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The Motherhood of Man Movement and single motherhood in 1940s and 1950s New Zealand

Ione Cussen
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Published
December 2017

Abstract

In New Zealand, moral and religious influences have long painted single mothers as unscrupulous threats to the sexual and societal status quo. In the 1950s, a formative era for the development of women’s reproductive and sexual rights, organisations like the Motherhood of Man began to confront this long-standing image of single mothers as fallen women in need of redemption. The Motherhood of Man Movement challenged the fear-based sexual education model, which gave little practical knowledge about how to avoid pregnancy, and instead attempted to provide care for single mothers in need, without the often-oppressive philosophy of church-run homes. Inadvertently, the Movement also highlighted New Zealand’s ill equipped adoption policies through its own misdemeanours. A 1953 incident allegedly saw the President of the Motherhood of Man Movement abuse her authority as a caregiver, coerce women to give up their babies and on-sell these babies to desperate adoptive parents, and avoid proper adoption procedures all together. Not only did this spark public outrage, but it also contributed to the introduction of the Adoption Act of 1955 which tightened adoption laws in New Zealand. This particular issue in the Motherhood of Man’s history provides an opportunity to explore the developments and shortcomings of this formative era, which gave reformers a basis to construct better models for the care of single mothers in future decades.

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