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  • Published: 5 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780241962923
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

In the Family Way

Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties

Unmarried mothers, absent fathers, orphaned children - this is a truly gripping book about guilty secrets, family bonds and unlikely heroes

Only a generation or two ago, illegitimacy was one of the most shameful things that could happen in a family.

In the Family Way tells secrets kept for entire lifetimes: long-silent voices from the workhouse, the Magdalene Laundry or the distant mother-and-baby home. Anonymous childhoods are recalled, spent in the care of Dr Barnardo or a Child Migration scheme halfway across the world.

There are sorrowful stories in this book, but it is also about hope: about supportive families who welcomed 'love-children' home, or those who were parted and are now reconciled. Most of all, In the Family Way is about finally telling the truth.

  • Published: 5 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780241962923
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

About the author

Jane Robinson

Jane Robinson is also the author of Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Piligrimage and How Women Won the Vote and Bluestockings: the Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education. She was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Yorkshire before going to Oxford University to study English Language and Literature at Somerville College. She has worked in the antiquarian book trade and as an archivist and is now a full-time writer and lecturer, specialising in social history through women's eyes. She is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, member of the Society of Authors, and founder member of Writers in Oxford. She is married with two sons and lives in Buckinghamshire. Ladies Can't Climb Ladders is her eleventh book.

Also by Jane Robinson

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Praise for In the Family Way

An important social history tracked through personal stories that need to be heard, and will soon be beyond memory. They are not all harrowing. Compassion breaks through the stony ground

Daily Telegraph

The great surprise in Jane Robinson's new history of mid-century illegitimacy is how long these opinions - the children may be blameless, but assisting them would mean condoning the intemperance of their mothers - persisted. Robinson has made contact with 100 unmarried mothers and their progeny and deftly interweaves their stories with the political and institutional history


A tragic litany of society's readiness to blame the most vulnerable for their own misfortunes . . . In the Family Way is full of heart-wrenching stories of young women kept in ignorance of the facts of life. Robinson has a good eye for the human story and the affecting detail that brings alive the hypocritical moral landscape of the period

Sunday Times

Robinson has worked to give back a voice to those not traditionally allowed one . . . Taken together, the individual stories of secrecy and enforced separation form a powerful testament to the hypocrisy and cruelty of our culture


[In the Family Way's] heart is firmly in the right place. It is a book that makes a woman want to reach for an AK47 to avenge the past; or at the very least to buy a copy to politicize their daughters

Melanie Reid, Times

The closer Robinson's survey comes to our own day, the more shocking it grows . . . In the Family Way is not, incidentally, without its funny side. I particularly enjoyed this

Mail on Sunday

Jane Robinson has managed to elicit over 100 personal accounts of illegitimacy and it is these letters and interviews that give the book its force - that, and the author's manifest warm-heartedness. The book is grounded in testimonies from real people - heartbreaking, some of them

Melanie McDonagh, Spectator

In the Family Way is both engaging and incredibly moving and will strike a profound chord with many readers

Sunday Express

Riveting . . . Part of the book's charm is its subtle interweaving of personal accounts with astute historical analysis

BBC History Magazine

Incredibly touching . . . Robinson reveals family secrets kept for entire lifetimes. Full of poignant memories of illegitimate children brought up between WW1 and the 1960s, this is an elegant and compassionately written examination, with a thought-provoking sting in its tail

Family Tree

I am one of the women written about in Jane Robinson's In the Family Way. I was put in one of the homes by a mother who cared more about what the neighbours thought than how I would feel when she was taken away from me for adoption. They were awful times and Jane has done a great service by writing this book. So many people I have spoken to recently did not even know these places existed, but to myself and all the other young mothers involved they will never be forgotten. Thank you Jane for exposing it for all to see!

Pauline Roberts (Amazon Review)

Social history of the best kind

Sunday Times (on 'Bluestockings')

Robinson discovered many older people still damaged by being or bearing an illegitimate child. They swamped her with testimonies, but it is telling that almost all of the 100 interviewees asked to remain anonymous

Telegraph, Best Non-Fiction Books of 2015