Anti-vaccination and the Politics of Grief for Children in Late Victorian England

  • Lydia Murdoch
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


This chapter sets out to explore the public and explicitly political forms of mourning for children in nineteenth-century England, using the protest movement against compulsory smallpox vaccination for infants as a case study. In Victorian England, grief took on new communal forms often associated with the body and material culture. For example, Jay’s London General Mourning Warehouse on Regent Street opened in 1841, providing elite mourners with fashionable clothing and setting off a commercial industry. It was here that wealthy women could purchase black mourning dresses from the required ‘list of silks, crapes, paramattas, cashmeres, grenadines, and tulles’ to meet the latest fashions that changed, according to Jay’s, ‘not only every month, but well-nigh every week’.1 Less well-off women resorted to pawnshops, borrowed dresses or dyed one of their own black out of respect for the dead.2 The private emotional state of bereavement for the Victorians typically took public and visible, physical forms, epitomized but by no means monopolized by the ‘halo of commercial grandeur’ within Messrs. W. Jay and Company’s expanded shop.3 Funerals became grandiose affairs, from the state service marking the Duke of Wellington’s death in 1852 (where the hearse alone cost £11,000) to working-class burials that nearly always left surviving family members in debt.4


Child Death Child Life Bodily Matter Daily Telegraph Pulsory Vaccination 
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© Lydia Murdoch 2015

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  • Lydia Murdoch

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