Presentation on theme: "Margaret Waters: Murder and Misogyny in Victorian London Katherine Field Woodstock Academy Woodstock, CT 2012 NEH Seminar for School Teachers Historical."— Presentation transcript:
Margaret Waters: Murder and Misogyny in Victorian London Katherine Field Woodstock Academy Woodstock, CT 2012 NEH Seminar for School Teachers Historical Interpretations of the Industrial Revolution in Britain
Widowed in 1864 and left with £500, but had no other means of support. Waters invested £300 in sewing machines to start a dressmaking business but lost £250 by the end of the year. Waters began to take in lodgers but still could not pay her rent. She took out a loan but was unable to make payments and was forced to move. An unmarried lodger offered to pay Waters £3 to "adopt" her unborn child. later Waters "adopted" a second child from the same woman and was paid another £3. She then began to place classifieds in newspapers seeking more children. At least two children taken in by Waters died, apparently of natural causes. Waters took in more children to pay for the burial costs. Three of these children later died from unknown causes; their bodies disappeared. A witness who worked for Waters testified children sometimes disappeared from the home. Waters was accused of "willful murder." He arrest and trial were front page news for several months. She was found guilty and executed on 11 October 1870.
Baby Farming Refers to the practice of adopting unwanted children, or "taking them in to nurse," in exchange for a lump sum or series of payments. Baby farms became prevalent in the mid- 1800s due to the severity of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment, cheap advertising, and an increase in illegitimacy due to later marriage (De Vries, 262). Baby farming was the subject of a major investigation by the British Medical Journal in 1868. 1/4 of the women executed in Britain (8/32) were involved in baby farming.
Cult of Domesticity "Civilized" middle class lifestyle (Berg, 2004). Women considered too virtuous to take part in worldly pursuits. Their sphere was within the home. Significance of breadwinner wage (De Vries, 262 & Honeyman, 105). Separate spheres created an inevitable double standard.
The Double Standard Bartholomew Drouet ran a baby farm housing 1,400 children in miserable conditions for which he received £300/week. 150 of the children in his care died of cholera within days of each other in 1849. Drouet faced a manslaughter charge but was acquitted.
Why were Drouet and Waters treated so Differently? Discuss...
Waters defied the prevailing stereotype of middle class femininity and challenged the concept of separate spheres. By introducing cash into what was seen as a "natural" relationship between woman and child she was seen to pervert and degrade the concept of virtuous motherhood, the foundation of the woman's sphere.
And Another Double Standard Women who purposefully killed their own children were often viewed with sympathy and received light punishment, while women like Waters were vilified for killing children no one else wanted. Why???
Women like Waters defied prevailing social assumptions about femininity and motherhood. Victorian females were believed to be inherently emotional, rather than rational, creatures. Women who took the life of their own child fit this stereotype-it was believed they were acting out of "post-natal mania." Women like Waters, however, premeditated and took payment for their crimes. They were despised more for defying the stereotype of virtuous womanhood than for the crime itself.
A Fatal Woman? The children who died in the care of Waters may well have died anyway. Receipts show Waters attempted to pay for doctors and medicines for the children when they became ill. Illegitimate children were two times more likely to die before their first birthday than were legitimate children. Often deprived of breast milk they were more susceptible to digestive problems. Evidence suggests Waters may not have purposely killed the children in her care, as postmortem examinations suggested severe dehydration. One could argue Waters was attempting to provide a valuable social service. Unmarried mothers could not care for their own children. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment prohibited alms to "fallen women." Middle class widows like Waters with no means of support were in an equally dire situation. Baby farming proved a mutually beneficial arrangement in the absence of social welfare programs.
So What? The execution of Margaret Waters reveals much about Victorian attitudes toward women. As more women began to agitate for greater rights and an expanded sphere of influence, there was a severe backlash against them. The Waters case is a story of a Victorian age witch hunt meant to demonize women who strayed outside the bounds of "proper womanhood."