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In a recent and valuable history of British working women, Helen McCarthy suggests that the loneliness of mothers first entered the public domain in the early twentieth century. Forced to contend with a new bloc of voters, runs her argument, politicians identified what they saw as a dilemma of isolation. Perhaps policy could respond to the housewife’s needs. The public discussion was agnostic on several points, most tellingly on whether children could be companionable. Was a mother alone when she was with her children? Did they cause or alleviate her sequestration at home? What, exactly, needed solving? This paper takes the early twentieth-century discussion as prompt to a broader exploration of how we give a history to maternity, care and solitude. Focusing on the care relations of middle childhood, the paper brings into conversation usually divergent histories of solitude, labour and social reproduction.


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