Pregnancy in the gilded age


Jul 10, 2007
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I was wondering if anyone knows how a pregnant woman in 1912 would have behaved? Would she have hid in her home during the last months of pregnancy, or would she have thrown on her cutest maternity dress and gone to the market? Did maternity clothes exist then? Was it considered taboo to show off your pregnant belly like it's no ones business, or was it considered "beautiful" as it is today? I remember when I was pregnant I couldn't wait until I started "showing" so I could show off my belly. I would wear tight shirts just to accentuate it. There is a scene in Cameron's Titanic where Rose is telling Jack about Madeline Astor trying to "hide" her belly..why would she do this? Oh, and what about baby showers? Thanks to anyone who can answer my questions, just curious.
 

Luke Owens

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Jan 18, 2007
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Well, Harmony, as late as the 1930s, Charles Lindbergh, when asked by reporters about his wife's pregnancy, said, "I thought you were gentlemen," and stalked out of the press conference.

Pregnancy was considered both a blessing and a shame. It was a blessing in that it guaranteed the parents someone to take care of them in their old age and carry on the family name. At the same time, it had a stigma attached of "I know what YOU'VE been doing!"

As always, there were exceptions to this, but Madeleine Force Astor was not one of them. A large part of this was the scandal surrounding her relationship with John Jacob Astor. He divorced his first wife to marry Madeleine, who was 30 years younger than he. She was sort of a "trophy wife" for him (that's a joke, folks!).

The facts of the case depend on who you choose to believe. Some people say she was already pregnant when they married, although I suspect that she wasn't. I believe her pregnancy started around the time of her marriage to the Colonel.

But in the Edwardian era, many of the Victorian taboos about sex and pregnancy were still active. This was one of them.

I don't know about baby showers of this time period, but I doubt they existed except in the confines of close family.

Luke
 
Jul 10, 2007
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Luke,
Thank you.. I guess I should have done the proper research on the Astor's before asking that question!
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It's amazing how the times have changed!
Harmony
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>It's amazing how the times have changed!<<

In some respects, it's amazing how they haven't. Anybody ever notice that some of the biggest scandals coming out of the halls of government don't involve money? Guess what that leaves!

For all that we fancy ourselves "liberated and enlightened" about sex, we really aren't to the degree that we might like think. The really big differences are that we can at least talk about it, and if a lady decides to have children without the supposed benefit of a husband, (And doesn't even want one.) she can do so without being made an outcast in Western cultures.

That's not to say that there isn't some stigma attatched, but it's nowhere near as suffocating as it was a century ago.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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A few corrections, Luke.

Astor split from his first wife in 1909 (though the divorce might not have been finalized until 1910), and no credible source has cited Madeleine as the cause. Movies and articles that only mention the Astors in a cursory way have often stated differently, which has irked me no end.

I never knew Madeleine was rumored to be pregnant at her marriage. Since their September 1911 wedding and the August 1912 birth of their son were both widely publicized events, I wouldn't have thought there could be rumors of any shotgun.
 

Luke Owens

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The lack of cause is probably correct, Brian, but there WERE rumors of pregnancy from the time it became publicly known that Astor was seeing Madeleine. I know it makes no sense, but Mrs. Grundy has never seen the need to make sense....

Luke
 
Jul 10, 2007
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What about maternity clothes? Is that only a luxury of modern times? It seems that it would be hard to fit a pregnant belly into the some of the fashions of the period. It seems the clothing was pretty uncomfortable without being pregnant, probably much worse if you were! Thank God for the invention of ELASTIC waist pants! Something else to ponder...breastfeeding. Even today some people are too immature to realize that it is completely natural and necessary, but in Edwardian times, I am sure there weren't alternatives, such as formula like Similac and Enfamil. And if you are a woman who has breastfed, you damn well know how hard it can be to keep up with your baby's needs concerning this...every two hours sound familiar girls? Not that I am bitter about it
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Luke Owens

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Jan 18, 2007
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I'm bowing out at this point, Harmony. <g> I know nothing of this part of the subject...nor do I want to, at least on a first-hand basis.

Luke
 
Jul 10, 2007
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lol...sorry Luke. But I do appreciate the info in your post above. I read about the JJ and Madeline scandal, so I am a little more, eh hum.."abreast" of the situation with the Astor's....

Regards,
Harmony
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Baby foods based on powdered milk products, like Mellin's Food and Nestles Milk, were well-established for bottle-feeding during the late 19th Century. These products were targeted at the middle class mother who could afford them, and were promoted as a 'safe and scientific' alternative to breast feeding. Nobody suggested they were better than mother's milk (except for children suffering from certain ailments), but they generally were safer than much of the cow's milk available at the time, especially if it was none too fresh.
.
 
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Harmony-- look up the term "confinement" as it was applied to females during the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Amen, Michael. Just another sign that our species is slowly growing up, I guess.<<

Are we? If an alien ship was to pull into orbit, and do a study on the history of human stupidity, and two faced savagery, I doubt they would find better examples short of war then in how our sexuality finds expression and repression.

Attitudes towards sex have gone all over the place throughout all of recorded human history. "Free Love" as a concept wasn't invented in the 1960's. H.G. Wells was an advocate of this concept, but if the Etruscans are any indication, he was a latecomer to the game by at least 2500 years.

When you get right down to it, a lot of the taboos come more from protecting economic interests then anything else. The old "Mother's Baby, Father's Maybe" thing applies here. The ancients were well aware of the causal connection between Making Whoppee and reproduction, and where inheritance depended on the purported legitimacy of the heir, establishing paternity was essential. Especially in patriarchial cultures.

The really unfortunate result of all of this was that women really have been getting the dirty end of the stick. Petty treason for example was not an offence against the state, but an offence against one's mate, and the penalty could be burning at the stake.

We don't do that sort of thing anymore, but go to the Arab states and you'll see that stoning as a penalty for adultary is alive and well, as it is for women who have sex outside of marraige.

Where attitudes were "liberal" by most modern understandings of the term, you rarely saw much of this sort of thing, but where it was otherwise, the case can all too easily be made that women have suffered for it far more then men. Think "Double Standards" and you'll get the picture.
 
Jul 11, 2010
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Consuelo Vanderbilt mentions being laced tightly despite being seven months pregnant in order to fit her costume for the Duchess of Devonshire's 1897 ball, and other socialites like Daisy Warwick and Lady Randolph Churchill, and even Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, engaged in a full social round even up to their 9th month. I think the late Victorian era/Edwardian era was better in that women weren't instructed to remain secluded while enceinte, but natural body functions and bodily complaints (even when menstruating!) were supposed to be ignored and the women to carry on as nothing were happening to their bodies.

Regarding Rose mentioning Madeline's pregnancy--very ill bred of her! *g*
 
Sep 1, 2004
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Evangeline, where did you read that about Consuelo Vanderbilt? It's interesting - how could have she been laced in the seventh month?! I mean how is it possible? Are there any reports of children being born handicapped?

And I have another question - how much was it noticeable that Madeleine Astor was pregnant? She was in fifth month, was not she? I can imagine that her belly was quite big at that time. Were there any special corsets or so?

Thank you
Vitezslav
 
Jul 11, 2010
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I believe I read it in To Marry An English Lord or the most recent biography on Consuelo. You must also remember that Consuelo was very tall and very slim--rather like Nicole Kidman--and if she didn't carry a lot amniotic fluid with her first son (rather like Nicole), she wouldn't be as large as we expect pregnant women to be. As her sons were tall and robust, apparently there were no physical complications.
 
May 27, 2007
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"Free Love" as a concept wasn't invented in the 1960's. H.G. Wells was an advocate of this concept, but if the Etruscans are any indication, he was a latecomer to the game by at least 2500 years.
That he was, Michael as was his wife. H.G. Wells had numerous relationships and children with women who weren't his wife. In fact his wife, who was also a firm believer in free love would make or buy baby clothes for Mr. Wellses children he had with other women. Seems an open marriage isn't a new concept either.
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Free love is as old as dirt.
 

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