Archive for ‘history’

July 22, 2008

Famous teenage mothers

Checking SiteMeter just now, I noticed that someone had reached my post, “In praise of teenage motherhood” via a Google search for the term “famous teenage mothers.” Given this evidence of curiosity on the topic, let me cite my two all-time favorite teen mothers:

  • Loretta Lynn — Loretta Webb of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, was only 13 when she married Doolittle “Mooney” Lynn. She was a mother of four before she turned 18. She cut her first record when she was 25, and subsequently recorded 16 No. 1 country hits, including classics like “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” her duets with Conway Twitty (among them “After the Fire Is Gone” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”), and her autobiographical signature tune, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
  • Margaret Beaufort — Her grandfather, the Earl of Somerset, was a bastard son of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and Margaret’s own father died when she was a year old. She was originally betrothed as a child to the 9-year-old Duke of Suffolk, but that union was annulled and, at age 12, Margaret became the bride of 24-year-old Edmund Tudor. Within a year, while putting down an insurrection in his native Wales, Edmund died, leaving behind a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with a son she would name Henry. Because the boy was of royal blood, he was forced to flee England during the subsequent War of the Roses over the succession to the crown of Henry VI. During the bloody reign of Richard III, Margaret conspired, with the aid of her third husband, Sir Thomas Stanley, to place her son on the throne and, after emerging the victor at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII.

By all accounts, Margaret was a pious Christian woman of tremendous learning — praised for her fine penmanship in an era when literacy among women was rare — and, during her son’s reign, became a patron of education, including a generous gift to Oxford University. The student of Margaret’s life will discover that, though records clearly establish her birth at Bledsoe Castle in 1443, some sources list her as being born in 1441, evidently the result of efforts by Victorian-era authors to obscure the fact that she was married at 12.

At any rate, these two ladies — Loretta Lynn and Margaret Beaufort — are a neat historical rebuke to those who insist that teen motherhood must inevitably lead to trailer-park trashdom. Margaret was the teenage mother who gave her country a king. Loretta, of course, became famous as the Queen of Country.

UPDATE 7/23: A reader writes to call my attention to an article by Frederica Mathews-Green:

A woman’s fertility has already begun to decline at 25–one reason the population-control crowd promotes delayed childbearing. . . .
Humans are designed to reproduce in their teens, and they’re potentially very good at it. That’s why they want to so much.
Teen pregnancy is not the problem. Unwed teen pregnancy is the problem.
It’s childbearing outside marriage that causes all the trouble. Restore an environment that supports younger marriage, and you won’t have to fight biology for a decade or more.

The same reader all calls to my attention a liberal writer in Australia who shares a more positive attitude toward teen motherhood:

Our norms are also dominated by the ideology of materialism that is moving women further and further towards unnatural behaviour, pressuring them to have babies later rather than sooner.
This is society’s real problem. Teenage pregnancy is trivial by comparison to suppressed pregnancy.
A healthier society would allow women to have children earlier than they do now. At 32, no matter what people want to believe, the reproductive system is far less robust than it was 10 years earlier.

The Australian liberal prescribes government subsidies for daycare as the solution, a statist approach that I reject. The problem is essentially one of culture, not government policy or economics — but let’s not spoil a bipartisan moment with an argument. And since we seem to be in the “recommended reading” part of the discussion, let me recommend Bethany Torode’s “Confessions of a Teenage Mom.”