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Feature Article - "Love Child": Single Motherhood in Late Twentieth Century New Zealand

"Love Child": Single Motherhood in Late Twentieth Century New Zealand.

Ione Cussen

A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in history, the University of Auckland, 2016.

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“When I decided to focus my thesis on the homes for unwed mothers in New Zealand during the 1950 – 1970’s, I carried an array of expectations with me. I expected to find stories of human tragedy, of women who had nobody to turn to, who were lost, scared, and pregnant. I expected to find communities who shamed and shunned these women, who misunderstood their situations, who judged them without knowing their stories. I expected to find a world of closed ears and eyes, of people who were not willing to give these women a second chance, who saw them as “ruined”.

Sitting in the Salvation Army archive, down a little suburban street in Wellington, my expectations were shattered. It was here that I read letter after letter, written by women who had the same expectations that I did, who were scared, lost and most definitely pregnant, but found the support they so desperately needed out of the Bethany Homes. There were letters of “thanks for everything”, letters of “with all my love”, and letters of “I don’t know what I would have done without you”.

So begins the introduction to a Masters Thesis written by Ione Cussen titled “Love Child: Single Motherhood in Late Twentieth Century New Zealand". The text is both academically rigorous and highly readable. It is a valuable historical and sociological resource as well as a satisfying and engaging read and focuses on “the role of homes for unwed mothers in Auckland, primarily the facilities provided by The Salvation Army and the Motherhood of Man Movement.” 

Chapter two focuses on The Salvation Army’s Bethany home in Auckland and two of its matrons, Captain (later Major) Thelma Smith and Major Eunice Eichler. Ione writes, “Throughout my research, countless sources have referred to the political vigour and personal compassion of both Captain Smith and Major Eichler. Over their combined forty-two years at Bethany, they emerge as ceaseless and passionate advocates for the rights and welfare of mothers: be they single or otherwise.”


Major Thelma Smith                                        Major Eunice Eichler


The Salvation Army Heritage Centre and Archive wishes to express its gratitude to Ione for her work in researching and writing this thesis and her permission to make it available via this webpage. 

Bio note: Ione Cussen has recently completed her Master's degree in History at the University of Auckland, where she also achieved her Bachelor of Arts and BA Honours degrees. In 2015, Ione was awarded the Auckland War Memorial Museum's Nancy Bamford Grant for her research on single motherhood in New Zealand. She currently works in an academic research capacity in Auckland.