Fallen Women Discussion/Dec 1997


Original Query From Paula Watts hiprw@cc.newcastle.edu.au 10 Dec 1997

Dear Colleagues,
I am writing a history of a Women's Hospital in inner Sydney in the period 1900-1930. Statistically, single pregnant women accounted for 80% of the confinements attended at the hospital during those years. Is anyone aware of
references in the literature, newspapers, or other sources, of the period or later
which relate specifically to single unwed women, or "fallen women" as they were
perceived? I do know of Shurlee Swain and Renate Howe's wonderful book, _Single Mothers and Their Children: Punishment and Survival in Australia_.

Follow-up clarification: Although my thesis concerns the experience of Australian mothers, I have recently read Rosenberg's _The Care of Strangers_,
concerning the rise of American hospitals, an excellent text. I should therefore
cast my net as wide as possible, and ask please for material on unwed mothers in general. Thank you.

Responses:

From Judith Schwartz judschwarz@juno.com 15 Dec 1997

I don't know the time frame or context requested in the original "single pregnant woman" query, but I would be happy to share my personal experience and small collection of original material on this subject.

At 18, I was one of three dozen or so inmates of the Florence Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers in Norfolk, Virginia for five months in 1961-1962. The former grand old house in a wealthy older section of town along the water was carved up into single rooms on the first floor for new arrivals, twin bedrooms near the nurse's quarters for the "ninth monthers," and a large room with, I think,
nine beds for the post-delivery mothers. The rec room with ping-pong and pool table were in the basement, as was the TV and smoking room. My memories
between pre-birth and birth mothers and between Norfolk bar maids and the older Washington "politicos" and college students are very strong. I've forgotten the names of the women (white and black) who ran and worked at the Home, but remember the almost-forced Sunday Christian services, the constant bible
readings and prayers, the work shifts, the typing, shorthand and sewing classes, and the many health and emotional crisi situations. We ranged in age from just-14 to 34. All the inmates were white except for one Native-American Congressional staffer.

My best friend/roomate and I snuck into the old, no-longer-used newborn babies
wing, and were very grateful that we would not be expected to nurse and live with the babies for four weeks before we "gave them away,"as the phrase went. I couldn't believe that the bassinets and infant bathing station were stil there.

I was very worried that since I was born with cerebral palsy, my child would be born "not right", too. My daughter did have an eye problem in the first week or two, and I was told she "may not be adoptable." Since I walked out of there four weeks after birth with $18 in my pockets and no family, job or place to live except the YWCA, I didn't know what I was going to do if I had to try to support and care for her. I saw her twice--minutes after her birth, and once for ten minutes at the social services agency across the street from the YW, just before I went to court to sign papers for her adoption to the mythical "nice doctor and his wife."

As an independent historian, birth mothers, adoption, single women who kept their children, single women who adopt, and especially info on the Florence Crittendon Homes are some of the topics in womne's history that I have long collected in, especially ephemera and women's magazines from 1900-1950. I look forward to reading themany books and other resources mentioned in this thread [Ed. note: See fallen women bibliography], and did not know that someone had done a recent history of the Homes.

From Suzanne Spencer-Wood smwood@fas.harvard.edu 16 Dec 1997

I would be very interested in your description of the material culture in the abandoned new baby wing of the Crittenden Home, as well as any other material culture you saw. I think it is very interesting that the emphasis on
Christianity and the work of sewing and typing were still being practiced. Were the sewing machines old or new? What about the typewriters? I

I'm a historical archaeologist researching how material culture was used to implement what I call domestic reform, or what Hayden called domestic feminism. I dropped feminism because many of these women were at least initially anti-suffrage and their reforms involved reshaping the domestic sphere
in ways that conflated it with the public sphere.

From: Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com

Dear Colleagues,
As I was transcribing the above discussion for the website it occurred to me that I should include my own experience for those who are researching this topic.

I lived in a Florence Crittenden Home in Kansas City, Missouri in 1969. I was 20 when I entered, 21 when I left. I imagine most of the homes had a lot in common as in structure and room set-up. The home was an older house in an area of medium wealth and some gentility, and three blocks from a local hospital.
We had a self-contained hospital in the home and I don't believe the local hospital was needed very often.

There were about 20-25 young women there...from the one black teen (13) to me at 20. The other young women were white, high school or beginning college students, sent to "Aunt Sally's" for a vacation, to return home or school later without a baby. Most of the women came from other states...several from Texas, and most from wealthy families. I fell outside the norm in several respects: I walked in the door one day and asked if I could stay there although I was living on the street and had no money, no family, no clothes. I was determined to keep my child. I wasn't a Christian and wasn't about to become one. The Dr. who ran the home decided, after several meetings with me, that I would not corrupt the other young women, and for whatever reason, she allowed me to move in. The only other "inmate" at the time planning on keeping her child was the 13 year old, whose mother was going to raise the baby, while the girl went on and finished high school. I was there when she walked out the door with her baby, but have no idea what happened to them.

The rooms were set up generally as Judith indicated in her response, although I don't remember any emphasis on those women ready to deliver being situated any closer to the delivery room. Smoking was allowed outside but not in the house. The women were allowed family visits at the Home, including visits from the fathers-to-be, even if only briefly to-be. Interestingly, there were two couples quite committed to each other, who let their babies be adopted, then several years later got married and had another child.

I was kind of spirited into the house, and given a tiny room in the basement, next to the laundry rooms, the furnace system, the "clothing closet" for those of us who had no clothes. So while I was being assured that the good Dr. (and she really did turn out to be a very decent human being, once she realized she would win no battles with me)felt I wouldn't be a bad influence on the other women, the room placement spoke volumes. Actually, I was almost always glad to be alone, as I worked in my room cutting and putting together airline maps for the pilots at the hubs in KC. I was paid so much a book and that went toward my room and board. Until I was almost ready to deliver I also worked as a maid for the two physicians on the staff...cleaning their homes to pay the bill.

I don't remember anyone else really doing much work of any kind, except assigned chores like working in the kitchen, et al. There was a rec room upstairs, but since most of the women had their personal TVs in their rooms, few ever congregated in the rec room to watch TV. Part of our duty there was to work for a specified time (weeks, generally) in all aspects of the delivery room...sterilizing instruments, learning how they were positioned for the Drs, sterilizing the delivery room, mopping up blood, et al. Reality therapy, I think they called it<s>.

A Dr. from outside the facility came once a week to examine women who were due for an exam, and there was always a big celebration when someone walked out of the room and said she was finally starting to dilate! Every young woman was allowed one other person in delivery with her(another woman from the Home, not an outside person), so that was a nice touch. I was present for two births, and we kept in touch for several years afterward, even though the women didn't keep their babies.

There certainly was a strong atmosphere almost insisting that everyone attend church services on Sunday in the chapel in the Home. And with that attendance then came the pressure to give up your child. Certainly, some young women arrived at the Home with their minds made up in favor of adoption, but the ones who were uncertain really got pushed hard toward adoption. With predictable results, from the Home's standpoint.

I , like Judith, had some concerns about the health of my baby,(things I didn't want to disclose to the physician) and I enlisted the help of a really wonderful nurse, who made sure she was in delivery to count all the parts when my son was born. We were also kept at the Home for a month after delivery...a week in bed, can you imagine now?? I was not allowed to nurse my son. Their reasoning was, since there were no private recovery rooms, I would upset the women who gave up their babies. I don't think I was very upset about that, simply because I won the major battle. The Home helped find me a temporary housing arrangement with a couple of elderly sisters(not nuns), and we lived there for about 6 months before moving on. I think the home was closed in the mid-70s, but am not sure.

About a year ago I got in touch with the former Director of the home, long-since retired, looking for the records for that time period. While she couldn't help me with that, she was truly happy that my son and I persevered and her judgement was vindicated.

Dear Maria,
I had not really been following the discussion until you offered your very moving account of your experience at the Florence Crittendon Home. My dissertation explores the circumstances under which women were permitted to give up their infants to the London Foundling Hospital. Although I do not explore the homes that took in unwed mothers in London between 1840 -1893, I have a list of the homes and understand that these homes were highly selective, as was the Foundling Hospital. My research seeks to outline and describe the criteria that established these young women as respectable. It then explores the differences between public provisions (Poor Law) versus private provisions such as those supplied by Roman Catholic religious women's congregations for mothers and their children. There was quite a difference!
So it was with great interest that I read about your experiences. Thank you for your openness, frankness and attention to details. Jessica A. Sheetz
Ph. D. Candidate, Marquette University
7227 S. Walker Avenue, #240
Oklahoma City, OK 73139-7609
405-634-9005