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Title: Working-class women's diet and pregnancy in the long nineteenth century : what women ate, why, and its effect on their health and their offspring
Author: Mauriello, Tani Ann
ISNI:       0000 0004 2676 149X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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Food historians have revealed that what constituted a working-class British woman's diet in the nineteenth century was quite different in calorific and nutritional content from what her family consumed. This work explores the nineteenth-century maternal diet and the effect this nutritional inequality had on the health of women and their infants. Divided into three sections, this dissertation deals with different aspects of nineteenth-century maternal nutrition. Section one explores the nineteenth-century medical understanding of diet, as well as the influences of class and traditional beliefs on eating habits, and how these factors determined the diet prescribed to mothers during pregnancy. Section two investigates the factors that perpetuated the unequal distribution and consumption of food within households. Factors explored include regional variations in working-class diet; gender associations with foods; economic changes in material wealth and expectations, and the pressures of respectability on female food denial. This section concludes that food refusal and unequal distribution were reinforced throughout the long nineteenth century because these behaviours appeared to have value, real or imagined, as long-term economic strategies. Food refusal maintained respectability, and helped women secure an economic support network. Mothers' self-denial seems to have secured the economic loyalties of children, making her the recipient of their income. The final section addresses how deprivation and dietary changes affected infant and maternal health, specifically examining how insufficient vitamin D and rickets influenced birth outcomes, and how the switch from a rural diet to an urban diet contributed to a rise in neural tube disorders in Wales. The analysis of childbirth data revealed a significant correlation between rickets and childbirth complications. The findings of this section also suggest that the dietary changes that followed migration and the change from an agricultural lifestyle to a market-integrated, industrial lifestyle for a majority of the Welsh population reduced women's intake of folic acid leaving their children susceptible to neural tube disorders.
Supervisor: Humphries, Jane Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; Nineteenth-Century Britain and Europe ; Economic and Social History ; food ; diet ; nutrition ; motherhood ; spina bifida ; childbirth ; 19th century