What Is the Practical Ideal of Protection and Care of Children Born out of Wedlock?, February 9, 1920 Also known as: Women's Special Interests as Issues in the National Campaign, February 9, 1920



JANE ADDAMS, Hull-House, Chicago.

I did not know whether I was to give the gospel in contrast to the law, or custom in contrast to the law, but I have decided to speak on the custom in contrast to the law. The family was established around the child long before there was any question of legitimate or illegitimate birth. The child and the relation of the mother to the child were the great facts, because the child would perish unless the mother took care of him, and the mother gradually established the family by tying the father of the child to herself and the child, and by degrees she brought about a fundamental change in the order of society. When the tribe was nomadic, and could do nothing but move on to a new place, when the pasture was exhausted or the hunting was poor, she said, "I can't go now because my children can't be moved." And she also said, "I can't feed my children wild boar all the time; they must have something else." And the mother insisted on waiting with her child until the crop was ripe; they waited for the winter to pass, and the man came back to them over and over again. Thus the idea gradually impressed itself that the child and the woman must live, whatever happened; that if the parent perished the child must [page 2] survive; and gradually the life of the child was prolonged. And that basic idea gradually changed the order of human society. The inhabitants in many parts of the world were changed from hunting-and-fishing into agricultural peoples. When an agricultural people was established, the whole question of property and inheritance developed, through which the making of a more and more definite bond between the mother, the father, and the child was achieved.

How far that very basic idea could be utilized in this moment of legal and ethical perplexity is, of course, a question. And on the other hand no one who lives among poor women who are continually being deserted or women who have children out of wedlock, wants to do anything that will weaken the family tie. It is tremendous, the struggle made by the primitive woman to attach the father to his child and to his obligation to his child. It would be better, perhaps, to have the occasional child suffer, or the woman suffer -- as she certainly does -- rather than to weaken that family tie bought with such blood and tears and effort, largely on the part of woman, through all the centuries.

Then, of course, one thinks of the other side. I have been thinking of a most striking case of suffering of that kind. One girl whom we all very much admired -- very able, independent, very fine -- had a child born out of wedlock. As a result of her effort to conceal the situation from all her family and former friends and at the same time keep her child, she did rough, hard work, and was imposed upon just because she had a child. People took every advantage of the fact that she was at a disadvantage, and she died of tuberculosis and left her child. That seemed a cruel waste. The girl belonged to the working classes, but she was of the finest type, and might have belonged to any class.  

Then, I remember an Englishman whom I had occasion to know in various ways, a member of Parliament, who was of illegitimate birth. Nothing was known about it; people thought that he was of very honorable parentage in the north of England. In a great campaign, when the situation was very close and difficult, the fact of this man's illegitimate birth was brought out by a prominent magazine. It was very hard on his wife and on his growing family of six children. The older ones were in boarding school; they suffered all sorts of things. I happened to see this man very soon after that campaign, which was some years ago, and his despair over the situation was great -- not for himself; he said that he had got away from that; it was the effect upon his children and upon their future, which was very black. And, of course, it was a hideous thing, a most unfair and a most unjust thing, and it quite made your blood boil. And there you are with the other side. [page 3]

It is not only the law that is perplexing. It is the whole question of the public attitude in, I think, a very honest desire to protect the hard-won family and the acknowledged relation of the father to the group of children within the family, and at the same time not to be so unconscionably brutal to the people outside, especially the women and the children. At the same time we are confronted with the other horn of the dilemma. This Mutterschutz movement has a tremendous vogue in the Scandinavian countries, where the women have these great societies of married women and unmarried women together to discuss the common problems of the care of children, and, of course, more or less to specialize on children who need care most and on the illegitimate children. It is a perfectly humane, big-hearted, kindly movement. In Berlin was its first beginning, but it has not spread in Germany so well as it has in Scandinavian countries and in France. Of course, France is the great country where the Napoleonic law held longest, and inquiry into the paternity of an illegitimate child was not permitted. The woman was supposed to bear the brunt of the situation.

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