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Rachel E. Bennett

When they walked through the prison gates women brought with them a skein of stories and experiences. Some entered prisons to serve sentences of a few days. Others faced several years behind bars. Prisons for women accommodated the young and the old, the healthy alongside the sick, the first-time offender entering prison with trepidation along with the recidivist, perceived to be hardened to the toils of incarceration. The threads of this chapter are woven together to demonstrate that their experiences of health and discipline were impacted upon by their physical surroundings and the women around them and, crucially, were heavily regulated yet often contested by those tasked with their custody and care.

in Motherhood confined
Open Access (free)
Rachel E. Bennett

Uniformity, discipline, strict organisation. These were the principles underpinning the creation of the modern prison system in the mid-nineteenth century to achieve the aim of true reform before release back into society. However, in the century that followed, prison administrators up and down the prison hierarchy faced challenges of overcrowding, ill health among prisoners and scrutiny of the ability of the system to achieve its fundamental aims. Among the thousands of people who populated these penal institutions, hundreds of women entered prisons pregnant, and many of them gave birth to their babies behind bars. Countless others left children on the outside. They posed distinct challenges to physical environments and regimes neither designed nor equipped for their custody and care.

in Motherhood confined
Open Access (free)
Rachel E. Bennett

Women giving birth or caring for very young infants featured as frequent parts of life in women’s prisons. They often appear in the backgrounds of the testimonies of ex-prisoners and staff alike, yet their specific needs are a notable chasm in official prison policy. Pregnancies and births varied in frequency from prison to prison and across the period between the mid-nineteenth and the mid-twentieth century, and provisions for them were inconsistent across the prison estate. For some, prison was posited as a refuge from even harsher conditions outside. For others, it was a place of heartbreak and isolation which severely impacted upon their health. At the outset of the modern penal system, prison buildings were modified to incorporate infirmaries, nurseries and, later, crèches for the reception of mothers and babies. Prisoners and staff each played roles in adapting the rules regulating the running of prisons so as to address the daily realities of life in prison for mothers and children.

in Motherhood confined
Open Access (free)
Maternal health in English prisons, 1853–1955

Should pregnant women be sent to prison? Is prison a place for the birth and care of babies? Can it ever be? This book is the first extensive historical examination of how the modern prison system sought to answer these perennial questions. The book takes the reader through the prison gates to demonstrate that, although a common feature of everyday life in women’s prisons, pregnancy, birth and motherhood were rarely fully considered at policy level. Instead, the experiences of mothers and children were shaped by a myriad of factors including debates about reconciling the management of institutional discipline with the maintenance of health and issues of gender and class. Lamented as an inalienable heritage of woe but also as an opportunity for the closer supervision of mothers, prison births evoked intense debate and required the negotiation of obdurate regimes. The book reveals how oscillating debates about the purpose of prisons shaped the punitive, reformatory and medical treatment of confined mothers. It also challenges scholarly debates about institutional discipline by delving further into the role of prisoners and prison staff in shaping the terms of their incarceration.

Rachel E. Bennett

Nineteenth-century periodicals and commentaries on crime were saturated with tales of fallen women and of children as collateral damage to their mother’s criminality. Official and public discourse castigated the ‘bad’ mothers who populated prisons and warned of the dangers they were believed to pose to hearth, home and child but this rarely translated into concrete efforts to provide opportunities for women to become ‘good’ ones. This chapter examines the first half of the twentieth century as a period in which the education of women in prison evolved to incorporate greater training in mothercraft. These developmens were initially driven by the individual efforts of female prison officials and external reformers but became more comprehensively debated and provided for by the prison system following the conclusion of the Second World War. Their content was reflective of the increasing contemporary acknowledgement, particularly among those who worked in the women’s prison estate on a daily basis, that imprisoning a ‘bad’ mother did not necessarily make her into a good one upon release, and they sought to address the difficulties women faced in the home, whether through impoverished conditions, stress or lack of educative opportunities, to learn how to be a mother.

in Motherhood confined
Obama and Trump, 2008–2021
Kevern Verney

This chapter considers the vogue for post-racialism that accompanied the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and seeks to explain why such thinking became popular despite the continuing political, social and economic inequalities experienced by African Americans. It assesses the significance of the Obama presidency for African Americans and the impact of the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder (2013) on voting rights. There is an analysis of the growth of the ‘Birther’ movement and the ‘othering’ of Obama, questioning his American citizenship and depicting him as holding un-American values as a communist or radical Muslim. This conspiratorial mindset is considered in the context of Richard Hofstadter’s thesis on the existence of a ‘paranoid style’ in the American political tradition. The consequences of the Trump administration for American race relations are examined and the extent to which his election can be seen as part of a recurring cycle of right-wing populism in American history, as in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.The growth of the ‘alt-right’ and proliferation of white supremacist groups are considered including the controversial 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a wider context there is discussion of the continuing racial injustices and inequalities in policing and the justice system, as highlighted in the work of historians like Max Felker-Kantor and Clarence Taylor and the disturbing findings in Michelle Alexander’s seminal study, The New Jim Crow (2010). Scholarly studies on the Black Lives Matter protest movement are also noted.

in The debate on black civil rights in America, Second edition
Open Access (free)
Histories, historians, and the politics of masculinity
Lucy Delap
and
John Tosh

This expansive and open conversation between John Tosh, Lucy Delap, and the book’s editors brings together a pioneering historian of masculinity, whose work grew out of his involvement in men’s groups in the 1980s, and a leading feminist historian (and historian of feminism) who has worked on that moment. What unfurls is a striking and provocative reflection on what histories of masculinity have been and where they might go next. Tosh and Delap do not always agree, but their shared vision emphasises the importance of rediscovering the progressive orientation points that defined the emergence of the field. From this vantage point, the distance between the optimism of the first generation of histories of masculinity and where we are today underscores the vital importance of politically engaged histories that seize on the proliferation of ‘crisis talk’ around masculinity to understand its genealogies and imagine alternative ways of living as men.

in Men and masculinities in modern Britain
Abstract only
Kevern Verney

The conclusion discusses the nature of historiography and why, with occasional exceptions such as the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings controversy, there can be no final resolution of historical debates. It considers how the views of historians reflect the values and concerns of the times in which they live and the factors that influence their changing perceptions over time, as in C. Vann Woodward’s seminal study The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955). In addition to changing outlooks and values in society this may include the availability of hitherto difficult-to-access primary source material, such as the publication of the Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers. Historiographical debate also has its own internal dynamics as scholarly research not only sheds fresh light on existing debates but brings to the fore new issues to explore. Similarly, sustained focus on some topics or chronological periods, for example national civil rights leaders or the 1950s and 1960s, is, over time, counterbalanced by a natural shift in attention elsewhere, such as the study of local leadership and the civil rights struggle at grassroots level, or developments and events in earlier and later decades.

in The debate on black civil rights in America, Second edition
Reading Blackness and the disabled soldier body in the First World War
Hilary Buxton

Hilary Buxton focuses on the experience of Black disabled soldiers from the British West Indies Regiment to show how ideas of military service were refracted through pervasive associations between whiteness and Britishness after the Great War. The soldier hero was an exclusive category, and Black men were often unable to mobilise the idea that their disabilities were markers of heroic sacrifice and national service. Buxton’s version of embodiment shows how medical treatment and rehabilitation sought to remake injured men’s bodies around the ideal of the breadwinner, just as disability pensions sought to restore a proper manly independence. Despite their claims to imperial citizenship, West Indian servicemen’s difficulties in securing these entitlements had far-reaching material stakes. Economic and physical independence were frustrated through unequal access to necessary prostheses and wheelchairs. These exclusions were shaped through both the colonial state and the interactions between men and racialised masculinities. Buxton’s analysis of tensions within a Liverpool auxiliary hospital shows how ‘Black embodiment’ was refracted through interactions with white servicemen, patients, and hospital staff.

in Men and masculinities in modern Britain
Author:

This book examines the historiography of the African American freedom struggle from the 1890s to the present. It considers how, and why, the study of African American history developed from being a marginalized subject in American universities and colleges at the start of the twentieth century to become one of the most extensively researched areas in American history today. There is analysis of the changing scholarly interpretations of African American leaders from Booker T. Washington through to Barack Obama. The impact and significance of the leading civil rights organizations are assessed, as well as the white segregationists who opposed them and the civil rights policies of presidential administrations from Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump. The civil rights struggle is also discussed in the context of wider political, social and economic changes in the United States and developments in popular culture.