CfP: Unwed motherhood in 18th- and 19th-century history

Unwed motherhood in 18th– and 19th-century history.

Contextualizing pauper and female agency.

CFP for a panel at the European Social Science History Conference, Belfast, 4-7 April, 2018

Organisers: Griet Vermeesch (VUB-Free University of Brussels) and Ariadne Schmidt (Leiden University)

This session deals with the ‘pauper agency’ and ‘gender agency’ of single mothers as a particular lower social group whose experiences, prospects and constrains were decisively shaped by the changing economic, political and social contexts of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In that period, illegitimacy rates dramatically rose from 1 or 2 percent in 1750 to 5 per cent around 1800 to levels of 10 and 20 percent by the mid-nineteenth century. These rising rates and the associated economic, political and social fields of tension link up with profound transformations in European history as a whole, and have for good reason unceasingly captivated historians ever since the 1970’s.  Continue reading “CfP: Unwed motherhood in 18th- and 19th-century history”


What is a ‘spinster’? Spinster mothers in the seventeenth century.

While definitions are vital for our understanding of the past, the use of the term ‘spinster’ can often prove problematic. There are at least two reasons for this. First, by the beginning of the seventeenth century it was clear that the term ‘spinster’ had emerged as the newest marital descriptor of that period, even though it had begun its life as an occupational designation for women (and was occasionally applied to men too). As a result, we cannot always be absolutely sure whether it was intended to have occupational or marital significance, although the context usually provides enough clues for us to make a good guess. This difficulty is somewhat reduced when we are looking at church court material. As an addition in court, ‘spinster’ was increasingly used in the context of ecclesiastical law, both in probate courts and in those dealing with moral and religious litigation, to refer to the never-married. Continue reading “What is a ‘spinster’? Spinster mothers in the seventeenth century.”