Single Mothers and Bastards in History
In our current society, being a single mother or a pregnant woman without marriage, having financial independence and making decisions is very common and absolutely accepted, but this has not always been the case. In contrast, in the 19th century, society not only expected women to marry and be a very supportive housewife but also to have many babies. From an early age, girls were taught to marry and have children, to be dependent on their husbands, and they had no right to express themselves.
To be pregnant and unwed in the late 1800s was a terrifying idea for a woman since single mothers were not to be trusted they could lose everything as their jobs, the support of their families, the respect of society and the church and were often exploited. In this paper, I will discuss the point of the view of the society about the situations and the proposed solutions about it, the consequences that young women who ended up pregnant faced, and the consequences of the children would face. In the 19 century, the families had a very strong conservative ideology, which religion was of deep importance and women must follow many severe rules. The church considered completely unacceptable pregnancy outside of marriage and since this was an era when birth control was not available, it was expected that many young girls ended up pregnant.
If the illegitimate pregnancy happened the future parents had to marry immediately and the only way to marriage not happened was if the man refused to marry. Consequently, these women were blamed for everything and to solve the problems many women were forced to undergo an abortion by taking pills. It is estimated that one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in the 1800s. Another possibility of what could happen in these situations was adoption. Those mothers were forced to give their babies away, even if they wanted to keep them it would be extremely hard once no one would give the necessary support to them. Regardless of what happened, the mother and child would be affected. Throughout the nineteenth century, the women began to work in factories and it was difficult for them who were taken advantage of by a man of higher social status. Unmarried mothers were usually considered a shame for the family.
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Therefore, they did not have many choices other than to marry, to take pills, to put the baby for adoption, or to run away. In this case, if the mother wanted to keep the baby she had the option of running away and trying to start a new life, which was extremely difficult at the time for an unwed pregnant woman. Those poor and lost women needed to handle everything by themselves and the only ways to survive and get some money was wage work or to enter into prostitution life, which could lead to more illegitimate children and that’s exactly what many of them ended up facing.
A child born out of wedlock was called an illegitimate child. These children were sometimes also called “bastards” and being illegitimate was shamed, and it had the community disapproval. As can be seen, the role of women has evolved greatly over the years. In the old days, women were expected to marry and have many children. If something was not as expected as pregnancy, it would be all woman’s fault and she would suffer all the consequences like losing the support of her family, the respect of the society, and lost her job. In other words, pregnancy outside marriage could ruin the lives of these women. Even the innocent child would pay for the parents’ “mistake”. It is very important to remember that, even though women’s rights improved over the years and now they are more independent it still exists inequality and injustice against women.