The effects of parental marital status and family form on experiences of childhood in Twentieth Century Scotland, c. 1920 – 1970

Cawley, Felicity Roseanne Joy (2018) The effects of parental marital status and family form on experiences of childhood in Twentieth Century Scotland, c. 1920 – 1970. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines the effect of parental marital status and family form on experiences of childhood in twentieth century Scotland, c. 1920 to 1970. During the twenty-first century there has been increasing scrutiny placed of the family in response to a perceived increase in family breakdown since the 1990s. However, existing research has shown that the family has a rich and diverse history and that Scotland in particular has a strong cultural tradition of varying family forms. As such, this thesis examines the experience of childhood in nuclear families, ‘broken’ families, lone parent families, and stepfamilies in a historical context. In doing so, this thesis reveals the meanings of family for both society and individuals during the period of review, problematises the nuclear ideal and the experience of life in the nuclear family, and questions the boundaries of family as it is both lived and understood. This analysis is based on the personal testimonies, both oral history and the memoir, of those who experienced childhood in Scotland between 1920 and 1970, coupled with extensive archival sources including the records of organisations such as the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and mother and baby homes in central Scotland.

The first chapter of this thesis introduces the location of study with an essential overview of the distinct aspect of Scotland’s housing, education and welfare structures throughout the twentieth century. Discussion of these environmental circumstances and contexts of childhood is crucial to framing the following analysis of remembered experiences of childhood. This framework is then followed by the first of four analysis chapters, the first of which examines the nuclear family. This formative chapter is shaped by the original oral histories carried out for this research. Interviewee testimonies revealed the importance of housing, community, parental and intrafamilial relationships on the experience of childhood. Recurring themes of alcohol abuse, poverty, and family dysfunction were all revealed as influential in the shaping of memories and narratives of childhood.

Building on the themes in chapter two, the first analytic chapter, the third chapter focuses on the transitionary phase of the ‘breaking’ of the family and looks at the impact of parental separation, death, and divorce on experiences of childhood. In doing so, this chapter also includes an experience of childhood outwith the family and examines institutional childhood. In focusing on the ‘breaking’ of the family, this chapter highlights the transient nature of this process and highlights the importance of the coping mechanisms and survival strategies adopted by families during this period. Following this, chapters four and five each examine a subsequent family form, namely the lone parent family and the stepfamily.

The examination of childhood within a lone parent family brings a gendered focus to the analysis with a concentration on the impact of lone motherhood on experiences of childhood. Whilst the themes from the previous chapters recur here, the impact of external support networks and the influence of the welfare state are explicitly interrogated for the first time, as well as the continued influence on external institutions and agencies in the shaping of family. Finally, analysis concludes with a consideration of life within a stepfamily. In doing so the chapters of the thesis echo the potential path of the family, from nuclear through to broken and lone parent, to stepfamily. This final chapter questions the ‘return to normality’ of the stepfamily and contrasts the experience of stepfamily life with that of the nuclear, further questioning the idealisation of this ‘traditional model’. Discussions of stepfamily life build on the role of emotions in experiences and definitions of family as well as including a discussion of the changing conceptions of child abuse. Throughout both final chapters the individual complexity of family life and experience is examined.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: History of Scotland, Twentieth Century history, Twentieth Century Scotland, history of childhood, history of the family, social history, family and the welfare state, unmarried motherhood, lone motherhood, oral history, working-class history, working-class autobiographies, Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, mother and baby homes, gender history, family relationships, sibling relationships, stepfamilies, divorce.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Funder's Name: Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Elliot, Dr. Rosemary and Hughes, Dr. Annmarie
Date of Award: 2018
Embargo Date: 28 May 2024
Depositing User: Dr Felicity RJ Cawley
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-16186
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 31 May 2018 15:04
Last Modified: 16 May 2022 14:19

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