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Attitudes to Illegitimacy

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Jane Robinson

Locally based historian, Jane Robinson, will be presenting a talk in March, hosted by Haddenham Village Society, exploring 'Illegitimacy between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties'. Her presentation will be based on her research into this interesting area of social history, and her recent book "In the Family Way"

In the Family Way: Illegitimacy from the Great War to the Swinging Sixties (Viking Penguin) is Jane's ninth book. It's a social history of illegitimacy based on the personal stories of over 100 single parents and their children.

Two things inspired it: the first was a snippet of information Jane came across while researching her previous book, A history of the Women's Institute: A Force to be Reckoned With. Just a few years after the WI was founded here 100 years ago, its members courageously campaigned for what was called the Bastardy Bill, whereby fathers were required to support their illegitimate children and single mothers were offered welfare support.

Illegitimacy was still a taboo subject, and not at all the sort of things ladies were supposed to think about; the fact that the WI felt it a significant enough problem to break that taboo fascinated Jane. She decided to find out what the human impact of illegitimacy was during the decades between WW1 and the Permissive Age.

Secondly, like most of us, there were skeletons in Jane's own family's cupboard. Her family history was somewhat 'airbrushed' by the shame of illegitimacy. Few family histories are not. As a writer whose career has been spent trying to give a voice to history's under-represented individuals, Jane wanted to explore what the shame of illegitimacy really meant to single parents and their children such a comparatively short time ago. And once she started asking questions, both of her own family and of others, Jane became more and more astonished at their stories of stigma, shame, and the every-day strength of the human spirit.

The book came out in early February and has already been widely reviewed in the national press; it's been called 'important social history', 'a powerful testament', 'elegant and compassionately written', 'engrossing' and 'heartbreaking'.

What pleases the author most, though, is the reaction of her contributors, who feel Jane has given them a voice denied by society before.

"It's the other way round, really", says Jane: "they've given me theirs, to tell a sometimes shocking, sometimes uplifting story, and for this I am very grateful."

To hear Jane speak on this fascinating theme, come along to the Haddenham Village Society meeting at the Community Junior School on Thursday 12th March, for 8.00pm.

For more information about the Village Society, see here.

To read more about Jane Robinson, see here.

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