The Sad Tale of Unwed Mothers of Days Gone By — Perth through the Ages Tour

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Pictures from Perth Classic Theatre: Very little time left to catch the Perth through the Ages historic theatrical walking tour, the Nancy Drew-inspired The Maid and the Merchant (here featuring Anna Stewart, Vivian Masswohl and Morgan MacDonald).

Join our intrepid 1930s Nancy Drew-inspired character as she time travels along the streets of Heritage Perth, meeting historic characters who will help her solve one of Perth’s infamous mysteries. You’ll be entertained as you learn about the unique people and places in Perth’s 200 year history. Perfect for the whole family!

The hour-long moving play runs Wednesdays to Sundays at 11 am in Perth. Tickets at www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

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Author’s note–While this play is a murder mystery it hints of the trials and tribulations of an unwed mother. 

Victorian Attitudes– From the Sad Story of Lucy Em

Things were no different in Lanark County

Unmarried mothers and their infants were considered an affront to morality and they were spurned and ostracized often by public relief as as well charitable institutions. Children conceived in sin were considered to have inherited their parents’ lack of moral character and would contaminate the minds and morals of legitimate children. Family and friends could not be relied upon to offer comfort and aid. If a young woman became pregnant while still living at home, she was usually forced to leave in disgrace and move to an area where she was not known. She was scorned by family, friends and employer alike. Often after the birth of the child she was forced to farm it out in order to gain some employment to earn a living. There were of course few employment opportunities.

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Childbirth brought fear of starvation for the mother and her child, alienation from family and friends, censure from society, relief agencies and employers. In desolation and shame, young unmarried mothers placed their infants in workhouses where their survival was questionable, committed infanticide or turned to baby farmers who specialized in the premeditated and systematic murder of illegitimate infants.

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On February 15th 1865 the body of Mary Jane Harris’ four month old son was found wrapped up in a copy of the Western Times beside a road in Torquay. Miss Harris had farmed out the child to Mrs Winsor for 3s a week and at first resisted Mrs Winsor’s offer to dispose of the child. When the burden of its support became too much she stood by and watched Charlotte Winsor smother her son and wrap his naked body in an old newspaper. The body was later dumped on the roadside.

Testimony revealed that Mrs Winsor conducted a steady trade of boarding illegitimate infants for a few shillings a week or putting them away for a set fee of £3-£5.

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On 31st January 1868 the Pall Mall Gazette exposed another adopter, Mrs Jagger of Tottenham. Her ads for childcare and confinement were usually placed in the Daily Telegraph. She was reported to have had from 40-60 infants in her care in the previous three years, the majority of whom had died of starvation.

Due to the public feelings aroused by this case, the Commission’s proposals for reform were incorporated into the Act in 1872 and the registration of all births and deaths, compulsory registration and supervision of lying-in houses and baby farms were included in the legislation. (Gosh, a committee that achieved! Er well….)

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The facts of this case eventually led to the amendment of the Infant Protection Act in 1897. The new Act empowered local authorities to actively seek out baby farms and lying-in houses, to enter homes suspected of abusing children and to remove those children to a place of safety. It also redefined the improper care of infants.

All in all I think that you will agree that 1880 was not a good time to be an unmarried mother or a good time to be born a bastard.

Pictures from Perth Classic Theatre: Very little time left to catch the Perth through the Ages historic theatrical walking tour, the Nancy Drew-inspired The Maid and the Merchant (here featuring Anna Stewart, Vivian Masswohl and Morgan MacDonald).

Join our intrepid 1930s Nancy Drew-inspired character as she time travels along the streets of Heritage Perth, meeting historic characters who will help her solve one of Perth’s infamous mysteries. You’ll be entertained as you learn about the unique people and places in Perth’s 200 year history. Perfect for the whole family!

The hour-long moving play runs Wednesdays to Sundays at 11 am in Perth. Tickets at www.classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283.

Buy Linda Secaspina’s Books— Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac– Tilting the Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place and 4 others on Amazon or Amazon Canada or Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street in Carleton Place

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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