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“Slowly it became clear that the women were getting their first glimpse of what a home could really mean.” Prison, Parenting and the Teaching of Mothercraft in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Dr Rachel Bennett, University of Warwick

When reflecting upon her experiences as the Governor of Holloway women’s prison between the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Joanna Kelley stated that “our problems were quite different: problems of mothers and babies, problems of family visits impinged more on us, and we didn’t have the problems of escapes and very violent prisoners.” With the creation of female-only prisons, and the more definitive separation of men and women in mixed prisons from the mid-nineteenth century, there were some acknowledgements of the distinct female responses to prison and their specific social, moral and medical needs. A notable distinction in the female prison was the presence of pregnant women and young infants. There were specific spaces that had to be incorporated into the physical structure of the prison such as nurseries and lying-in wards in the prison hospital but also, crucially, their daily needs had to be incorporated into the prison’s routines and regulations.

Despite their status as penal institutions, there were contemporary voices that acknowledged the potential benefits of the prison setting to pregnant women and new mothers and their babies. In their exploration of conditions in English prisons in 1922 Hobhouse and Brockway …

This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

National Babies

Philippa West, MA Student in the History of Medicine, University of Warwick.  This blog was initially posted on the People’s History of the NHS website.

In 2015 the National Childbirth Trust had over 100,000 parents attend their ante and postnatal courses. With the help of over 15,000 volunteers the NCT currently campaign to improve maternity care and give every parent the chance to make informed choices about their child. The NCT has grown significantly in size and influence since its formation in 1956. It was founded in a climate of growing concern about shortcomings of NHS maternity services. It was perceived that NHS medical staff were failing to give expectant mothers enough information to make educated choices about their bodies or baby’s birth.

Criticism of the treatment of expectant mothers was voiced from the earliest days of the NHS. One such critic was the mother and author Sarah Campion, who had her first baby in 1949, just a year after the formation of the NHS. Sarah Campion was a pseudonym for the author Mary Rose Coulton. Coulton was born in England in 1906 and lived in Auckland, New Zealand, from 1959 until her death in 2002. Her published works …

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Policy engagement at the local level – what works?

Laura King, School of History, University of Leeds, and Co-Director of the Parenting Forum

What does policy engagement and influence look like at a local level? How do you make an initial contact with someone in local government, in a charity or the media? How do we learn about what different political and policy groups need within a particular city or local area?

To explore some of these questions, with Dave Churchill, Will Gould and Alix Mortimer of History & Policy, I hosted an event on ‘Policy Engagement at a Local Level’ involving historians who have worked with local and regional government, third sector organisations, and local government workers themselves. A whole host of tips, practical advice and more philosophical discussion on the role of history ensued, and we’ll be building on this event by developing a website of resources and case studies for historians to use.

At this workshop, four key lessons stood out for me:

Firstly, the importance of valuing history and heritage within any given location: we highlighted how important local histories are within the economy, and particularly the tourist economy. Kevin Grady, former Director of the Leeds Civic Trust picked up this theme strongly, …

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Encouraging innovation isn’t innovative: Research and looked-after children in the post-war period

Jono Taylor, D. Phil Student, University of Oxford

Proposals to promote innovation, which were included in the Children and Social Work Bill (2017), are part of a post-war tradition of encouraging research-based best practice. Material collected as part of this research can help us to reflect on how to improve services, as well as the chance to review the extent to which political rhetoric is realized in practice. Significantly, these opportunities allow us to encourage innovation in ways that do not depend on suspending current safeguards to protect children’s well-being, a suggestion that was recently debated in Parliament.

The Bill, which was first introduced in the House of Lords in May 2016, aims to improve support for looked-after and previously looked-after children; establish a new regulatory regime around the social work profession; and enable better learning about effective approaches to child protection and children’s social care. Proposals for achieving the latter of these objectives – through giving councils the ability ‘to test different ways of working’ within children’s services and exempting them from certain legislative requirements – proved highly controversial.

Changes advocated in an earlier version of the Bill proposed to allow local authorities to suspend large portions …

This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , , , .

Illegitimate Pregnancy and the Social and Legal Construction of Infanticide in Early Modern England

By Naomi Pullin, University of Warwick

In February 1679, a young woman found herself on trial at the Old Bailey. Single, without work and in a desperate situation, she was accused of violently slitting the throat of her ‘new-born Bastard-Child’ and abandoning the body in an alley near Bishops-Gate Street in London. It was not an uncommon situation for a young woman in seventeenth-century England, where economic hardship, combined with the stigma of illegitimate pregnancy, forced many women to dispose of unwanted children. But many of the surviving legal records of early modern infanticide cases give us very little indication about the social and economic pressures that might force a young unmarried woman living in London to commit such a vicious act. This woman is unnamed in the Old Bailey trial proceedings, only referred to as an ‘unhappy wench’, making it almost impossible to determine her motive for murder. But, there are many interesting ways in which this instance of infanticide fits into a wider picture about the status of single mothers and the social and legal construction of infanticide in early modern England.

Infanticide was a single woman’s crime. The first legal statute against child killing was the …

This entry was posted in Research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .

Interdisciplinary Partnerships in Early Intervention: It’s now time for a top-down approach.

Dr Rodolfo Maggio, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford

A very brief history of early intervention

Today, the rights of childrenearly-intervention-post to literacy, mental health, and cognitive development are considered as much a global priority as once were prophylactic vaccines against polio, smallpox, or measles. Since primary prevention has been mostly effective against these and other life-threatening diseases, in the past few decades the same kind of logic has been applied in the case of a ‘societal kind of diseases’. These include psychological pain, cognitive delays, and lack of preparation to enter the school system. Early intervention, just like primary prevention of disease, categorize their fields of application in terms of pathology and the right of individuals to live a “good” life.

Needless to say, this scientific perspective and moral commitment have not always been. The concept of childhood only became prominent with the advent of modernity. During the Middle Ages children were essentially conceived as diminished adults who did not play a particular role in the social structure, except for the obligations connected to their kinship relations. The idea that a child could be considered an autonomous moral agent was limited to mythology until, during the Enlightenment, it …

This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , , , .

A return to old-fashioned values? History, selective schools and child development

Andrew Burchell, University of Warwick


Ministry of Education, The New Secondary Education. Ministry of Education Pamphlet No. 9 (London: HMSO, 1947), front and back covers

The merits of selection to educational attainment underpin Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent announcement that the 1998 ban on the opening of new selective schools is to be abandoned. (Full speech available here.) Responses to this policy have moved along two lines. The first casts it as a reactionary exercise in nation-building; a nostalgic longing, exacerbated by recent turbulence in Britain’s sense of itself as a nation, to return to a supposedly happier, more ordered evocation of the ‘1950s’. The second, more sociological in tone, aims to deconstruct the mythologies surrounding grammar schools. It points to evidence that selection is far from the beacon of meritocracy that its proponents claim; that it in fact serves to diminish, rather than increase, social mobility; that ‘objective’ intelligence tests invariably carry flaws; and that the effects on self-esteem of failure at a young age can be devastating. Yet stepping back from these critiques, worthy though they may be, enables a broader discussion of how this ‘return of selection’ fits into a longer historical interrogation …

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Parenting practices in separated couples – a longer historical view

Laura King, School of History, University of Leeds

Though divorce has become much easier, and more common, in the last fifty years, marital break up is not a new thing. Death, family abandonment and mutual separation in the past meant there were multiple types and shapes of families  and children could have minimal contact with one of their parents. Losing contact with a parent was more often the case with fathers, though families headed by a single father are not new either. Indeed, whilst more children tend to spend the majority of their time with their mothers than their fathers in the case of a break up today, the law used to favour fathers. Until the 1925 Guardianship Act, mothers were only able to apply for custody of their children if they were under seven years old, and women only gained full equal rights to custody of their children in 1973, when they were granted full independent authority over their children.

A recent study, by Tina Haux and Lucinda Platt, has explored the impact of parental separation on children in Britain today – half of who will experience parental break up at some point through their childhood. Using data …

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Breadwinning and Brexit: Putting one father’s vote to Leave in historical context

Richard Hall, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge

Voting paper imageDuring a particularly salient episode of the BBC’s Panaroma last month, John Butler, a working-class father of six from West Bromwich, articulated his reasons for voting Brexit. An ex-soldier and Steelworker, he was now out of work. He claimed that eastern European immigration had driven down wages, leaving few jobs lucrative enough to provide for his family. ‘I got six kids – where am I going to get the money from to feed them? … I hope [the Brexit vote] does for the best, for my kids, when they get older, and when they get jobs… I don’t want my kids working in a factory. I want them to go to university and have a proper education, not like me.’

The programme helped nuance a debate that had been over-simplified by Left- and Right-wing press alike. To the Left, Leavers were older, provincial, regressive quasi-racists; while to the Right, Remainers were out-of-touch urban, liberal, idealists. But here was a young man whose voting decision was motivated by a simple and familiar parental instinct: to want the best for his children. Yes, he was a white working-class man from the Midlands with …

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