Lesbian Mothers and Practices of Conception in Post-war Britain


Rebecca Jennings will draw on her current research into lesbian relationships and parenting practices in post-war Britain and Australia to explore the history of lesbian motherhood in Britain between 1945 and 1978.  This was a period when cultural attitudes largely assumed that it was impossible to be both a lesbian and a mother.  In the immediate post-war decades, same-sex attracted women typically understood marriage as the only socially acceptable and economically viable route into motherhood and many of these women struggled to conceal or repress their desires for other women and maintain the appearance of a happy marriage.  Drawing on press reports and accounts from lesbian mothers themselves, the talk will consider the difficulties such women experienced in combining marriage and motherhood with a lesbian identity, and the consequences of a breakdown in the marital relationship, including a growing number of child custody disputes in the 1970s.  The 1970s also witnessed the beginning of a shift toward new models of lesbian motherhood with the impact of reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination on lesbian practices of conception. The 1978 media scandal around lesbian motherhood offers an opportunity to explore cultural constructions of lesbian motherhood at this time and the talk will trace social attitudes and shifting practices of lesbian motherhood in this period.

Rebecca Jennings completed her PhD at the University of Manchester, where she taught for a few years before taking up a research fellowship at Macquarie University, Sydney. After moving back to the UK she joined UCL History, where she was a teaching fellow for some years before being appointed lecturer in 2018.

Rebecca teaches on the history of gender and sexuality in modern Britain. Her research focuses on twentieth-century British and Australian lesbian history and she is the author of Tomboys and Bachelor Girls: A lesbian history of post-war Britain (2007); A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and sex between women since 1500 (2007); and Unnamed Desires: A Sydney lesbian history (2015). Rebecca is currently completing a monograph arising from her Australian Research Council-funded research into 'Lesbian Practices of Intimacy in Britain and Australia, 1945-2010', which traces lesbian relationship models and parenting practices in post-war Britain and Australia.