Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Thomas Andrews

Second Advisor

Kent Willmann

Third Advisor

Sungyun Lim

Abstract

In the years following World War II, American culture emphasized marriage and family more than previous eras. Society idealized a ‘perfect family,’ and encouraged women to aspire to marriage and motherhood. At the same time, social conditions leading up to the sexual revolution resulted in women beginning to liberate themselves sexually. Without the availability of legal abortion or oral contraceptives, more women began finding themselves pregnant out of wedlock in a society that encouraged them to do just the opposite. Having few options, many women turned to maternity homes to conceal their pregnancy. With the advent of the Social Welfare Movement and Social Security in the 1930s, maternity homes shifted to employ social workers rather than their original evangelical employees. This shift created a wave of employees that often could not put aside their own prejudices against unwed mothers in their work. Social workers in maternity homes from the 1940s through the 1970s largely mistreated unwed mothers and used physical or emotional abuse to coerce them to surrender their babies to a ‘more deserving’ couple through adoption.

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