Revisited Myth # 29: In the colonial era, women secluded themselves indoors during pregnancy.

Hogarth print showing pregnant woman

Hogarth print showing pregnant woman

This persistent falsehood is also trotted out for women in the nineteenth century, the “Victorian” era, but there is little evidence to support the claim in either century. 

Poor and middle class women simply could not afford to remain sequestered away indoors for months on end—for crying out loud, they had too much work to do—and wealthy women, who theoretically could have done so, did not want to. Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, points out in her book What Clothes Reveal (2002) that not only did colonial-era women venture outside their homes during pregnancy, they enjoyed active social lives, dining with friends, attending religious services and cultural events, and going about their daily business. Letters and diaries of the period provide ample evidence.

D2007-DMD-0612-2046

3 Responses to Revisited Myth # 29: In the colonial era, women secluded themselves indoors during pregnancy.

  1. Margie Thompson says:

    They may not have gone into seclusion, but they wore clothes to cover it up. And they never used the word pregnant, it was “in a family way ” and very discreat. My mom was having babies from 1911 to 1925.

  2. Fridley says:

    Thank you for this wonderful site, which I’ve been enjoying and profiting by for years. I can’t help thinking that this myth owes a great deal to the very real postpartum custom of the “lying-in,” for what it’s worth.

    It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine that people who remembered that their mothers or grandmothers or great-grandmothers or what have you lay in bed for a fair while after giving birth expanded this notion (taking for granted, as many of them must have done, that women in the past were invariably feeble, fainting creatures) to the idea that women secluded themselves in their chambers as soon as their pregnancies were discovered.

    Just a thought, and of course you’re obviously and perfectly right about the myth at hand! Thanks again.

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