Fertility and Maternity, Then and Now

I went to a great seminar at Senate House yesterday, entitled ‘Fertility and Maternity, Then and Now’ it was part of the Institute of Historical Research’s ‘Conversations and Disputations’ series.

In 1915, Margaret Llewelyn Davies published Maternity: Letters from Working Women, a compilation of letters by members of the Women’s Co-operative Guild. They made for a vivid and poignant portrait of pregnancy and pre-natal care, abortion and death, exhaustion and self-sacrifice in industrial Britain. Davies was encouraged by Virginia Woolf: “Do publish these letters…. they are so amazing.” In the near hundred years since, scholars of various stripes have explored women’s experiences of fertility and maternity. They have focused especially on the event of birth and on the ideology of motherhood. This roundtable brings together analysts of past and present to discuss research on fertility and maternity in the expansive sense identified by Davies and her compatriots.

Three presenters spoke about their research; Angela Davis from the University of Warwick on her project recording women’s experiences of maternity in post-war Britain (including her own); Sarah Knott from Indiana University on work that she is currently developing that uses memoir as a framework to explore historical views, experiences and attitudes to motherhood; and Sarah Franklin from the University of Cambridge on IVF as a gendered technology.

The full text of the book that inspired the seminar can be found here: https://archive.org/details/maternityletters00womeuoft