In The Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties

Unmarried mothers, absent fathers, orphaned children – Jane Robinson’s In the Family Way is a truly gripping book about long-buried secrets, family bonds and unlikely heroes.

Only a generation or two ago, illegitimacy was one of the most shameful things that could happen in a family. Unmarried mothers were considered immoral, single fathers feckless and bastard children inherently defective. They were hidden away from friends and relations as guilty secrets, punished by society and denied their place in the family tree.
Today, the concept of illegitimacy no longer exists in law, and babies’ parents are as likely to be unmarried as married. This revolution in public opinion makes it easy to forget what it was really like to give birth, or be born, out of wedlock in the years between World War One and the dawn of the Permissive Age. By speaking to those involved – many of whom have never felt able to talk about their experiences before – Jane Robinson reveals a story not only of shame and appalling prejudice, but also of triumph and the every-day strength of the human spirit.
In the Family Way tells secrets kept for entire lifetimes and rescues from the shadows an important part of all our family histories. In it we hear long-silent voices from the workhouse, the Magdalene Laundry or the distant mother-and-baby home. Anonymous childhoods are recalled, spent in the care of Dr Barnardo or a Child Migration scheme halfway across the world.
There are sorrowful stories in this book, but it is also about hope: about supportive families who defied social expectations by welcoming ‘love-children’ home, or those who were parted and are now reconciled. Most of all, In the Family Way is about finally telling the truth.

Only a generation or two ago, illegitimacy was one of the most shameful things that could happen in a family. Unmarried mothers were considered immoral, single fathers feckless and bastard children inherently defective. They were hidden away from friends and relations as guilty secrets, punished by society and denied their place in the family tree.

In the Family Way tells secrets kept for entire lifetimes and rescues from the shadows an important part of all our family histories. In it we hear long-silent voices from the workhouse, the Magdalene Laundry or the distant mother-and-baby home. Anonymous childhoods are recalled, spent in the care of Dr Barnardo or a Child Migration scheme halfway across the world.

There are sorrowful stories in this book, but it is also about hope: about supportive families who defied social expectations by welcoming ‘love-children’ home, or those who were parted and are now reconciled. Most of all, In the Family Way is about finally telling the truth.

Praise for In the Family Way:

“Jane Robinson has managed to elicit over 100 personal accounts of illegitimacy and it is these letters and interviews that give the book its force — that, and the author’s manifest warm-heartedness. The book is grounded in testimonies from real people — heartbreaking, some of them.” The Spectator

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