chapter  3
18 Pages

The Illegitimate Child

The full toll that is exacted by our mores as a result of this attitude is seldom realized or understood. The unmarried mother is forced to all manner of extremities of concealment and expenditure in order to give birth to her child. The moral scorn which she encounters certainly does not strengthen her mental equilibrium. Her nervous system is often shaken and shattered by this phase of the experience alone. In homes of confinement where many girls have to retreat, she is always aware of her position as an unfortunate and delinquent. In such homes her care is never of the kind which would encourage an attitude or outlook of a salutary character. Her daily diet is in the form of admonition and sermon. She is taught to look upon herself as not very dissimilar to a criminal. In the world at large, her plight is even worse. In addition to

the moral stupidities of spinsters and the invidious disdain of married wives and mothers, she is confronted with an economic problem that in itself is often sufficient to make her courage crumble and weaken. As a consequence of all these factors, it is not only the mother who suffers but also the child. In the matter of still-births the costs of this morality become unmistakably evident and glaring. The following table illustrates these costs in statistical form:

What we see from this table is that in every state there is a wide disparity between the number of still-births of married mothers and unmarried. In Norway between 1891 and 1900 still-births among illegitimate children were 164 to 165 compared with 100 still-births among legitimate children. That the mothers of illegitimate children are, on the whole, less healthy than those of legitimate is an unarguable proposition. In certain cases, it may be true, the parents of illegitimate children are sickly and diseased. But this is also true of married couples. The conservative will maintain that the larger number of still-births among unmarried than married mothers is due to syphilis. Even if we grant this to be true in a certain percentage of cases, allowing possibly, for the same argument a small disparity as due to this factor, the fact still remains that, as a general, or even as the chief, explanation, this proposition is patently untenable and absurd. Syphilis is prevalent among the married as well as unmarried. "Excluding the abandoned or vicious classes," writes Kelly in Medical Gynecology, "practically all women who acquire syphilis receive the infection from their husbands." While this observation may lack something of final cogency, it indicates at least the prevalence of venereal infections among the married. In a study of the origins of venereal infections, it was found in Berlin that, among other factors, several thousand sol-

diers received only 30% of their infections from prostitutes and 2 1 % from married women, widows and fiancees. (Hugo Hecht, Mitt, der Deutsch Gesellsch.) I t is increasingly obvious, then, that these disparities among the number of still-born children are to be attributed, in the main, to the morality which directly or indirectly handicaps and harms the pregnant woman who is unmarried.