Baby Farming in Victorian Times

Amelia Dyer, hanged for murder on June 10, 1897 at Newgate Prison, London. (Image from Thames Valley Police Museum)

By Sharon K. Gilbert

Illegitimate children were a major problem in the cramped cities of Victorian England, particularly in London. Though the legal system had originally (18th century) penalized men who fathered children out of wedlock, that financial roadblock was removed in 1834 with The New Poor Law (and its ‘bastardy’ clause). Now, the woman alone was responsible for the child’s welfare, which meant an unwed mother–often with few skills or prospects–was left to find means to support a dependent infant. Those in domestic service usually lost their jobs if found to be pregnant, and so that income might be lost. Not was unwed pregnancy and motherhood stigmatized, it was actually punished (in the misconception that doing so would prevent such pregnancies). However, young women without family or skills often found themselves seduced by unscrupulous men for personal reasons and often also for profit. Procurers prowled the backstreets of London with their eyes peeled for vulnerable young women.  Continue reading “Baby Farming in Victorian Times”