Some may talk of the good old days and there are some good things which have now disappeared and given way to technology and forward thinking. However one memory of my childhood and teenage years I am glad is now obsolete, and rarely talked about now.
At Sunday School, once a year, we would bring home a small booklet of glossy black and white photos of beautiful children, blonde, dark haired, brown, black or white skinned. These children were all orphans and were put into adoption agencies because in the late 50s/early 60s there were no means of keeping an illegitimate baby and this aspect of society totally relied on charity. We would take the booklet home and try to sell each photo so that each book managed to raise money to support these babies. It seems so incredible now that there were such inequality as this in our society only 50 years ago!
It is hard to understand another event which involved babies. Every year in he summer, at the home of the Managing Director of Consett Iron Company, there would be a Bonny Baby Competition and the Director’s wife would open up the large garden and hold a charity garden fayre. The mothers would parade with their babies, like a beauty contest and a select board of ladies would choose the bonniest baby.
A woman was still regarded as slightly lacking in something if she wasn’t married, and being married made her the “lesser” half… but it was a mindset that was inherent in the brain. To become pregnant out of wedlock was the fault of the woman who was then deemed “loose`’ and carried a stigma throughout her life. Children born out of wedlock were branded “bastard” and carried this disadvantage unless they could be adopted.
Going out to work as a woman was regarded as “pin money” or if she had a career she would not have children. My last year in college in the early 60s saw 5 students unable to get qualified as they became pregnant and were told they had to marry in order to get their teaching degree! There was no easy opportunity or promotion for female teachers and equal pay had only started a few years earlier.
It was taken for granted that the woman in the marriage could cook, do all the housework and manage on whatever the husband gave her. Her job was secondary to looking after the home so she then had 2 jobs!
Men never attended births or looked after the children. Women having miscarriages were dismissed with no mental help, right up to the late 1970s. I lived in Brandon at the time of my miscarriage which lasted 4 days but was dismissed from an antenatal clinic because I hadn’t registered and therefore couldn’t be pregnant!!
In 1979, as a teacher I had gained a post-graduate diploma in Teacher Counselling which was new in the field of pastoral care. I had carried the fifth year (now year 11) which was up for promotion and I was the only well qualified candidate but I was told that if I had been a man and could teach Woodwork I would have got the job. In those days, boys never took domestic science (home economics) and the girls never took woodwork or metalwork.
In teaching, I was not allowed, as a woman, to fill in a form to name my next of kin who could benefit if I died in service. I was a single mother in the 1980s but it was only men who could qualify for a death pension.
When I needed a bank loan to mend my roof, I was turned down by my bank because the deputy bank manager didn’t bother to ask for guarantors which I had, but saw me as a single mother…despite being in a full time professional job.
There was no such thing as a carer’s allowance and old folks’ homes in the 50s were just starting up…my grandmother always dreaded going into a home as it had been a workhouse in her early youth in Victorian times..she lived all her life with us so that fear was unfounded.
Coming of age was 21 and the rules for the girls’ hostel in which I lived during college days in Durham in the 60s would be laughable to 18-21 year olds today!
Dyslexia wasn’t even a word when I first began teaching, and special needs children were identified with titles unspeakable today. During lectures one day in college, we were told that we may, in the future, be teaching certain children with a new disability. We needed to watch a film of small children opening drawers with their feet as they shuffled along with only stumps for arms . They had been damaged in the womb as their mothers had taken the new anti-sickness drug.. thalidomide.
So my memories of yesterday have mixed feelings and I am thankful that laws have changed and society has become compassionate …perhaps not quite perfect! but much improved from “the good old days!!!”