1st Edition

Motherhood, Respectability and Baby-Farming in Victorian and Edwardian London

By Joshua Stuart-Bennett Copyright 2023
    160 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    160 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Motherhood, Respectability and Baby-Farming in Victorian and Edwardian London explores a largely obscured marketplace of motherhood that provided ways for women to manage the stigma of illegitimacy and their respectable identities within Victorian and Edwardian society. It focuses on the extent of women’s ‘dirty work’, when maternal problem management was fundamental to the general maintenance of respectability and, by extension, to Empire and Civilisation.

    Despite its intrigue, history has struggled to understand and represent an uncomfortable but significant artefact of Western modernising society: ‘baby-farming’. During a period when ideologies of respectability and civilisation arguably mattered most, the ‘right’ kind of parenthood – especially motherhood – became paramount. As the ‘wrong’ offspring could jeopardise a woman’s chances of being respectable, a wholesale, informal, and somewhat clandestine marketplace emerged that catered to various maternal difficulties. Within this marketplace, a pregnancy or newborn child who may have compromised a woman’s respectability could be ‘disposed’ of through different means, for a fee. From the Victorian period to the present, the commercialised maternal practices associated with baby-farming have become firmly established within collective consciousness as being synonymous with child murder, female pathology, and ‘infanticide for hire’. This book provides a revised, far more complex, and nuanced narrative history which reveals all that was associated with baby-farming – including all possible outcomes – to be entirely natural, rational, and even necessary products of their time; an understandable outcome of the period’s ‘civilising offensive’.

    Motherhood, Respectability and Baby-Farming in Victorian and Edwardian London will be of great interest to students and scholars of criminology, sociology, history, and gender studies.

    Chapter 1 – Introduction

    Chapter 2 - Female Respectability and Its Consequences

    Chapter 3 - Discourse of ‘Farming’

    Chapter 4 - The Marketplace of Motherhood

    Chapter 5 - An Industry of Disposal

    Chapter 6 - Conclusion



    Joshua G. Stuart-Bennett works at the University of Leicester and the Open University. His research interests are interdisciplinary with a special focus on historical criminology. This book is based on his PhD thesis.