“The Right of the Child to Choose its Parents”: Motherhood and Reproductive Responsibility in the Prewar Era

  • Ann Taylor Allen


Legal equality, economic independence—these were indispensable bases for the reconstruction of motherhood on the basis of gender equality. But even the achievement of these ends could not relieve a still more basic form of servitude. “For what is poverty, what is all the misery of industrial exploitation,” asked the leader of the League of German Women’s Associations, Marie Stritt, in 1910, “compared to the cruel sexual exploitation in which the great mass of women live today?”1 “Dependence, in short, is the curse of our marriages,” wrote the British Mona Caird, “of our homes and of our children, who are born of women who are not free—not free even to refuse to bear them.”2 The claim to a right to refuse might at first glance seem to contradict the prevalent definition of motherhood as a contribution to the public welfare. But in fact it reinforced that definition, for mothers had power as well as responsibility they could make or break the state, and thus wielded a formidable political weapon. “What they forget, in all this talk about population, is that in order to produce children, you have to have mothers,” wrote the French journalist Maria Martin, editor of the Journal des Femmes. “Children will become the pride of every household when mothers are respected by the law. Until that day, we fear that women will not be sufficiently patriotic to make children for the fatherland, which rewards them so meagerly.”3


Birth Control Venereal Disease Eugenic Movement Health Certificate Woman Suffrage 
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  • Ann Taylor Allen

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