Exiled Mothers Visited Their Children

2 Oct

I think I’ve mentioned before how much I adore archaeology for telling the story of people that history often forgets.  An article that I came across today really exemplifies that: A Human Face To the Convict Past of Australia.

Female criminals are rarely talked about in history, probably at least in part because of the idea that women can’t be criminals, that crime is the province of men.  (That’s why we’re all so shocked when women do horribly criminal things, isn’t it?) But women have been criminals, and an important question to ask when any sort of social punishment is involved is: what then happens to their children?

So it’s great to learn that evidence has been found that, in at least one location in the world, in spite of restrictions, female criminals were allowed to visit their own children.  It brings a small section of a whole society into perspective, really.  When I read that article, besides trying to keep the happy goosebumps down, I began to imagine how it must have worked.

The women might have already been mothers when they went into prison, or been pregnant and given birth in prison.  Which inspires me to ask: where were the fathers?  In the 1800s, fathers generally didn’t take care of the children no matter what happened to the mother, but there were absentee fathers then just as surely as there are now, too.  How many of these children were wanted by their fathers, but given up to the system because of their mothers’ criminality? How many had fathers that were criminals, too, or who didn’t even know of their existence?

And can you imagine what their lives might have been like?  It is not easy to grow up with an incarcerated parent now (pdf), and it couldn’t have been easy then either.

Perhaps most importantly, it gives us a peek at the lives of these women. It couldn’t have been easy on them, either. Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy for women to give up their children. Even mothers who are confident in their decision to give their child up for adoption can experience strong feelings of guilt, and wonder how their children are doing. Having no choice in the matter would only make it worse.

It must have taken a special kind of compassion to break with the system and allow convicted mothers to spend time with their children.


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