'On Sundays we would be alligator marched down to the church. Everyone knew where we were from. We'd have to sit in the back row, the pregnant girls could sit, but the new mothers had to kneel.' ​

For the homes with a religious affiliation, particularly the Church of England and Catholic homes, attending regular services was either encouraged or expected. As the majority were associated with a religious body this was a fairly regular occurrence, though the expectations varied. Some homes were fairly relaxed in their requirements, making church attendance an option for those that were interested. Others were fairly strict, holding regular daily services in the chapel at the home or requiring all residents to participate in services at the local church. Many mothers commented on the requirement that they all line up in the back pew, so as not to offend regular church goers with their obvious sin, and that while heavily pregnant women might be exempted from kneeling it was required of the new mothers. One participant recalled the entire group being ‘alligator marched’ down to church every Sunday, so that the entire community knew them as the girls from the local Home. Another recalled that the girls were expected to attend church on Sunday, but were left to do so on their own accord. As a result the girls would go into town on Sundays and walk around or go for tea, then return and report they had attended church. A new mother in a Christian home found reassurance in the little acts of worship throughout the home, while she discovered one of her roommates was disturbed and put off by them.

 

A 1968 study on Mother and Baby Homes found that while religion in the home was of little concern to secular institutions, they made up just under 20% of available homes meaning that most women entering a Mother and Baby Home were entering one with religious affiliations and expectations. These were church Homes, run by church people, assisted from church funds and staffed by church workers which meant their mission went beyond the practical and social needs of the mothers, and extended into a need for spiritual redemption. This study found that in addition to fairly regular services or expectations of church attendance, babies in the Roman Catholic Home were baptized and those in the Salvation Army Homes were dedicated, in the others the babies were sometimes christened or a service of blessing was held for those being adopted. In all the homes grace was said at mealtime. All of the Church of England Homes and some of the Roman Catholic Homes are reported to have had their own Chaplains. While it was found to be a widespread belief among matrons that forcing religion upon the residents was futile, some reported they simply took the residents into prayer where they were ‘faced with the truth’. The 1968 study called for a greater examination of religion in the homes, as many perceived it to be wrong that these would-be mothers were forced into religious practices they may not agree with in order to receive practical or social work help. The study concluded that ‘however the Homes define and carry out their different purposes, the religious setting of residential care for unmarried mothers must continue as long as the community is content to leave the provision of Mother and Baby Homes to the churches. If this is unacceptable, then the energy now expended on criticizing the church Homes would be more appropriately directed towards providing a secular alternative.’ (Nicholdson, p.130)

 

Of the participants in this project a few were comforted by their access to religious practices which were part of daily life in their upbringing, while many felt that the religious expectations were a means of exacting atonement and shaming the women for their pregnancy.

 

Church

Going to Church

'On every Sunday you would have to go to the church. The church in the village. And you were crocodile marched. And you weren't allowed to sit in the front pews, you all had to sit in the back so you wouldn't offend the villagers.'



Was it a religious institution?

'It was run by the Diocesan Authority (Church of England), so was the adoption society. So it was under the auspices of the church. But we didn't have to go to church, the mums didn't have to go to church. But the pregnant ones were supposed to go to a church on a Sunday morning so they used to set off in a gaggle up the street...and they never used to go to church...'



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