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Bastards, Baby Farmers, and Social Control in Victorian Britain

Pearman, Joanne (2017) Bastards, Baby Farmers, and Social Control in Victorian Britain. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:62866)

Language: English

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This thesis examines the development and enactment of legislation between 1834 and 1897 which sought to deal with the problems associated with the support of the bastard child. This Victorian legislation, reflecting a new paradigm of state intervention, represents the first example, apart from the obvious case of the criminal law, that eventually authorised in 1897 state encroachment into the domestic home. The thesis is divided into three main parts.

In the first part, I examine the Poor Law of 1834 and the bastardy legislation which followed to show how lawmakers sought to influence the behaviour of those women likely to produce illegitimate children. I argue that these provisions served not to deter women from having children but resulted in a lack of possibility of practical help which might have enabled women to care for their own children. One possible solution for a woman who faced the problem of providing care for her illegitimate child was to entrust them to someone else and to pay for childcare, in effect to employ a baby farmer.

The second part of the thesis examines the trials of four baby farmers charged with the murder of children in their care. I consider the cases of Charlotte Winsor (1865) and Margaret Waters (1870), which brought to wide public attention the practices of baby farming and marked a shift of official attention from the mothers of illegitimate children to those paid to care for them. I then consider the cases of Jessie King (1889) and Amelia Dyer (1896), a generation later than the other two cases, but which confirmed the earlier construction of baby farmers as child murderers.

In the third part of the thesis I evaluate the formal response of government to the issues raised by the dangers to child health posed by some baby farmers. This consists of analysis of the minutes of three select committees (1871, 1890, and 1896), constituted to consider legal solutions to the issue of baby farming. I examine the evidence presented to the committees in which some witnesses advocated direct inspection and regulation of the homes in which the baby farmers carried out their trade, in effect to take social control into the domestic circle. The first two committees resisted this, but the third resolved to create a regime of notification, mandatory inspection, and local-authority supervision which brought social control directly into the private home. This led to the Infant Life Preservation Act 1897, the foundation of a power of state inspection of childcare within the private home.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Fudge, Judy
Uncontrolled keywords: bastardy baby farming social control
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2017 16:11 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:47 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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