Illegitimacy in English law and society,1860–1930

Author: Ginger S. Frost

Children born even one day before their parents' marriage remained illegitimate for life, while those born one day after a wedding had the full benefits of legitimacy. This book explores the legal and social consequences of growing up illegitimate in England and Wales. It concentrates on the late-Victorian period and the early twentieth century, and takes the child's point of view rather than that of the mother or of 'child-saving' groups. An extended analysis of criminal and civil cases involving illegitimacy, including less-studied aspects such as affiliation suits, the poor law and war pensions is presented. In the twentieth century, illegitimate children gained more family, and adoption became an option after 1926. Women had choices when faced with unwanted children, and many chose to suffer in the workhouse rather than harm their babies. Though the criminal courts were harder on non-maternal defendants, mothers were collusive in many crimes. The two legal processes illegitimate children were most likely to inspire were often entwined - affiliation proceedings and the poor law. Problems with the bastardy laws abounded, legislative successes were few in the nineteenth century. Fostering encouraged child circulation because of its temporary nature. The effects of social discrimination changed when children went to their jobs, dividing those with family from those without. Differences of class and gender also influenced the scope of illegitimacy's reach. Placing the stigma on Victorian children was simple, but ridding the law of the term was painfully slow, and abolishing its power even slower.

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