Women’s Policy Networks and the Infanticide Act 1922

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This article examines the reason for the passage of the 1922 Infanticide Act, arguing that it owes much to the influence and work of women’s policy networks. Historians have disagreed as to why the Act was passed with relative suddenness in the early 1920s, at a time when infanticide was generally considered a much less pressing social issue than it had been in Victorian England. Moreover, several Bills brought between 1908 and 1913 proposing that the law on this subject be amended so that women who killed their newborns no longer faced the death penalty had all failed. Importantly, the roles of juror and lay magistrate had become open to women in 1920, following the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The public interest generated by a case of newborn murder tried at the Leicester Assizes in 1921 (particularly amongst women’s organizations, including the suffragette group the Women’s Freedom League) led several leading women with political connections to push for a change in the law. Without the pressure these women could bring to bear on civil servants and politicians, attempts to bring in new legislation on infanticide would have been postponed well into the twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-463
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2010


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