Holden, Katherine

Maternal relationships in families of John Bowlby and his wife [videorecording] Presented by Dr Katherine Holden - London, Tavistock Clinic, 2012 - 1 video disc (approx 80 min) - . - Scientific Meeting of the Tavistock Centre and Portman Clinic 13th February 2012 .

Copyright Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Copying of this recording is striclty prohibited. Dr Katherine Holden has recently retired as a senior lecturer in history at the University of the West of England. Her research interests lie in the area of social history, gender history and history of the family with a current focus on maternal relationships and childcare which she is exploring through writing a history of nannies in twentieth century Britain.  Main relevant publications include The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England 1914-1960, Manchester University Press, 2007, The Family Story: Blood, Contract and Intimacy 1830-1960, co-authored with Leonore Davidoff, Megan Doolittle and Janet Fink, Longman, 1999;

This paper engages with previous research into 19th and early 20th century upper-middle-class families’ use of domestic space and on siblings in ‘long families’ and suggests how their child rearing methods may have contributed to John Bowlby’s rethinking of maternal relationships after the Second World War.  I will explore the complexities of maternal and carer relationships in early twentieth Britain and discuss the longer term consequences of a particular tradition of childcare in upper-middle class families where domestic authority and hands-on care were shared between mothers, governesses, nannies and nursery maids. The childhood and familial experiences between 1900 and 1939 of Bowlby and his five siblings, and those of his wife Ursula Longstaff and her six sisters are the main focus of the first half of the paper.
In the second half of the paper, I will argue that that these early experiences and the ways in which they were remembered had a wider significance in the post-war years.  Bowlby's views on childcare instigated major debates amongst feminists and child care experts over the desirability of mothers leaving their children to go out to work. I will argue that Ursula’s childhood and maternal experiences are significant in the development of her husband’s theories and show how she disseminated her views to mothers and professional carers through the magazine Nursery World during the 1940s. These views were set out in more detail in an unpublished book 'Happy Infancy' in which she drew upon her own experiences and ideas about childcare and to which John contributed several chapters. The advice the Bowlbys offered mothers and their heavy promotion of the centrality of the mother/child bond will be discussed in relation to their own formative experiences as children.

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