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‘They all thought I was a crank’: Lesbian mothers and public health professionals in Britain and Australia, 1970s-1990s

Rebecca Jennings will present research on the history of lesbian motherhood and healthcare in Britain and Australia

Author’s newsclipping photo, Evening News, January 5th 1978. Headline reads: Doctor Strange Love.
Author’s newsclipping photo, Evening News, January 5th 1978.

During the period from the 1970s to the 1990s, a significant shift occurred in lesbian experiences of parenting, from lesbians overwhelmingly becoming mothers in the context of a heterosexual marriage, to the increasing use of donor insemination and casual heterosex as a route into motherhood for lesbians. As a result, doctors, midwives and other public health professionals were prompted to confront the possibility of lesbian motherhood, often for the first time.  

This paper draws on oral history interviews, the lesbian and gay press and medical literature to explore the history of encounters between lesbians and public health professionals in this period of profound change. It will ask both how the attitudes of doctors and others toward would-be lesbian mothers shaped women’s choices about modes of conception and how lesbians’ experience of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting was impacted by the nature of their interactions with obstetricians, midwives and social workers. These interactions also give us an insight into medical conceptualisations of appropriate motherhood in this period and this paper will suggest that lesbian motherhood offers an opportunity to consider how wider social and cultural attitudes shaped public health practice at this time. 

Speaker  

Rebecca Jennings teaches the history of gender and sexuality in modern Britain in the Department of History at University College London (UCL). She has published widely on Australian and British lesbian history and her most recent book, Unnamed Desires: A Sydney Lesbian History was published by Monash University Publishing in 2015. She is currently working on a new monograph, Sisters, Lovers, Wives and Mothers: Lesbian Practices of Intimacy in Britain and Australia, 1945-2000, based on her Australian Research Council-funded research into post-war British and Australian lesbian relationships and parenting. 

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