“What Nature Itself Demands:” The Development of Maternity Legislation at the End of the Nineteenth Century
Norway’s first maternity leave law was passed in 1892 as a part of the Factory Act and required women working in industrial settings to take a leave of 4–6 weeks after giving birth without pay. The maternity leave was mandatory and restrictive, and the very groups of women that were actively engaged in later pieces of maternity legislation were uninvolved in this first maternity leave law. This chapter examines the 1892 law and places it within the context of other late-nineteenth-century European maternity policies. It examines the reasons why feminists, midwives, and working women were absent from policy debates, and provides some background on the state of the feminist movement, the situation of working women, and the scope of midwives’ work in Norway at the end of the nineteenth century. The chapter also includes an analysis of the people who were involved in the passage of the 1892 law and the arguments they used in regards to maternity. To understand these arguments, the chapter outlines the medical and cultural scripts that dominated Norwegian politics and society at the time of the law’s passage.