Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Moral Policing of War Widows Comes under Spotlight

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Moral Policing of War Widows Comes under Spotlight

Article excerpt

WOMEN from working-class backgrounds who lost their husbands in the First World War were faced with not only coping with the grief, but also how to raise their children without a male breadwinner. And while a modest war widow's pension was introduced, with it came moral policing - which meant that women deemed "unworthy" could be deprived of their support.

Prof Angela Smith from Sunderland University has studied the policing of war widows, examining 200 cases in the National Archives.

She will outline their stories in a talk titled Sympathy and Suspicion: the state's surveillance of widows of the First World War, at a conference today organised by Sunderland University's School of Culture.

The conference, Propaganda, Revolution and Victory, takes place in the Hope Street Xchange, City Campus, Sunderland to mark the centenary of the end of the war.

Keynote speakers will include Peter Hart, author of The Last Battle: Endgame on the Western Front 1918, and Taylor Downing, author of Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War.

Prof Smith said that the war had produced a situation outside of the norm, where women lived with a male head of household, such as a husband or father.

"With the war, so many women were living outside of the traditional family unit," she said.

The working-class widows were the first Britons to receive a pension that was not means tested and was financially non-contributory, and it was also the first time women had been singled out specifically for state funding in Britain.

Prof Smith added: "While not means tested, it was heavily morally policed."

Part of the reason for the introduction of the pension was to boost recruitment into the forces, which had slowed after 1914, with men worried about what would happen to their wives and children if they did not come home. …

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