Museum of Femoribilia (3)
May 28, 2015
In the days when unwed pregnancy was condemned as evidence of sexual misconduct and moral turpitude, single girls who found themselves “in trouble” often “went away for a while” — spending the final months of their pregnancies in one of the many maternity homes run by charitable agencies like the Salvation Army. Here they would be concealed from view while they contemplated the error of their ways (or so hoped the institutions). Once delivered, the babies would be given up for adoption, and the girls would return to their regularly scheduled lives. According to Ricky Solinger’s fascinating study, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade (Routledge, 1992), the predominantly white, middle-class guests at these homes were considered “part criminal, part patient.”
This perfectly describes the Wellwood Home for Unmarried Mothers, the fictional locale of Alison Hart’s Girls in Trouble series of romance novels. Published in the 1970s but set a decade earlier, the author avoided sticky questions of bad-girl morality by creating teenage protagonists who became pregnant the moment they lost their virginity, whether by choice or violence. But while pregnancy was a central plot device in these books, motherhood was not. Instead, true to the romance genre, the central relationships in the Girls in Trouble books are between man and woman, not mother and child. Plot-wise, the babies were pesky things to be gotten rid of via miscarriage or adoption, leaving the mother free to wed the man of her dreams. And whether he was the boy from back home who doesn’t know about her past, or the gentle brother of a fellow resident, her husband’s true love provided her with the ultimate redemption, and safely confines her sexuality to the marital bed.
In the 1940s and ’50s, the maternity home romance was a phenomenon unto itself. According to Solinger, editors at romance magazines were encouraged to include the addresses of maternity homes with these types of stories, to help readers in the same predicament. But by the time the Girls in Trouble novels were published, maternity homes were fast becoming anachronisms due to greater acceptance of premarital sexuality, the availability of birth control, and recently legalized abortion. Like a monster movie, the Girls in Trouble series provided its core audience of adult females with a scary-but-safe experience of emotional horror: unwanted pregnancy, abandonment by a lover, and the loss of a child through death or adoption.
Just five Girls in Trouble titles were published in 1975 and ’76. The maternity home itself proved a longer lasting institution. As recently as 1989, a New York Times headline noted an “Anti-Abortion Revival: Homes for Unwed Mothers.”
A slightly different version was originally published in BUST #20, Summer 2002.
CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators