Friday, June 12, 2015

The Deadly Mrs. Edwards, Baby Farmer

Today, on the Pack of Trouble Tour, 
I want you to meet the Deadly Mrs. Edwards.

When Vic arrives to rescue Julia/Justine, she discovers the endearing sweet child of Mrs. Abigail's memory is no more. 
That sweet young girl had disappeared years ago after being forced into playing the role of Justine with her uncle.

All that remains is  a hard core young woman who has no interest in being rescued and no empathy or caring for others. 
The reason she stole her uncle’s books was to force him to send her twenty pounds a month to survive. She had to quit her acting career when she became pregnant.  She had the baby, a tiny little red hair daughter last week.
Julia has tried starving her child, but it makes her uncomfortable watching the child slowly die, so she has decided to put it in the care of Mrs. Edwards, the local baby farmer, for 15 shillings a month and a list of new baby clothings she must provide for the infant. To make the most money she can, the woman will kill the child as quickly as possible and sell its clothes at the pawn shop.

Vic offers Julia another option. Vic will find parents to raise the girl. Julia/Justine will save herself 15 shillings and can return to acting this very night.

After failing to squeeze a better offer from Vic, Julia/Justine signs over her baby to Vic, and one small, innocent child is saved from the soulless Mrs. Edwards.
Mrs. Edwards is a middle-class woman who's husband up and left one day. (Can't really blame him.) Needing money to keep herself alive, she offers to adopt and care for babies other women cannot afford to tend. 

Many of these women are tossed from their family and towns when they are with child but have no husband. The law holds them entirely responsible for the care of the child.

Why would Parliament place the burden on the woman who cannot possibly earn a living wage? Because, inevitably, the accused father would deny it was his. Thus, the cost would become a burden on the public debt.

To stop the 'impoverishment' of England, in 1834 the Poor Laws became quite harsh. Since only the female bearing the child could be determined, she and she alone would be responsible for the welfare and raising of the child. 

Parliament saw this as a tough stance against the excessive cost to care for the poor and stopping pregnancies of unwed mothers by making it impossible for them to survive after their moment of bad judgement or rape. It didn’t matter which, the female was held responsible. And unlike earlier years when families would care for daughters who became pregnant without a husband, either from imprudence or rape and find someone in a local town who wanted a child,  now the entire family will be shunned from their community if they don't send their pregnant daughter away to survive or die on her own. 

So off the girl or young woman would go. While it was possible to get a low paying job in the manufacturing towns, they would fire an unwed woman the moment she began to show her pregnancy. If she survived having the baby, then she might be able to return to a different low paying manufacturing job…no wait. She has a baby and hardly any of the adoption charities would accept the spawns of the devil, so giving it up for adoption to a caring charity was not an option. 

The new laws also excluded unwed pregnant women from entering the poorhouses. So if they could not support themselves or find some one to help them, then they and their child would die. 

The lawmakers actually claimed their harsh stance would be a positive thing for England, that in a short time, there would be no more illegitimate births, and the poor would finally get off their lazy bums and work.

The only chance these women had to survive was to either get rid of the baby or find someone  to care for her baby so she could get a job.

Thus, a new business began. It served the starving unwed mothers who had no way to survive unless they could find someone to care for their child at a cost so low, they could afford it on the meager non-living wage they made. 

Unfortunately, many of those who took up baby farming did so only for the money.

The best profit could be made by intentionally starving to death the babies in their care or just bludgeoning them on the head and tossing them into the Thames. Nothing personal…they had to make a living just like everyone else. You did what you had to do to get by. 

A great many poor and middle-class took up the occupation of being baby farmers. For most of the Victorian era, nothing was done to stop them. A few outrageous cases of clear murder were brought to trial and the women condemned to death but 'child care' was greatly needed by women desperate to return to work and men who'd lost their wives and could not work and care for his children.

This is not to say every child who entered a baby farm died. Some were retrieved before they died, or lucked out and found a decent care giver. But genuine caregivers could barely compete with the bargain prices of the deadly baby farmers. 

A Little Side note about Regency baby farmers:
In the regency era, Jane Austen spent her early years in a foster home. In fact, all the Austen children were fostered out until they became toddlers. (Evidently their mother, or perhaps the father, didn't wish to deal with crying babies.) However, that was in the early century, so while it placed a distance between the eight siblings and their parents, the Austen children all lived to tell about it. After 1834, 'child care' was run by soulless creatures of hell.

In 1872, attempts were made to regulate the baby farmers. Oddly, the New Women (suffragettes) objected, as did many British folks. The New Women objected because if women could not place their babies in someone else's care, they would be unable to procure one of the various jobs which had finally opened to women. And the British folks objected in general because it was their say what to do with their children and not the government's business. 

Thus, baby farmers  remained, for all practical purposes, unregulated until the 20th century, which meant the quality of a caretaker remained 'iffy'. Not every woman dropped off their child so it could be killed. Even if you truly loved your child, and visited it as often as you could, it was still at risk because the optimal money could be made by killing the child right after you submitted your monthly fee. 

Women made far less than men, so they were often constrained in their choices by cost. The deadly baby farmers charged much less than what it would cost the mother to feed her child, even if she could stay home.  

That's because the 'caretaker' would feed the child watered down milk laced with chemicals and sometimes opiates, which would make them eat less, sleep more, and die faster. 

Because infant deaths were not considered unusual in the 19th century, their deaths were usually seen as a normal part of life. 

 If they gave the child to the 'angel maker' (another term used for baby farmers) and paid a princely sum of 12 pounds, the child would be killed as quickly as possible. 

If they actually wanted their child to live, or couldn't afford the princely sum of 12 pounds to kill it outright, then they'd pay 15 shillings a month. However, the best profit could be made by letting it live 1 month and a day, so angel maker made 30 shillings and had spent no more than 5 shillings on the child. And now they had a space open for a new victim.

However, if you were willing to pay a bit more, they might be willing to keep your child alive, but just barely.

If you want the gruesome details on what some real women and men did to these children look up the following monsters.
Margaret Waters   (sentenced to death in 1870 for the intentional death of five children) Believed to have actually killed 19 children. To get the disturbing details....

Amelia Dryer (sentenced to death in 1896) Believed to have killed over 400 children over 20 years.

Women found these services mostly though the papers.

A typical ad might look like this:

NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT -- The Advertiser, a Widow with a little family of her own, and moderate allowance from her late husband's friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent's care. Terms, Fifteen Shillings a month; or would adopt entirely if under two months for the small sum of Twelve pounds

Now, some of you may be worried by the baby's pale grey skin in it's picture above, that it might have died while I wrote this blog. It is close to death, but Vic takes it straight to Dr. Connors. She names it Maddy, which was the name of her aunt who took Vic and Claire in when they became orphans. I would never name it such if I planned to let it die. 

However, to find out what happens next, you'll need to buy Book 5 of the Adventures of Xavier & Vic: Pack of Trouble.

And the baby on the cover is NOT Maddy. That's Vic's baby. She named it Cannonball, only Xavier insisted that name would result in great teasing, so she's shortened it to Cannon.


  1. A lot of information packed into one excellent post, Liza. Thank you for sharing.
    I don't like this Mrs. Edwards!! But I love your books!! :-)

    1. Yeah, I really really really don't like the real women who murdered the babies in their 'care'.
      How soulless do you have to be to go in that profession?

    2. It's a very sad reminder of a time in history. I remember the first time I read The Giver, the part about the twins, and I almost cried. The things these women did are abominable! I wonder what people 200 years from now will say about some of the things people have done in the 21st century.

  2. What a scary thing for women and children! I'm glad there was someone like Vic to take in Maddy. I wish that there were more people who would do that!

    1. It truly was horrific. Makes Jack the Ripper seem like a nice guy. These baby farms killed far more babies than Jack did women. And I am certain Jack was the queen's grandson who would have eventually been king, if not for his sudden death at which point the murders stopped. And while the queen was slow to stop the Ripper, Parliament was even slower to stop the commercialized murder of children. There was a very dark side to the Victorian era. Very dark indeed.


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