'They kept me in the house, I could never go out during the day. When I did I had to wear a duffle coat and a hat pulled down to hide.'

The stigma attached to unmarried motherhood, coupled with the reactions of parents, friends, family, employers and school principals instilled these young women with strong feelings of shame and guilt. In every way they were told that what they had done was wrong and in need of hiding. The most obvious manner of hiding was their banishment to a Mother and Baby Home distant from their local community. Women were intentionally sent to institutions away from their hometown to avoid the neighbours discovering what they had done, and for those showing while still at home they were frequently barred from leaving the house during the day and had to keep to their room whenever someone visited.

 

However, the deceptions to mask their infidelity played out in other ways as well. Many of the women in this project described being made to wear Duffel coats when they left the house. These voluminous overcoats popular during the 1960s allowed the women to hide their shame under layers of heavy wool. One admitted to wearing a girdle far into her pregnancy to maintain a slim profile. A grandmother insisted her pregnant granddaughter wear a hat pulled down low anytime they were to be out together. The mothers of the pregnant women frequently insisted they wear a ‘Woolworth’s wedding ring’ to disguise their sin, thus pointing to the clear demarcation in which married pregnancy is revered and unmarried pregnancy reviled. A number of the women protested against this falsehood, removing their ring whenever their mother left or refusing to wear it at all.

 

In some cases the women were checked into the hospital under an assumed married name so the neighbours wouldn’t learn of the pregnancy and birth. Several homes during this period assigned incoming expectant mothers with false names to be used while in the home so even their roommates would not know their true identity; however this was not the majority experience of the women in this study.  Regardless of the tactics employed to hide the shame these women were perceived to have brought upon their families, it was clear that no tactic could protect them from the feelings of guilt, humiliation, hurt, and disappointment others made them feel for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. 

Shame and Hiding

Secrets and Lies

'Whose idea was it for you to go into the hospital with a fake name? My mother, because it wasn't that far from where we lived and she said, someone might notice the name and know you're there. As luck would have it I did bump into somebody from our church.'

Fake Wedding Ring

'I remember going, before I'd had the baby, with my Woolworth's wedding ring...I had a fake wedding ring. You felt you had to. By this time of course, you were showing.'

© 2013 by ROSE BELL. All rights reserved.

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