Today, new mothers get feeding guidelines and post-natal depression questionnaires. In 1918, they got this.
I’ve mentioned in other posts about my lovely dad passing me lots of photocopied family history material from his linen-cupboard-based Big Box of Stuff lately; I’m just reading through it properly now. Here is a gem I overlooked while he was actually here visiting me. It was part of a bundle of papers stored alongside my grandmother’s birth certificate.
I have the luxury of finding this document funny, because I live in (and had my babies in) the 21st century. When it was handed to my great-grandmother after the birth of her first (and only … hmm) child in New Jersey back in 1918, I’m honestly not sure whether she would have snorted with laughter and filed under “ignore”, or crumbled into helpless despondency. I note, with some relief, that she never actually signed it.
I mean, holy crap, right? Where to start? Leaving aside the normal-for-1918 sexism (male pronouns only for the hypothetical child; total absence of any passing mention that the father might shoulder some of the parenting burden), this is still ridiculously extreme in its determination to make every possible future problem the fault of mothers. For eternity. Presumably the tone is deliberate; the idea was to Make An Impression on women, to ensure they paid attention. But God, all those poor new first-time mothers, already overwhelmed, emotions on a rollercoaster, hormones everywhere; by any account, this was pretty unforgiving stuff to have thrust upon them.
I’m trying to pick out a few favourite bits, but there are just too many highlights … no, actually, I think my top selection is “My child has a soul. He may be developed into a magnificent specimen of sterling character or he may degenerate into a moral leper … I accept this responsibility“.
(I actually did, while out with my own children today, roar an obscenity at the sky when some oblivious, suited men stole OUR taxi after we’d been standing for twenty minutes in the Edinburgh rain. I roared loudly, and people looked at us. When we finally got a cab, I had to spend the journey home explaining myself to my three-year-old; I ended up teaching him the word unreasonable. It was a teaching opportunity! A beautiful moment. I’m sure he won’t end up a moral leper … despite the indisputable fact that “evil companions are everywhere”.)
I have done a little bit of very quick Googling but so far, I can’t find any background information about this pledge. There must be some out there, though, so I will keep looking. If anyone knows who wrote it or what organization (church? federal government?) published it, please get in touch via comments or Twitter. And mothers of young children, if you’re reading this: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ONLINE? Isn’t this one of your 173,000 hours of responsibility? ISN’T IT?