Student Research Projects

Perceptions of the Bastardy Clauses in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

Student Melissa Hazen ‘15 (English)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department History
Course History 353: European Women's History since 1700


This paper investigates the controversial nature of the bastardy clauses included in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Much research has been done on gender perceptions of Victorian England and on the epidemic of infanticide during the Victorian Era in the mid-nineteenth century. However, research on the impact of gender perceptions on the acceptance of the bastardy clauses is sparing, especially in terms of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, and specifically the bastardy clauses. This paper offers a discursive analysis of newspaper articles from the London Times and the Illustrated London News from 1834-1844. It also examines Alexander Walker’s Women Physiologically Considered. This paper argues that the outrage at the bastardy clauses can mostly be attributed the social constructs of gender roles and the perceived violation thereof due to the government’s revision of paternal responsibility in cases of bastardy. To the field, this research offers insight into gender perception of the working classes and legislative reform that has not been notably explored since the 1980s, such as Massacre of Innocents by Lionel Rose.


Presented at Virginia's Phi Alpha Theta History Conference, March 2015.

Presented at the Works in Progress Conference at Virginia Wesleyan College, March 2015.