Non-conformity: having children out of wedlock


In 1883 the Registrar-General reported that there were 10,010 unwed mothers in Scotland. Domestic Servants 4,706; Factory Girls 2,442; Farm Girls 985; Seamstresses 607; No occupation (chiefly daughters of working men) 831; Daughters of professional men 54; No information (chiefly widows) 385.

The Hackney Board of Guardians reported that during the year ending June 1894, 80 per cent of the admissions into the Infirmary of unmarried women in confinement were domestic servants, 15 per cent, factory hands, while the remaining 5 per cent, are said to have lived at home.

The number of births attributed to the daughters of professional men is remarkably small, only about half per cent. It would be interesting to know how far this is obtained by successful concealment of birth, and how far by false registration.

In certain cities in Great Britain the number of illegitimate births per thousand births is as follows : London 38, Birmingham 45, Liverpool 58, Glasgow 83, Edinburgh 85, Dundee 104, Aberdeen 106. The lowest rates in England are 34 in Essex, 35 in Middlesex, 38 in London, and 40 in Surrey, the highest being 58 in Lincolnshire, 59 in Nottinghamshire, 60 in the North Riding of Yorkshire, 62 in Cornwall, 70 in Westmoreland, 74 in Norfolk, 76 in Hereford and Cumberland, and 82 in Shropshire. The following rough classification shows the distribution of the rate in relation to geographical position: n Southern Counties (English Channel), 45 ; 10 Midland, 48 ; 8 North Eastern (east of Pennines), 53 ; 7 East Anglian and East Midland, 55 ; 3 North Western (west of Pennines), 63 ; 4 Welsh Marches, 63. Average for England, 51.74. Monmouth approaches most nearly the South Wales rate, whereas Hereford and Shropshire exceed that of North Wales. Cheshire nearly approaches the English average. These rates are: Monmouth 42, South Wales 45, Cheshire 52, North Wales 69, Hereford 76, Shropshire 82.

On the Scottish border Westmoreland and Cumberland have a rate of 70 and 76 per 1,000; while Northumberland is slightly above the average ; Berwick has 103, Roxburgh 108, Kirkcudbright 146, and Dumfriesshire 147 per 1,000, nearly 15 per cent, of its births being illegitimate.

The highest rates in the British Isles were Caithness (115), Aberdeen (132), Elgin (152), Banff (168), and Wigtown (182), where one person in every five was illegitimate.

It is noteworthy that in London the highest illegitimacy rate should be found, not in the 'savage' East-end, but in the civilised north-west, in the land of peers and painters. In the registration subdistrict of St. Mary's, in the parish of St Marylebone, more than two-thirds of all the births are illegitimate, the astounding rate of 406 per 1,000 being reached. In the rectory sub-district of the same parish nearly one-fourth (247 in 1,000) of the children born were illegitimate. In the entire parish of St Marylebone the rate was 168, whereas in Whitechapel it was only 27.[1]

Grant Allen's notorious novel of free love, The Woman Who Did (1895), depicted a woman's decision to have a child outside of wedlock.

[1] The Bar Sinister and Licit Love : the first biennial proceedings of the Legitimation League (1895).








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