Unmarried mothers were treated with contempt by authorities in the mid-20th century. The same goes for people deemed not to matter today
When Ann Keen gave birth, the midwives refused to give her anything for the pain. That way, they told her, she would remember it and learn not to be so wicked again. To be treated like an animal in labour, denied the most basic compassion and respect, was simply part of the punishment she had supposedly earned for getting pregnant out of wedlock aged 17. The hospital discharged her without any follow-up care, as if the birth had never happened. But the most grievous part of the story is that she also went home without her baby.
For Keen is one of a still unknown number of unmarried British women coerced into handing over their newborns for adoption between the 1950s and the late 1970s, who are now seeking an apology from Boris Johnson on behalf of the governments of the day. But perhaps just as importantly, they want it acknowledged that they didn’t give their children up willingly. Some were told that if they loved their babies they would want them raised by respectable married couples, not under the shadow of illegitimacy.