top of page

Credit. Heather Spears, 'Swaddled Baby'. CC BY 4.0

Blog

Welcome to 'The Last Taboo of Motherhood' Project Blog

Here you can read our regular blogs about the project, where we'll be sharing updates on what we have been finding, exciting news, events and much more.


In February 1904, Florence H. was admitted to Claybury Asylum with a diagnosis of acute puerperal mania.[1] Aged 23 and a resident of Islington in north London, the birth of her first child was given as the ‘exciting cause’ of her illness. The entry in the asylum casebook described how Florence ‘had tried to get at baby’ and to throw the three-week-old child out of the window. She was raving, restless and noisy and was taken to the asylum on a stretcher under restraint. ‘She chatters and sings incoherently’, it was noted in her case history. The diagnosis of puerperal insanity was confirmed by Medical Superintendent, Dr Robert Jones, a week later. Florence was initially kept in a padded room where she was said to have been ‘constantly moving about’ and to ‘turn somersaults’. She was noted to be in poor health, was coaxed to eat by the nurses and thereafter ‘took nourishment abundantly’. After ten months in Claybury, Florence was reportedly much better, and in February 1905, a year after her admission, she was discharged recovered to a local workhouse.[2]


Over the last few months, I have been exploring the early twentieth-century casebooks of two major London lunatic asylums and the admission of patients experiencing mental disorders attributed to pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. The first, Colney Hatch Asylum in North-East London, opened in 1851 and served the most deprived and densely populated areas of London’s East End. The second, Claybury Asylum in Woodford Bridge, Essex, was established over four decades later in 1893, as London’s fifth County Council asylum. By the early twentieth century, London County Council had built up one of the largest asylum systems in the world, and in 1907 its ten asylums housed over 20,000 patients.

Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, Middlesex n.d. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

The records of both institutions present challenges for researchers. Access to archives involving patient records is restricted to casebooks over 100 years old for reasons of both confidentiality and sensitivity, and Claybury has few surviving casebooks for this period. Meanwhile, Colney Hatch has an exceptionally full run of casebooks but a number of these have been closed to researchers due to their extremely fragile state. Nonetheless, these sources provide valuable testimony about how women suffering insanity related to childbearing were diagnosed, their backgrounds and their experiences in the asylum.

Claybury Asylum, Woodford, Essex: a dormitory c.1893[?]. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

Dr Robert Jones, Claybury’s Superintendent, had a special interest in mental breakdown related to childbirth. He published extensively on puerperal insanity in British and American medical journals, declaring in 1902 ‘that gestation is attended with much nervous disturbance in many, and some nervous disturbance in all’.[3] Claybury provided Jones with ample material for his publications. Childbirth was listed as a major cause of mental breakdown, and between 1896 and 1902 259 women were admitted with diagnoses of insanity of pregnancy, confinement or lactation.[4]


Florence H.’s experience cited above is representative of numerous women admitted to Claybury and other London asylums in the early years of the twentieth century. The majority of women suffering puerperal insanity were brought to Claybury within a few weeks of their confinement, and many were discharged relieved or cured within a year of admission. Some were sent home, others removed to the workhouse. While puerperal insanity was often associated with hereditary causes and instances of mental illness in the family, social and economic factors were also deemed significant. Jones also appeared to empathise with the plight of his female patients, highlighting in his published work the stress resulting from overwork, penury and domestic troubles.[5]


In terms of treatment, there was little in the way of medical or pharmaceutical intervention. Though sedatives might be prescribed, attention was primarily devoted to encouraging the women to rest, eat and take on a regular routine. Given the impoverished backgrounds of most patients, many were poorly nourished on admission and were ‘coaxed’ to eat by spoon feeding or use of a feeding tube. Unlike current day treatment, where ideally women keep their babies with them, the infant was usually removed from the mother, and brought to the workhouse or cared for by a family member. Florence’s confinement in a padded room might have been to protect her from harming herself – she was reported to be very excited and badly bruised on admission – and it avoided the use of a strait jacket. It was commonly observed that women experiencing puerperal mania might, like Florence, be in poor physical health yet at the same time exceptionally strong, energetic, and violent. Her threatening behaviour towards her baby was common in such cases, and many women were also believed to be at risk of harming themselves.

Colney Hatch Casebook 1905. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives, H12/CH/B/11/55, Female Casebook June-Nov. 1905.

Colney Hatch Asylum was notable for its admission of large numbers of ‘alien’ patients, particularly after London County Council took the decision to concentrate Jewish patients there in 1872. Colney Hatch introduced special religious and dietary provisions for their Jewish or as they were commonly referred to ‘Hebrew’ patients.[6] Many were recent migrants to London from Eastern Europe, some of whom spoke little or no English, and almost all were impoverished and in poor physical health. Despite efforts to accommodate a growing asylum population that had reached 2,500 by 1900, the institutional experience for inmates was likely to be grim. For women already struggling with the disruptive and alienating consequences of mental illness, daily life on wards, which were reportedly decrepit, gloomy and uncomfortable, must have been frightening.


The medical staff appear to have been responsive to the information given by Jewish family members, particularly if the patients were unable to communicate themselves. Usually, it was husbands who described how childbirth had prompted their wives’ mental breakdown and on occasion this led to a change in diagnosis. When Eva C., ‘Hebrew’, aged 24 and resident in Mile End, was admitted on 15 February 1905, the cause of her insanity was given as ‘a fright’. She was described in the case notes as depressed, melancholic and vacant, yet also liable to be troublesome and ‘spiteful’. She was also refusing to eat. When her husband visited, he explained that she had ‘not been right’ since the birth of her second child five months ago and had been unable to sleep; accordingly, a provisional diagnosis was recorded of ‘melancholia lactational’. Sadly, Eva’s condition worsened, and she died at the end of February, when the cause of death was given as ‘Acute Melancholia or Exhaustion. Natural Causes’.[7] This was an unusual outcome for such cases given their generally good prognosis, though lactational melancholia was regarded as particularly difficult to cure.


Twenty-three-year-old Leah C., also recorded as ‘Hebrew’ and from Mile End, was admitted to Colney Hatch with a diagnosis of puerperal mania on 2 June 1900. The admission notes reported her to be ‘dazed, bewildered and wild’ and her physical health ‘impaired’. On visiting the asylum, her brother-in-law and husband explained that Leah had lost her first baby after a miscarriage; she also had a three-year-old child at home. Several weeks before her last delivery on 22 May, her husband explained that Leah had begun to ‘talk nonsense, saying she would do away with herself’. She initially refused to eat, and her recovery was slow throughout the rest of the year. However, in February 1901, Leah showed significant signs of mental improvement. She was sent out for a trial period with her family and was discharged ‘recovered’ the following month. (Photographed before discharge, it is possible in the image below to see the restraining hand of a nurse keeping Leah still while the photograph was taken.)[8]


Leah C. before discharge. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives, H12/CH/B/11/47, Female Casebook Dec. 1899-Aug. 1900.

These select examples provide some insights into childbirth-related cases of mental illness treated at Colney Hatch and Claybury Asylums in the early twentieth century. Many patients were single mothers, and a future blog will describe their experiences, including, for some of these women, delivery in the asylum. Though admission to an asylum must have been a miserable experience, it provided a route to recovery for many. The women appear to have been well treated on the whole, despite the limitations of overcrowded wards, staffed by overworked doctors and nurses. These cases also provide insights into the hardships experienced by working-class women of London around this time, compounded for many by anxiety about bringing another child into the world. For some the asylum proved to be just that: a place offering shelter, food, care, and respite.


__________________________________________________________________________________


NOTES

[1] I am using early twentieth-century terminology in this blog. At this time the term ‘lunatic asylum’ was still in common usage to describe what after the 1930s were increasingly referred to as ‘mental hospitals’. I have also employed terms such as 'insanity' and 'mental disorder', in frequent usage during this period. [2] Redbridge Central Library, Claybury Asylum Female Casebook Nov. 1903-Aug. 1904, Florence H, admitted 17 Feb. 1904. [3] Robert Jones, ‘Puerperal Insanity’, British Medical Journal, 8 March 1902, 579-86, quote p.579. [4] Ibid. [5] Louise Hide, Gender and Class in English Asylums, 1890-1914 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p.33. [6] Rob Ellis, London and its Asylums, 1888-1914: Politics and Madness (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 212-13, 215; Len Smith, ‘Insanity and Ethnicity: Jews in the Mid-Victorian Lunatic Asylum’, Jewish Culture and History (1998), 1, 27-40, p.34. [7] London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Colney Hatch Asylum/Friern Hospital, H12/CH/B/11/54, Casebook for Female Patients Admitted Dec. 1904-June 1905, Eva C. admitted 10 Feb. 1905. [8] LMA, H12/CH/B/11/47, Casebook for Female Patients Admitted Dec. 1899-Aug. 1900, Leah C.. admitted 2 June 1900.

56 views0 comments

My strand of the project explores the ways in which mothers narrated their personal experiences of postnatal mental illness and how the 'public' responded throughout twentieth-century Britain. As such, I spent a few months this year (2022) evaluating the invaluable oral histories held at the British Library (BL). When I first typed in ‘postnatal depression’ (PND) and related search terms in the catalogue, I was surprised to find references to more than sixty oral history interviews. Yet not one collection title linked directly to PND. Instead, alongside the ‘Mental Health Testimony’ collection, very short recollections – several only a few seconds to several minutes in length – on the topic appeared in collections that had no connection to mental health, including the ‘British Empire and Commonwealth’ and the ‘Potters of the Bernard Leach Legacy’ collections. [1] Nor were the interviews restricted to the actual ‘sufferer’; many interviewees were the sufferer’s partners, parents, siblings(-in-law), children or grandchildren, neighbours, the media, and, of course, healthcare professionals (midwives, health visitors, nurses, physiotherapists and psychiatrists) or healthcare providers (i.e., The International Women’s Public Health Group). A couple of the interviewees also spoke coldly and were unsupportive of the sufferers. Several ‘abandoned’ children, later speaking as adults, were raised by their grandparents or their father, and in these cases, both the children and guardians never forgave the suffering mother. This aftermath, however, was more typical before World War Two. Nonetheless, one woman, even in the 1990s, was still shocked when she learned that other mothers had developed PND, arguing ‘you [‘re supposed to] fall in love with [your child] as soon as they are handed to you’. [2]

The BL interviews took place between the 1980s and 2010s. This coincided with the rapid expansion in PND narrative accounts from the 1980s onwards, published as books or in magazines, which illustrated the growing acceptability of both recounting personal experiences and destigmatising PND in Britain. Many of the interviewees reported family histories and spoke about their mothers or grandmothers experiencing PND as far back as the 1930s, which coincide with the earliest mentions of PND within the BL catalogue. [3] Several of the interviewed ‘sufferers’ had physical disabilities, including deafness, or pre-existing mental health diagnoses (i.e., bipolar, psychosis and depression). Interestingly a wide variety of religions were represented among the women experiencing PND, including Judaism, Christianity, Rastafarianism, Wicca, and Paganism. Across the late twentieth century, most interviewees were British, with a few Europeans (e.g., Swedish) one first generation Indian, and Jamaican. [4] By the 2010s, more mothers were interviewed from different nationalities and ethnicities, including Armenians, Nigerians, North Americans, and Canadians. Fathers suffering from postnatal depression were also interviewed for the first time in the 2010s. [5] However, most of the people recounting memories of postnatal depression originated from or were based in the UK; largely London and Birmingham in England, but also Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, though a few women experienced PND when they were visiting or temporarily living overseas. The often-buried testimonies within decades of interviews illustrate how postnatal depression was ubiquitous. Yet there were wide-ranging differences in experiences and reflections and intersectional differences no doubt heightened negative experiences. For example, working-class women were more likely to be institutionalised. Nonetheless, postnatal depression was not restricted by class, ethnicity, race, sexuality, education level, or age.

Image credit: Sifis, oral history icon. In this blog, I want to focus on two different expressions of ‘reluctance’ within the interviews, and how they prompt reflections on the motivations behind interviews, and shape new considerations on the part of the interviewers. My first example looks at dismissal and irritability within one interview, and the second reflects heartbreak and an unwillingness to speak about certain topics.

Dismissal

When I read about interviews of ‘everyday’ women, or when I’ve conducted oral histories myself, interviewees are often eager to share their family history. [6] This was not the case for some of the BL interviews I listened to. M.H. was born in 1934 and in 2000, aged 66, she withstood a four-hour interview across one day as part of the ‘Mental Health Testimony Archive’. The archive holds 50 ‘life story video interviews’ with mental health survivors. The project was initiated by Mental Health Media (now a part of MIND) and funded by the Department of Health. [7] M.H. had an illness where she became ‘aggressive’, ‘nasty’ and had ‘blackouts’. She argued that this was a ‘physical’ illness as she ‘wasn’t really mentally ill’. She had developed whooping cough as a child, and she claimed that the lack of medical resources and instabilities of World War Two prevented a full recovery. She believed this caused her life-long illness. M.H. was isolated most of her life and said that she could not secure a job because of the stigma of mental illness. From start to finish, and before most interview breaks, M.H. was reluctant to talk about her past. She agitatedly emphasised that there was no need for her to be interviewed because she was ‘ordinary’. As a child, she was an ‘ordinary pupil’ and had ‘ordinary friends’, there was ‘nothing special’ about school life. Throughout her life, however, she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, such as Belmont, Maudsley and later Graylingwell in the mid-1950s, where her condition worsened, ‘possibly … due to postnatal depression’. When in hospital, M.H.’s mother looked after her baby. She spoke briefly about her experience at Graylingwell, but did not expand on her postnatal depression, explaining that regular electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) had caused memory loss around that time period. When the interviewer repeatedly asked M.H. about her children across different time periods, M.H. dismissively changed the subject. Towards the end of the interview, M.H. became even more annoyed, arguing that she had a normal life and that it was not worth documenting; she even rolled her eyes and placed her head in her hands. [8] In contrast, the other PND sufferers also interviewed for the Mental Health Testimony Archive were happy to expand when talking about their lives in general. [9]

Avoidance


Another example of ‘reluctance’ in the interviews was the inability to talk about a sensitive topic. J.L. was born in 1923 and interviewed in 2011, aged 88, as part of the ‘National Life Stories: General Interviews’ collection. [10] From the mid-1940s onwards, J.L. tried to build a family with her husband. Throughout the interview, she spoke cheerily, quickly, with lots of laughter, and long dynamic monologues. The interviewer did not need to prompt her, and they both seemed comfortable and joked together. Although J.L. found motherhood ‘ghastly’ and lost all self-confidence when suffering from PND following the birth of her first child in 1948, she spoke calmly about her miscarriages, and her first-born’s diagnosis of epilepsy, following his ‘frightening’ seizures. Nonetheless, despite five interviews across five months – likely aiming to develop trust – the interviewer had to nudge J.L. into talking about the birth of her second child, her deceased daughter, M. When M was first mentioned, J.L. hesitated and swallowed loudly. After several pauses, J.L. joked ‘I was avoiding that, wasn’t I’. Speaking mournfully and slowly, J.L. explained that her baby, M, had only lived a few hours, and that J.L. was not allowed to see her because she had eclampsia. Following the traumatic childbirth and death of M, J.L. developed permanent deafness. Even though J.L. went into great detail about other heartbreaks across her life span, she did not mention M again after these brief moments. [11]


Image credit: Christos Georghiou, Optical Illusion Mother Woman and Child Tree Faces.

Reflections

Listening to these two interviews, which were conducted roughly one decade apart, made me consider the motivations behind interviewing people who are reluctant to talk about their lives overall, or sensitive topics, and how this has changed over the decades. I wondered if these interviews would become publicly accessible if they were conducted today? I was also curious about who convinced M.H. to talk about her life in the first place – her children or grandchildren? And why did the interviewers press on in both cases? Were there gaps to fill, in terms of the type of disorder or geographic region, in the ‘Mental Health Testimony’ collection? M.H. may have listened to the interview afterwards and still consented to its public access? In regard to J.L., were there considerations about how she felt after the interview, given she had opened up about a harrowing life-changing event of sixty years ago? Was she in the company of close friends or family in sharing her story, or did the interviewer recommend support services after the interview? My conclusion has certainly raised more questions than answers. But in my view, such publicly accessible interviews – in institutions like the British Library – would benefit from additional notes specific to each interview that could help inform researchers about the nature and context of the source they are using. These notes could briefly summarise the collection’s objectives, and the reasons why certain interviewees were selected. A brief comment on the relationship developed by the end of the interviews would also be useful. From my perspective, the interviewers’ continuous prompts, despite the interviewee’s reluctance, seemed almost cruel and unethical. Yet some easily accessible contextual notes on these interviews may have revealed that both participants agreed to try and work together to broach these sensitive topics across the interview process. The inclusion of this contextual information, and perhaps more, would greatly help researchers when they revisit these types of interviews years or decades later. __________________________________________________________________________________

NOTES

[1] UBC034/618, British Empire and Commonwealth Collection, British Library, 1998; C1330/23, Potters of the Bernard Leach Legacy, British Library, 2009.

[2] C900/12563, Millennium Memory Bank, British Library, 1999.

[3] C466/182/01-04, NLSC: Artists' Lives, British Library, 2004.

[4] Ibid.; C900/05003, Millennium Memory Bank, British Library, 1998; C900/04623, Millennium Memory Bank, British Library, 1999.

[5] BNR000137875, ‘Do you welcome more support for new fathers with post-natal depression?’, Broadcast Radio News, British Library, 2018.

[6] Angela Davis, Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000 (Manchester University Press, 2012), pp.6-7.

[7] British Library, ‘Mental Health Testimony Archive’, 2000. Accessed 21 November 2022: http://cadensa.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=CKEY5542415&library=ALL

[8] C905A/39/01, Mental Health Testimony Archive, British Library, 2000.

[9] C905A/42, Mental Health Testimony Archive, British Library, 2000; C905A/28/01, Mental Health Testimony, British Library, 1999; C905A/42/01, Mental Health Testimony Archive, 1999.

[10] National Life Stories and British Library, ‘National Life Stories: A History’, updated 2018. Accessed 21 November 2022: https://www.bl.uk/projects/britishlibrary/~/media/81768d2df53e4a178ee1490c1641b029.ashx

[11] C464/79/01-11, National Life Stories: General Interviews, British Library, 2011.


19 views0 comments


One hundred years ago today – 31 October 1922 – newspapers across Britain reported the outcome of a landmark child murder case, heard at Lincoln Assizes. [1] Emma Temple, a nineteen-year-old domestic servant had been brought to trial the day before, charged with the murder of her newly born daughter. [2] The infant’s body had been disposed of late at night in an outside lavatory, seven weeks previous to the October trial proceedings. [3]

A post-mortem examination by local doctor, C.W.T. Woods, confirmed that a tightly bound string ligature cut from the infant’s neck was the likely cause of asphyxiation and death.


Lincoln Crown Court
Contemporary photograph of Lincoln Crown Court where the Emma Temple case was tried at the Lincolnshire assizes in Autumn1922. Credit: © Richard Croft (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Temple case embodied many of the characteristics typically associated with infanticides in this period. The victim was a newly born, illegitimate baby, whose body had been hastily and poorly concealed following its delivery and murder. In addition, Temple too matched the defendant profile commonly associated with this crime. Although only in the employment of butcher James Goose and his wife Kate for little over three months, the accused had given a favourable impression (despite her poverty), as a young, single woman, who was: ‘willing and kind, and of a good character’. [4] As historian Daniel Grey has observed:

'Historical studies of infanticide have stressed that it has generally been those single or widowed women defined as 'respectable', and thus had the most to lose both socially and economically if an illicit pregnancy was discovered, who have traditionally been most likely to commit the crime.’[5]

What set this case apart was not the nature of the crime, nor the defendant in the dock, but rather the plea made by Emma Temple at trial. For this case was the first to come under the remit of the ‘wise and merciful provisions’ of the newly passed Infanticide Act (1922). [6]



The Infanticide Act (1922) (hereafter ‘The Act’) was one of two major pieces of legislation passed in England and Wales in the inter-war years that specifically attempted to reform the law’s response to women who murdered their children in the aftermath of childbirth. The Act determined that:

'Where a woman by any wilful act or omission causes the death of her newly-born child, but at the time of the act or omission she had not fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to such child, and by reason thereof the balance of her mind was then disturbed, she shall … be guilty of …. infanticide, and may for such offence be dealt with and punished as if she had been guilty of the offence of manslaughter of such child.'[7]

Significantly, The Act did not encroach upon a jury’s ability to return alternate verdicts of manslaughter, guilty but insane, or concealment of birth in child murder cases. [8]



Prior to the enactment of the new legislation on 20 July 1922, women found guilty of the murder of their newly born infants had been sentenced to death, the same as any other defendant found guilty of murder under English criminal law (until the eventual abolition of capital punishment in 1965). From the 1850s onwards however, such women were never hanged, despite the pronouncement of the ultimate sentence by judges. Instead, capital sentences in child murder cases were commuted to imprisonment. The reasons for this situation were complex.



Although it was widely accepted that child murder was an abhorrent crime that should be punished by the law, compassionate attitudes to mothers who killed – often in circumstances of personal, economic and psychological distress – prevailed in British courtrooms. [9] Proving ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that a mother had intended to murder her infant was especially challenging. In some cases, juries would find women ‘insane’ or guilty of the lesser offence of concealment of birth, even where evidence for the charge of murder appeared well-founded. The secretive nature of child murder, teamed with the limitations of early forensic medicine to prove foul play, made differentiating between accident, neglect and murderous intent, difficult. Moreover, medical and popular beliefs over the destabilising effect of birth upon the ‘vulnerable’ female mind and anger over the relative lack of punishment fathers received in such cases, encouraged jurors and judges to treat female defendants with sympathy and mercy. As scholars like Grey, Nigel Walker and Tony Ward have shown, the ensuing gap that existed between the criminal law as laid down, compared to how justice was practised in courts of law, sparked successive (though unsuccessful) attempts at legislative reform prior to 1922. [10] The reason for the passing of ‘The Infanticide Bill’ (formerly called the Child Murder (Trial) Bill) into law, remains a topic of significant debate among historians, and is a subject I plan to return to at length in a future blog. However, it is evident from these histories that multiple political, cultural and medico-legal factors coalesced at the opportune time to effect change in the handling of child murder cases in the summer of 1922.



For Emma Temple, the first beneficiary under The Act, her plea to the new felony of infanticide resulted in a sentence of four months imprisonment. [11] At the coronial inquest into her child’s homicide, it had been revealed by expert witness Dr Wood, that Temple had been: ‘in a highly strung, nervous condition’ when he had examined her on the night of the crime. [12] On asking her where her child was, Temple allegedly gave no answer to the doctor other than to state: ‘I wish I could die’. At her trial on the 30 October, in pleading guilty to infanticide, Temple maintained that ‘at the time [of the alleged offence] she did not know what she was doing’. [13] Given the evidence of Temple’s former good character and the clear connection Dr Wood posited between the accused’s recent delivery, disordered mental state and ensuing murderous actions, it is little surprise that the Crown accepted her plea of infanticide. Presiding judge, Mr Justice Lush, joined counsel in lauding the new legislation as ‘a fresh step in the improvement of criminal law’ and ‘a wise and humane piece of legislation’ that made it unnecessary ‘to put a girl on trial for murder’. [14]


Sir Charles Montague Lush, English judge
Caricature of Sir Charles Montague Lush by the artist ‘Ape Junior’ published in Vanity Fair, 18 January 1911 (Credit: Public Domain).

In closing, it is worth highlighting the legacy of the 1922 Act across international borders. As psychiatrists Susan Hatters Friedman and Renée Sorrentino have observed:

‘Internationally, most infanticide laws are based on the 1922 British Infanticide Act (amended in 1938). Approximately two dozen nations have such laws, including Canada and Australia.' [15]

While undoubtedly influential, time would reveal myriad problems with the Infanticide Act (1922). Though the conclusion to the Temple trial would suggest The Act was positively received and beneficial for some women, the new legislation also had many critics. In particular, the vague terminology of The Act - especially phrases such as ‘newly born’ - sparked debate about who the new legislation applied to and whether its provisions were adequate (or even necessary given existing criminal law). [16] Almost sixteen years after its passage, in June 1938, the ‘wise and humane piece of legislation’ so praised by Mr Justice Lush, was repealed in England and Wales and replaced by the Infanticide Act (1938) [17]. This new legislation extended the offence of infanticide to include women who killed their own children up to the age of twelve months. It also extended to women who murdered their children while: ‘the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child’. [18] Northern Ireland passed its own legislation in 1939. [19] The problems posed by the 1922 Act, the push to draft a piece of legislation that could better avoid the pitfalls of its forbear, and the enduring critiques associated with laws based upon gender difference, are subjects I plan to return to in future blogs on this site.




 

NOTES

[1] The case was reported in newspapers across mainland Britain and Ireland, such as in the English Daily Mirror, the Edinburgh Evening Telegraph, County Antrim’s Northern Whig and the Glamorgan Western Mail. [2] 'Young Mother's Guilt. Judge Deals With Her Under New Humane Act', Birmingham Daily Gazette, 31 October 1933, p. 5. [3] 'Tattershall Murder Charge: Accused Pleads “Not Guilty"', Skegness Standard, 4 October 1922, p. 6. [4] Evidence of Kate Goose, reported in ibid. [5] Daniel J. R. Grey, 'Parenting, Infanticide and the State in England and Wales, 1870 - 1950', in Hester Barron and Claudia Siebrecht (eds), Parenting and the State in Britain and Europe, c. 1870-1950: Raising the Nation, Cham, Palgrave, 2017, p. 75. [6] As described in 'Infanticide and the New Act', Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, 31 October 1922, p. 7. [7] Infanticide Act (1922), c. 18. [8] Infanticide Act (1922), c. 18, s. 1 (2). [9] For a very useful overview of the history of infanticide, explanations for child murder or concealment, and problems in proving these offences in courtrooms, see: Anne-Marie Kilday, A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present, Basingstoke & New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. [10] Daniel J. R. Grey, 'Women's Policy Networks and the Infanticide Act 1922', Twentieth Century British History, vol. 21, no. 4, 2010, pp. 441-463; Nigel Walker, Crime and Insanity in England: Vol.1 The Historical Perspective, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1968, especially pp. 127-136; Tony Ward, 'The Sad Subject of Infanticide: Law, Medicine and Child Murder, 1860-1938', Social & Legal studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 1999, pp. 163-173. [11] 'Young Mother's Guilt’, p. 5. [12] Evidence of Dr CWT Woods, reported in: 'Tattershall Murder Charge’, p. 6. [13] 'Young Mother's Guilt’ p. 5. [14] '"Most Wise New Act". Judge Glad Girl-Mother Need Not Be Tried for Murder', Daily Mirror, 31 October 1922, p. 2. [15] Susan Hatters Friedman and Renée Sorrentino, 'Commentary: Postpartum Psychosis, Infanticide, and Insanity—Implications for Forensic Psychiatry', Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, vol. 40, no. 3, 2012, p. 326. It should be noted however, that the USA uses the M’Naghten Rules/ALI Guidelines in establishing the parameters of mental competency in murder cases. [16] For two particularly good discussions of the passage of both Infanticide Acts and the problems this posed for English criminal law, past and present, see: Tony Ward, 'Legislating for Human Nature: Legal Responses to Infanticide, 1860-1938', in Mark Jackson (ed.), Infanticide: Historical Perspectives on Child Murder and Concealment, 1550-2000, Aldershot & Burlington, Ashgate, 2002, pp. 249 – 269; R. Kumar and Maureen Marks, 'Infanticide and the Law in England and Wales ', in James Alexander Hamilton and Patricia Neel Harberger (eds), Postpartum Psychiatric Illness: A Picture Puzzle, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, pp. 257-274, [17] Infanticide Act (1938), c. 6. [18] Ibid [19] Infanticide Act (Northern Ireland) 1939, c. 5.

57 views0 comments
1
2
bottom of page