens in a new window

Leaflet issued by the Maternal Mortality Committee, drafted with the assistance of the Ministry of Health. It was intended to be distributed to pregnant women, with the aim of encouraging them to seek qualified medical advice.

Report of conference on maternal mortality, 1932Link opens in a new window

The meeting of 1,300 representatives of voluntary organisations was organised by the Maternal Mortality Committee. Speakers included the Minister of Health, Sir Hilton Young. As well as the death of mothers in childbirth, the conference also discussed related issues such as contraception and abortion.


Copy of newspaper advertisement 'Babies in the right place'

Copy of CBC advertisement reproduced in 'The evidence of Dr Marie C Stopes to the Royal Commission on the Press', 1953Link opens in a new window (on censorship she had previously encountered)