‘The Mothers of Our Soldiers’ Children’

Motherhood, Immorality, and the War Baby Scandal, 1914–18
  • Susan R. Grayzel


During the First World War, motherhood was used as a central way to define female identity and promote a sense of unity among women. A variety of social commentators and activists voiced new pronatalist concern over women as mothers, producers of the national resource of the next generation of soldiers. However, a different sort of widespread interest in motherhood emerged in debates about state support for dependent women, and these discussions touched off further controversy over how to regard and regulate wartime female sexual behaviour leading to illegitimate births. This public focus on sexuality, motherhood, and illegitimacy must be considered in the context of the war’s unexpected death tolls; the war’s costs and longevity soon undermined the belief that this would be a short war and a quick victory for Britain. Thus many wartime commentators began to view Britain’s declining birthrate as further weakening the nation by creating additional casualties; some felt that even illegitimate motherhood should perhaps be encouraged. Court records about abortion and infanticide indicate that women continued to make decisions about their pregnancies that contradicted some of their social mandate to reproduce for the sake of the country, yet they did so in a climate that seemed newly aware of the significance of maternity for national, political ends.1 Motherhood came to represent for women what soldiering did for men: a gender-specific experience that could provide social unity and stability during a time of unprecedented upheaval.


Sexual Double Standard Unmarried Mother Training Camp Parliamentary Debate Unwed Mother 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan R. Grayzel

There are no affiliations available

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