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Motherhood and poverty in eighteenth-century Aberdeen.

Diack, Lesley


Lesley Diack


Terry Brotherstone

Deborah Simonton

Oonagh Walsh


"The direction of the food, cloaths and other necessaries for the persons of children falls to the mother's share during at least their state of infancy if not during all their childhood and frequently longer, in which one ought principally to consider their health and strength and assistance must be had from those of skill and experience." -- This advice on how to be a good mother, dating from the 1740s, was given by an educated middle-class doctor to his teenage daughter. In a series of letters, the concerned father discussed not only the merits of good parenting, but also a variety of other subjects of concern to an affluent young woman in the eighteenth century. The correspondence constituted a manual of behaviour that was not itself unique at this time in Scotland, but provides an example that is striking in both its content and scope. In the late twentieth century, advice to mothers comes not only from their parents and from other mothers, but also from government agencies, health professionals and - it seems unceasingly - from the media. There are shops, magazines and self-help organisations meeting the specific needs of mothers and children. Mothers, moreover, are made virtually into icons of social continuity, which has its own downside. It is on the mother that critics publicly place much of the responsibility for many social problems; it is suggested that, were she to be at home more, there would be less youth vandalism, and children would learn better at school and have a better start in life. The list of community problems laid at the feet of mothers can seem endless. Furthermore, in contemporary Britain, the perception of single mothers as a financial drain on society is much encouraged. The idea of the intrinsic social worth of mothers thus has an equally powerful negative side to it. This chapter addresses how particular forms of such an interpretation of maternity operated in eighteenth-century Scotland and the effect that these had on mothers. The chapter focuses particularly on the experiences of those mothers whose situation brought them into the orbit of the Poor Law.


DIACK, L. 1999. Motherhood and poverty in eighteenth-century Aberdeen. In Brotherstone, T., Simonton, D. and Walsh, O. (eds.) Gendering Scottish history: an international approach. Glasgow: Cruithne Press, chapter 12, pages 172-185.

Publication Date Dec 31, 1999
Deposit Date Dec 4, 2019
Publicly Available Date Dec 5, 2019
Publisher Cruithne Press
Pages 172-185
Book Title Gendering Scottish history: an international approach.
Chapter Number 12
ISBN 1873448163
Keywords Motherhood; Poverty; Poor relief; Women's history; Eighteenth century; Aberdeen
Public URL


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