Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 21: Dependent Mothers

Problems of the Age: 21: Dependent Mothers

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXI. – Dependent Mothers

A Serious Problem. – One of the big economic problems of the future will be the fostering care of widows with children to care for. In our own country thirty states have made provision by law for the support of children whose mothers were not able to care for them. These enactments were passed without regard to the war. When it is over, it is easy to imagine the great burden which such unsupported children will cast upon the nations of the earth. I may include in those mentioned the great numbers who are and will be born out of wedlock. Children are a great asset to the world, but aside from economic considerations, there will be involved the question of humanity. When the war broke out there was a wave of immorality that resulted in many thousands of so-called war babies. The untold number of children dependent on the state for support may well approximate many million. It was a great step the world took when it was decided that children were entitled to an education by the state. The question of the value of an education to the state is subordinate to the question of life itself to the state. The burden will be enormous, and it is likely through divorce and illegitimacy, to grow beyond our wildest imagination. What we know of taxation will be incomparable with what we have yet to learn. It may reach the breaking point, and result in great social disorder. It is so serious already that thoughtful men are preparing our minds for what is certain to be a crucial ordeal. Flor years there will be no escape from the load we shall have to carry. It is of course easy to imagine that attempts will be made to avoid it by the practice of race suicide. But could the world deliberately destroy itself? The spirit of self-destruction is rife in war. Is there no remedy? We are in a state of intolerable darkness. It is easier to wonder than it is to know what the world will do. There has always been in the past some redeeming power against universal destruction. A world practically without religion is on trial.

A Fatherless Home. – A new world problem also arises. How can children be reared without father? Is the father a necessary factor in the home, independent of the material support he gives? Judge Niel of Chicago, who is now in London in the interest of his propaganda for the state support of fatherless children, and who for years past has been the leading advocate of this doctrine in the United States, has this to say, according to the New York Sunday Sun of September 9, 1917:

Where the mother is trained in mothercraft, as in some states, and given sufficient support so that she can buy food, clothes and shelter, and keep her children in health, a far smaller number of youngsters get into the juvenile courts than in the case where a father of inferior grade is around. The presence of a father is not necessary to the successful rearing of a child. The disadvantages of fathers probably are the result principally of the low wage system, but as things are, fathers usually fuss and make general nuisances of themselves about the house.

Careful study has shown that homes under the mothers’ pension system, in which no father appears at all, are better than those in which low wage fathers are present daily.

This tends toward the natural condition, because most women would rather be respectably married mothers rearing children than unmarried operatives in a factory or employees of an office. If normal women are given the opportunity of being wives and independent mothers, this will decrease also the prostitution problem, for, speaking generally, there never is a prostitution problem in the psychology of any woman till her mother instincts have been outraged. That is something worthy of much thought. The world is now confronted with the problem of raising great masses of children without the supervision of fathers. It is entirely new, but on the success of its solution will depend the race in Europe and perhaps in America twenty years from now. If the state sees that mothers have an opportunity of properly rearing their own children, the killing off of the men which has occurred during this war will be comparatively of slight importance, for twenty years from now the nation will be made up of the children of today, not of the men who would have lived in peace, but instead died in war.

State pensions for all mothers under the changed conditions will certainly give encouragement for an unnumbered mass of illegitimate children.

Will men who must bear the major portion of this load consent to it? Will they set up a distinction between the unmarried mother and the mother who has been through a divorcement; between the mother whose husband has died and the mother who has deliberately sought motherhood in response to the maternal instinct with which she is endowed?

Will the fathers of the children of these unmarried mothers be dragged into the court and forced by law to support their children? It might be easier and cheaper for the state to support the children than to multiply the courts and other agencies to enforce their support. The whole thing is a whirligig, which ever way we look at it. Before legislatures consent to such a wholesale draft upon the public treasury, they may yield, for economic reasons, to a growing demand for education in the art of birth control. Birth control would claim the best of arguments. Our moral intuitions and religious standards are breaking down from the sheer weight of economic necessity. It’s all a labyrinth. God no doubt has a way out for his children, but they are at sea.

Illegitimate Children. – Illegitimate children are multiplying, so are the children of divorces. Is there a great difference between those who see an easy way out and those who get in wrong? The great encouragement for the birth of all classes will be the need of an increased population.

Judge Niel further says:

Germany is caring for all illegitimate children and looking after the mothers as well as during and after birth. An official statement says that three million such children now are being cared for by the state. Neither in the case of legitimate or in that of illegitimate are the mothers allowed to work for a considerable period before and after the birth of a child.

In Australia every mother, married or unmarried, who gives birth to a living child gets £5, or about twenty-five dollars; whether she be married or unmarried, rich or poor. Manitoba has just passed a mothers’ pension law.

To me these millions of children who must be reared without financial aid from fathers obviously present the biggest problem that the world has ever seen. Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Germany, Austria, and perhaps America will find themselves unable to continue by the old methods and still survive as nations. If the widows and orphans of this war are permitted to struggle unaided through their lives and to be degenerated by inevitable poverty, decades of progress will be lost thereby.

The computation of the present load upon the state is not the end of the solution. Myriads of widows and unmarried mothers will go on having children. The mother instinct will grow by what it feeds upon. The dimensions are beyond calculation. It means chaos. Order will have to be evolved from it. Sane methods and correct principles will have to be seriously worked out.

The Religious Side. – Another danger arises in the midst of it all. Will men marry? Why assume a responsibility they can let the state carry? What will become of the whole marriage system? the undertaking will have serious dangers for the state. The state argument breaks down. The whole question is not political; it is not economic fundamentally. It is religious. Is the world ready for religion? There are numerous examples in history of religious break-downs. The sorrowful thing of it all is that the restoration of religion is one of the last phases of regeneration. Think of what we have yet to pass through between the fall of the old and the birth of the new! The world must certainly travail in pain.

The World’s Burden. – The situation is not improved by the light-minded manner in which the subject is treated by those who make a jest of it all. It is not a passing world mood. It will grow into the fulness of a world calamity. Its weight will repress every part of our physical, moral, and intellectual natures. No class will escape it. The rich will stare at bankruptcy and the poor will groan. Wounded men by the millions will also become a load upon the state. The world has never seen anything like it. There will be great masses of children who have neither father no mother. War brings diseases, and the severe strain of mothers now in munition plants and in other works requiring the most strenuous life will break down from the excessive strain put upon them. Women’s nerves will give way till hundreds of thousands of them will die. The nations will have a heavy load to carry in the support of children who have neither father nor mother. Then there will arise another problem, the question of employment. Before children are ready to assume the independent status of manhood, there will be a long period when their labors must be under some sort of guidance and control. Who will employ them? The state? Can private enterprise be depended upon to absorb such labor? Much of the labor nowadays is transient, a few weeks or months here, and a few months there. It would be dangerous to turn out so many thousands into what really represents tramp life.

Indifference. – “We should solve these things when we come to them,” the indifferent may say. But there are many things we ought not to come to. Britain left the matter of war till she came to it. It resulted in wholesale slaughter of human life. Sometimes the “leaving of things” is the worst phase of the difficulty. It is all confusion madly confounded. Neither may men in such an age be indifferent to impending calamities. A message has been revealed, and great effort put forth to deliver it. It has been scantily received.

If this miscellaneous child life is thrown helpless and uncared for upon the world, what physical and moral dangers must come to it! If demoralization comes to it, it will impregnate all child life. The state will suffer, and society deteriorate. “Where is wisdom?” asked a noble ancient. Human wisdom is in the scales. Will it be found wanting? There was once a handwriting on the wall. There is again, and its interpretation has already been given.

Revelation. – “And the time cometh speedily that great things are to be shown forth unto the children of men;

“But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolation upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.

“And there are none that doeth good, except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel which I have sent forth unto this generation.

“Wherefore, I have called upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my spirit” (Doc. and Cov. 35:11-13).


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