Peckham Experiment 14 Social Poverty

IN the Centre the smooth lines of functional action, or health, begin to stand out as the highlights of a relief wrought of the living medium of the family membership. But the very prominence of this ‘action pattern’ of the family, illumined as it is for us by a hypothesis of biological function, only serves to accentuate and to deepen the shadows of the background from which the relief rises. Thus, by the very sharpness of the contrast, we gain not only a knowledge of function, but also a clearer understanding of the nature of the negation of function—its pathological anatomy and, more important still, its aetiology or origin.

Everyone knows of this dark background of habituated and reactionary existence. Never before, as in the Centre, has it been tracked to its lair, curled in the embryonic or new-born nucleus of the home; nor have the stages of its growth been displayed in their sequence under the very eye of the observer:— the child conceived of parents in whom no functional unity has been established, parents in whose bodies before conception deficiency and disorder lie cloaked from knowledge; the child, epitome of potentiality, carried with diminishing vigour as it grows in the womb, to be born into nestless nakedness and, in the starved travesty of a home, reared in uncultured bondage; at last, ill-nurtured, to escape into the unfamiliar welter of a society disintegrated as the family from which he issued, thereto breed his like again.

Every week families in one stage or other of such dissolution join the Centre, many crossing its threshold only to quit—as quickly as they come—an atmosphere too strong, too vigorous for their ineptitude, their wilting strength or short-lived efforts. The post-marriage history of any such family—should it manage to stay at all—is written clearly for us in the physique of each one of the individuals that go to make it up and also in the general conduct of the family as a disrupted unit; as well as being told in the story that grows out of the family consultation and their subsequent use of the Centre.

Social Starvation

There was the young married woman, just about Flo’s age, whose husband’s work made it impossible for him ever to come to the Centre with her, but for whose benefit he eagerly welcomed their membership. She came several afternoons a week for two or three weeks. Alternating between fear and shyness, she sat watching the bath and the constant stream of activity in and about the cafeteria. She declined politely—and one felt with a sincere reluctance—any invitation to enter into anything that was going on. “No, I couldn’t”. Contorted with shyness, hesitantly she could utter but one short halting sentence in acknowledgment of any attempt to draw her into conversation or into any casual tea time group. Still she sat until one day her eyes filling with tears, she rushed from the building never to be seen again. In the loneliness and starvation of her unfacultised social encystment, she was unable to stand the strain that the presence and sight of social action put upon her. Drawn to seek company, this young wife was driven by contact with it to the limits of physical flight. And this is no unique case; hers was but an extreme example of a young family planted and left to grow in an impoverished and barren social soil. On any afternoon there are to be seen in the Centre many tea time groups of three, six, ten women, talking together in easy friendliness. It is still as astonishing to us as it is to the visitor who sees them for the first time that, if questioned, nine out of ten of these young women will answer—”No, I hadn’t a friend before I joined the Centre”.

Baby with mothers

Out of Nature’s ample endowment, the young urban family builds through no fault of its own, not a rich protean body— a home that grows out from the nucleus of parenthood, but a poor hovel of sleeping and eating, breeding and clothing. For all too often the family holds no converse with the outside world; its functional scope is restricted to its own hearth and there is little to sustain and to feed its members but what happens within the four walls of the house. Compelled thus by circumstance endogenously to consume its own products, the exploratory tentacles of the family are withdrawn, and, shrunken around its nucleus, there forms a hard resistant crust of suspicion and defence. In the poverty of present-day social life, even those with healthy appetites are forced in upon themselves, the family being driven to sustain itself egotistically—instead of altruistically in mutual synthesis with its environment. Thus is the soil prepared for the reception of the child!

As the couple fail to make contact with acquaintances and friends, and as they fail to find a natural social field of experience, they entrench themselves in the subterfuges and substitutes not of intimacy but of contiguity. So there are most surely laid down the foundations of all their subsequent problems and difficulties with themselves individually, with each other and with their children.

For some families, even for some quite young families as we have seen, the chances for development opened to them by the Centre come too late. But not for all, nor even for the majority. The power of development and the power of recoverability vary greatly from family to family, usually, though not invariably, decreasing as age advances. Let us describe one or two families as they were at the time they joined, and trace the course of their development as we have been able to watch it.

Mr. and Mrs. X had been married seven years and had two children aged four and two. The wife was fat, flabby, constipated, dressed in slovenly clothes, was suspicious, diffident and negative. The husband was overweight, irritable with his wife in private, in public alternating between over-confidence and shyness. The elder child was undernourished, anaemic (lack of night sleep and worms), bit her nails, was a wriggler, a bed-wetter, lisped, was furtive, and when among the other children conspicuous for her inability to share in any of their activities. The baby was fat, of uniform pallor, with a rubberoid slightly sweating skin; was overclothed, inactive, listless; though two years old was unable to walk steadily and unable to speak except in words ill-pronounced; was carried everywhere, all attempts at adventure being restrained by its parents who pacified it alternately with sweets, dummy or biscuits. Before marriage the husband had been a keen boxer, used to go to “the Club” three nights a week, had several men friends, and was a swimmer—all of which had been foregone since marriage. The wife had been a shop-assistant and had never helped in the dignities of the house before her marriage. Now incapable of achievement—still less of adventure—in house-keeping, cooking or in any social direction, she had no sense of home-making and no friends. She had been ill during her first pregnancy, injured at the confinement, and had “never been right” since. She was incapable of managing the children, the elder one, aged 4, being already beyond her.

What had been their life together since marriage? The husband, a vandriver in steady work, got up at 6 a.m., took his wife tea and made his own breakfast before going to work. The wife got up at 9 or 9.30 and gave the children their breakfast about 10 o’clock. She cooked a desultory dinner of one course; walked up and down the shopping street three or four afternoons a week with the baby strapped into the pram, the elder child dragging beside her; went to the park once a week, speaking to no one and coming home early because the elder child was fretful; knew no-one except for a passing acquaintance with the grocer’s wife round the corner, and her in-laws, with whom she was on the defensive and did not find herself in sympathy. The husband came home to a hotted-up meal, stood for half an hour or more beside the cot of the elder child—who refused to go to bed or to sleep if he were not there. So at 9.30, or later, he went off to the billiard hall for a little recreation or to the pub till closing time, leaving his wife to see that the children came to no harm. Or, in another family where the husband was too kind to leave his wife on her own, both stayed at home every night and had done so ever since the first child arrived. He taciturn, sat with his feet on the mantleshelf; she brooded on his silence in resentment. There was nowhere to go together in the evenings except “the pictures” and they could not leave the children in the house alone. So, knowing no-one who would “mind them” they never went anywhere. Night by night their long drawn out silences were cloaked in the blare of a thirty guinea loud-speaker.

Playing snooker

So all this husband had done since marriage was to work. And for what? Both he and his wife were disillusioned; life to them had become stagnant, if not sour. There are no sensitive tentacles nor lively growing points from such a home, feeling and thrusting their way bit by bit into the nearby environment; tasting, testing new experience and affording a continuous flow of nutriment for embodiment in that home. No experience comes to this would-be unity and all its members alike are the victims of functional starvation.

And these are not pictures of families standing out vividly by reason of their rarity. Varying but slightly in detail, this story of early married life is repeated with monotonous regularity. It is however the final chapters only that are generally known, and they are to be found written down in full in the notes of doctors, psychopathologists, almoners, social workers, child guidance specialists, magistrates, probation officers, solicitors—all of whom are continually encountering every form of chronic and acute disease and disorder in the home; disharmony, neurasthenia, inebriety, ‘suburban neurosis’, causes for divorce, parental neglect or incompetence, the difficult child, the young offender; suspicion, retreat and anti-social behaviour of all sorts. The reader will know only too well how common all these are—and in all classes of society.

Experience in the Centre has made it very clear to us that the origin of these troubles lies, primarily, in the nature and circumstances of mating and early marriage. It is as though, as in the picture we have given earlier of the infant not weaned on to a fuller diet in due season, the young family equally starved of suitable nutriment in its appetitive phases for adventure, develops not only the physical pathology of inanition, but a psycho-pathology as directly contingent upon deprivation as is the puling and contrariness of the partially starved infant. Underfed too long, a refractory period ensues for the family, and the disturbance spreads over the whole field of action displaying evidences of physical, mental and social pathology alike.

Here is the story of Mr. and Mrs. X., the family cited above, once they became members of the Centre. The father joined the boxing club, boxed and within four months was found instructing a group of boys. At the first family consultation the mother was referred to a gynaecologist for her disorder to be adjusted. Thereafter she went to the “Keep Fit” class, learnt to swim, meeting various people and becoming friendly in the course of her struggles in the water. Both husband and wife lost weight, moved about more briskly, looked healthier; eventually both played badminton together with their friends, and built up a social circle of their own, coming out perhaps two evenings a week. The husband became Secretary of the Badminton Club; his wife’s dressing improved enormously—she even attempted, with the help of a friend, to make herself a summer frock, a thing she had never thought of doing before. Much care was given at the Centre to the eradication of the elder child’s infestation with worms. She gained weight, mixed with other children, got over her wriggling and bed-wetting and on being put to bed went to sleep at once without her father’s attention. The baby was brought to the Nursery five afternoons a week, and within a month was walking firmly and sitting up at table with the other children. At 24 it was going to the gym and to the Babies’ Bath, It acquired a colour, its flesh became firm, its mentality active, its personality almost winning.

This is a concise record of the change that came about in this family, but it gives no picture of the gradual and often painful stages by which they climbed, now with hesitation and now with over-eagerness, out of the incarceration and ineptitude to which all alike had succumbed. Satisfactory as was this progress, it was clear to us that, having encountered these opportunities late in their marriage, the parents’ actions were not more than compensative measures, and that it was too late to affect the basic constitutional make-up of the elder child and possibly of both children. Had these opportunities been available at the time of courtship and early marriage, how different would have been the home that family would have grown about them!

It must be emphasised in this connection that these changes towards more healthy action which occurred as a result of membership of the Centre were unassociated with any change in the wage level or other economic factor operating upon the family.

Let us take another family of better education;—a fine upstanding man of 28 and his wife three years his junior, a good looking girl of great charm and dignity. They have been married three years and have a small girl of eighteen months. The husband is in one of the departments of the Civil Service, where he has the possibility of rising. She, formerly an expert accountant, is a capable woman with a considerable accomplishment as a singer. Both have distinct social gifts; they have a well-appointed fiat and a politely mannered child, though too strictly kept and parentbound. An occasional friend comes to their flat, they make an occasional return visit, but the wife has no adequate outlet for her gifts as a singer nor as a hostess, nor any chance of helping her husband to take the place in the world of which she knows him capable. Both have a diffidence not to be explained on first encounter, and the man lacks confidence to seek the promotion he merits.

They are very fond of one another and they are making every ‘sacrifice’ for the child and its education—an unconscious compensation for their intuitive sense of their own lack of fulfilment. He is at times irritable with her, and what is worse to her with the child. This makes her critical of him. Their intimate marriage relations are difficult and infrequent because distasteful to her. They feel greatly the responsibility of bringing up children, and, ambitious for the career of their only one, are eschewing further children. It soon becomes apparent that the wife is not far off a nervous breakdown; tears are very near her eyes at the beginning of their first Family Consultation.

On joining the Centre this family move about shyly and discriminately for the first few months. They dance together occasionally but only gradually make new friends. They join the Concert Party; they learn to fence. During this time their marriage relationships begin to smooth out and deepen owing to a better understanding of their difficulties gained at the Family Consultation. At the next Christmas Party the wife sings, with great success. Their life is opening out; they come to know more people. He grows in confidence. By the end of the second year he decides to seek promotion, works for his examination and passes—which he might well have done three years earlier . . . The next autumn by mutual design they decide to have another child. They now make use of the ‘medical’ department both before and during the pregnancy to make sure that they are as fit as they can be, and that the wife’s reserves are being maintained. All goes well. They have been able to make use of the knowledge and the other chances the Centre holds for them. With the husband’s now increasing scope in his job they move into a still wider social circle. Meanwhile quite unconsciously the wife has become an educative force with the other mothers among whom she moves with an easy grace and a fund of good sense. At the end of the third periodic health Overhaul they look back on their life: “How little we dreamt three years ago that we should ever be doing all the things we have done in these last two years ‘” The Centre came in time for this family. Life has acquired a verve and a significance for them ; they are no longer afraid of it.

The great potentiality of this family had failed to find expression for want of any natural flow in society. Which way a family will move, whether towards a fuller development, or downhill into apathy, social starvation and disease, is determined by the social soil in which it grows. The Centre has demonstrated that this soil is capable of cultivation.

Ebb of the Instinct for Nurture in Womanhood

In the periodic health overhaul we have found a higher proportion of untreated disease, disorder and deficiency in women, particularly between the ages of 20 and 45. than in men. So also in the social life of the Centre, we find the deficiencies of a relatively inflexible and inadequate social environment afflicting women more than men. In the unhappy state of modern urban life, the man has his legitimate work and though it often fails to give him the scope he needs and the opportunities he could take, and though it leaves him in most cases with little or no leisure to share with his family, his interests are usually just sufficient to protect him from the stagnation which afflicts the rest of the family. He is comparatively well off. With the woman it is different; marriage is apt to lead her into conditions in which social stagnation and inaction are almost unavoidable, even have circumstances allowed her to develop her potentialities before that date—which is far from usual.

When we piece together information gathered from the periodic overhauls, family consultations, and from observation of the actions of the growing girls and young women in the Centre, we gain a sorry picture of the functional development of the average young artisan woman coming to marriage. She is of an age to have been born at the time when a whole concatenation of events occurred to bring about far-reaching changes in the domestic life of her parents and their home. It was a time when there was rapid increase in the wages of her parents; when the six-roomed cottage was replaced by the three-roomed flat; when cheap goods began to flood the market so that the making at home of the man’s shirts and socks and the children’s clothes became unnecessary; when lack of accommodation made the taking-in of washing impossible and when the commercial laundry and the bag-wash met the new need and ability to put the family washing out; when the quick gas-stove running to the tick of a slot-machine replaced the continuously burning kitchen range, and at the same time cooked and tinned foods requiring the minimum of skill in preparation, became universally available. These changes, all coming together as they largely did, suddenly released her mother from the burden of her earlier domesticity. With less work and more money, but with no further education and without increase in suitable outlets enabling her to use her new-found leisure, this mother, previously attuned to ceaseless toil suddenly, found herself in a void. With what result? The focus of her attention and interest turned in upon her children on whom she now began to wait hand and foot. Moreover—and perhaps more significant than all other changes—about the same time the large family was coming to be replaced by the small one, or even by the only child.

So it is not at all uncommon to find a girl—throughout childhood the sole focus of her mother’s attention—who as a schoolgirl of 11 or 12 is wakened by her mother with an early cup of tea! She has never been allowed—far less expected—to do a hand’s turn in the work of the house, and has never even mended her own clothes nor cleaned her own shoes. She goes from primary school to secondary school or commercial college and becomes a “lady clerk”. Her wages enable her to dress smartly; she goes about in the car or pillion riding with her men friends; she is able to go to many dances and to pay for a yearly holiday away from home. Sailing through her young life under the auxiliary power of maternal solicitude she has lived without any need whatsoever for knowledge or experience of domesticity. Its arts are a closed book to her; often distasteful, dreary and difficult.

What then happens when she comes to marriage? Not only does she bring no “bottom drawer” on the preparation of which she and her mother have been dwelling since the time of her adolescence, but she brings no dowry of skill. Leaving behind many of the pleasures of the old life, she comes to a new, and what functionally should be a fuller life, without any particular gift or aptitude for it. No apprenticeship served about her mother’s house, no indwelling upon and preparation of trousseau have measure by measure stirred what may well be the endocrinological responses of this girl; and the education she has received in its place being modelled upon that of her brother— man’s education—has not fulfilled this natural need intuitively recognised by the wise women of the past. So, in her life precast in the present mould, no appetitive phase for this knowledge has ever stirred.

After “walking out” for several years, or spending her leisure and her wages with her boy in the public dance hall—where there are aggregated a crowd of dissociated entities, socially unrelated one to another—and the cinema, she leaves her old home and marries. The pair furnish their two-and-a-half room flat ‘en suite’; often on the hire-purchase system, so that there is nothing left for the young wife to do to complete its equipment. They live either on pre-cooked or tinned foods, or suffer the girl’s unaided experiments in cooking. These may be amusing at first, but soon become discouraging and the attempt quickly slips into an easy and monotonous lack of inventiveness. By the time the baby comes—all too often an unwanted accident— we find her still ignorant of how to make even a milk pudding or a soup for its weaning.

The prevailing ignorance of the young mother in domestic matters is becoming generally recognised. The remedy usually prescribed is courses in cookery and housewifery. In this connection we must give our experience in the Centre. During the fourth year, two courses of cookery were arranged, one for those accustomed to use electricity, the other for those using gas in their own homes. These classes, the arrangements for which were made in cooperation with the mothers in the Centre, were held at a time convenient to themselves and particularly at a time when young mothers were in the building with their infant children. The classes were well-attended—but by whom? By the middle-aged mothers who already were tolerably good cooks and wished to improve their skill. Of the young mothers, less than a handful came—in spite of the fact that they were in the building and at leisure.

How different was the response to the suggestion that the young mothers, at first with help and subsequently on their own responsibility, should undertake the preparation of the Nursery teas for their own children. This includes the preparation of vegetables and salads, and the cooking of such simple dishes as purees, junkets, jellies, stewed fruit, etc., with many of which they were not previously familiar. Needs prompted by marriage and by the coming of the baby can lead the young woman, not through lectures or precepts from the expert, but through action with those in the beginning unskilled like herself.

Nor, indeed, has she any experience of babies, for in her home there were but two children; not the large family from which her mother came and where there was always a baby with the handling of which the older children early became familiar. No amount of technical lectures or training in Welfare Centres can replace this intimate experience of youth. So the sense of ‘nesting’ and of home-making remains rudimentary. The experience is unfamiliar, the appetite for it is not there—and in its absence the young wife is often blithely unaware of any inadequacy. Perhaps worst of all, she comes to marriage with a sense of having attained her goal. The implication this brings with it is that there is nothing for her to do but to continue in this state sustained by a loving husband.

In this picture pieced together from the various sources from which information comes to us in the Centre, we have a red light, warning indicator pointing to the trend of events in the life of the modern girl which leave her instinct for wifehood and motherhood unfacultised.

Let us look more closely at her life after marriage. Her husband is out all day. Her housework takes her an hour or two at most; her shopping another hour. After that she has nothing to do till 6 o’clock when she must think of preparing the evening meal. She has lost sight of her school friends, and now lost the associates of her work and has no means of making new ones. So, not wishing to become intimate with the other people who live in the same house, she has no friends. All too soon time begins to hang heavy on her hands. Perhaps if she is vigorous she decides to go on working for a while—the extra money will be welcome for she has been used to having and spending her own wages. That puts off the coming of the baby. Or she may, as did one young wife, travel ten miles daily to spend the day with her mother, so keeping happy and occupied. But this young woman had little or no desire to alter these circumstances of life, and the marriage was not even consummated when two years later she and her husband joined the Centre.

Joining the Centre turned the tide of development for this pair. As a result of the talk at the Family Consultation they were anxious to adjust their conjugal relationship. Eighteen months later they had their first baby. What a change was effected by that pregnancy! The girl gained in physical vigour and assurance, she established herself in her own motherhood, and the focus of her attention moved from her mother towards her husband in their mutual parenthood. Here were two people who had been living in compensative existence, complaining of nothing when they joined the Centre—not even of their unconsummated marriage—who, finding a source of information and an environment favourable to development, stepped out into an active functioning life.

The Declining Birth Rate

As year followed year and the members themselves came to recognise the changes that were occurring in their friends and acquaintances through successful pregnancy and parenthood, we came to be increasingly involved in the use of modern substitution therapy, both endocrine and nutritional, to induce pregnancies in those previously infertile. In the course of our work we have found evidence of what we believe to be a high percentage of infertility, of non-consummation of marriage and of rarity of connection, as well as of the deliberate avoidance of child-bearing by birth-control methods. From the observations made, we feel bound to link this incidence of non-consummation of marriage and of relative infertility, with the question of devitalisation. The nature of devitalisation has been discussed by us elsewhere. [“Biologists in Search of Material,” p. 63.] The type described under the name “hypo-tonia” found in a much higher proportion of women of all ages— even the very young—than in men, is a definite physical condition with definite physical signs such as we have described. These have their accompaniment in the mental and social fields of action (or rather of inaction) of the individual. In these people what is usually presumed to be the pressing urgency of sexual appetite appears to remain unstirred to a surprising extent. In our first survey [“The Case for Action,” page 69 et seq.] this group, imperfectly understood, was included amongst those exhibiting sexual continence. In our later work we have been in a position to make a further analysis of this subject. In the Centre, in the society of which there has already begun to occur a gathering desire for children, these young people are beginning to disclose to us the origin and nature of their infertility—infertility of which often they themselves are only now becoming aware. It would seem as if there were in them a positive lowering of all appetites, a natural fasting —i.e., a raising of the threshold of the response to stimulus. Just as this type is work-shy because of a relative incapacity, so they are sex-shy and for the same reason. It is as though these people were insistently and continuously faced with some compulsion not to exceed ten miles an hour, and the disillusionment they suffer in crawling along at this pace in a machine designed to do 100 miles an hour is a cumulative depressant.

From this analysis of involuntary infertility, we have come to see that much voluntary infertility —i.e. avoidance of child bearing — is not necessarily, indeed not usually, to be attributed to selfishness or vice, nor even to rationalisation, but to a barely conscious recognition— by the woman in particular—that in her devitalisation, pregnancy may be but one step further towards her undoing. Perhaps the very attitude towards pregnancy— one anticipatory of sickness and danger— which the medical profession has assumed, is no more than a reflection of the type of patient so consistently encountered by the obstetrician! The devitalised individual tends naturally to move further and further away from living towards the protective level of personal survival, that is to say from the biological (actional) level of function to the pathological (reactional) level of encysted existence. These devitalised individuals are existing continuously on a minimum current account; they possess no reserves, no deposit account, no guarantee at all that if they set out on the shortest functional journey they will reach their destination, still less return home with achievement. Intuitively, then, they turn aside from any environment in which something new may confront them. They encyst themselves in their houses, using them as mediaeval keeps with the drawbridges up because of their foreboding of their relative incapacity to contact any change in their self-limited environment. This safety-first attitude to life is an important factor operating on the birth-rate.

Dearth is Cumulative in the Family

And what does this attitude to life portend for any child who does happen to be born into such a home? After the wife has recovered from the shock of conception and her possible early attempt to get rid of it, [ Early attempts to terminate pregnancy are in our experience considerably less frequent than was the case ten to thirteen years ago, when the first Pioneer Health Centre opened. The reason for this is abundantly clear. Whereas in 1926-29 it was but few who were conversant with the possibility of control of conception, and fewer still who successfully practised it, our later experience in 1935-39 disclosed that the use of contraceptives is now practically universal, and the degree of success attained apparently high. We are, however, not in a position to attribute this apparent success wholly to the contraceptives used, in the face of the indications we have given which lead us to suspect an increase in infertility, both relative and absolute.] the baby—which she did not want— now comes to be welcomed, probably as the physical result of endocrine changes at last stirred in her by the pregnancy. So the months preceding the birth of the child become on the whole happy ones. Now, too, she has something of importance to occupy her in the preparation of her flat, of the baby’s clothes and of her own clothes. But when the baby does arrive her unpractised hands are tremulous. Its every cry is an anxiety; its every movement her concern and duty to anticipate and to still. At last her days are full. But, as the baby grows and the time approaches for it to venture on its own, she unconsciously now begins to hold it back. Secretly she is pleased if it shuns a stranger, for that shows its attachment to her; and she broods on the time when it will no longer rely on her for everything, intuitively sensing that she is incapable of moving with it and will fall back into the position of isolation she was in before it came. So in devitalisation and dread of the emptiness of her life she clings to the child, and in the habituation of its debility and thraldom it clings to her. Neither develops; both become distorted, and a spoilt child is reared—”nervous” in temperament like its mother.

So as this child grows, instead of meeting through the continuous excursion of its parents a rich, varied and lively environment, it is caught in a situation in which there is one unchanging constant— its mother. Not an inanimate constant either, but one whose intent is always towards the child. We all know what happens to any entity subjected to one insistent influence. Trees that grow near the coast in the path of the prevailing windare misshapen because, in their otherwise varying environment, there is one constant and unchanging factor. So this child never stands on its own feet four square to the winds of heaven, but is directionally set by its dependence upon its mother.

For the mother the danger of fixation is even greater than for the child. In her growth up to marriage she may not have been as a uni-directional tree, but grown straight and in balance. But, if as a result of her marriage all other winds die down—if she loses what friends she had and is without the chance of making new ones, if she is socially isolated, cut off from all work, sports and interests, and devitalised to boot, then when there comes the prevailing wind of motherhood, the only one to blow and to gather as the years go by, all her subsequent growth must be one-sided. She will become misshapen, and contact with her will deflect the growth of the child at each of its successive appetitive phases. Mother and child, then, each to the other becomes a constant in the environment and as a result each grows one-sided. None of the buds to windward ever develop and those that grow in the lee of the wind grow in its path and in the shadow formed by the tree away from the sun. Here then is a perfect uni-directional tropism. It is the picture of the aetiology of mother-boundness— a condition that cannot be remedied merely by dealing with the child, for its roots lie deep in the family.

In the majority of children of nursery age whose families have joined the Centre, we have seen signs of a greater or lesser degree of this mother-boundness. The only ones who seem free from its stigmata are the few who come from large families where the mother is always busy, and some of those who come from ‘social problem’ families— and these latter suffer from other ills.

Let us watch these ‘mother-bound’ families in their use of the Centre’s afternoon nursery. We have described the Nursery as yielding a fresh field of experience for the child, while at the same time the activities of the Centre lead the mother, and through her the father too, into a wider field of social activity. So the Nursery plays its dual part in relation to the progressive mutual weaning of them all. But that is not its aspect for all the children or all the mothers who join, for where weaning from the skirt has been delayed or resisted by the parent, the Nursery does not— indeed could not— appear as any opportunity but rather as a threat of separation.

Yet to the women to whom the swimming bath or badminton, the congenial circle and a quiet cup of tea, still make their appeal, the Nursery is an inevitability that she accepts not only for the good of the child but in order that she herself may swim or join in any other activity. For days, sometimes even weeks, both mother and child will suffer tortures. The mother lingers with the child when she takes it to the Nursery, inventing excuses to delay leaving while she vainly tries to stop it crying; she only half enjoys her swim and hurries from the changing room to peep into the Nursery or hang over the balcony rails to listen for her baby’s cry. Gladly she accepts offers of other mothers to go and see if it is allright, and as early as possible rushes down to fetch it, giving it the welcome of two separated souls who have both been through some awful purgatory.

But if in spite of this she persists, then after a week or two— the time commonly varies from a week to a month— she is rewarded by discovering that she has enjoyed her swim, and only suddenly has remembered that it is time to collect her child; finds that she has forgotten her anxiety, and that the child too now leaves her eagerly to go to the Nursery, meets her smiling, and has become happy and active in her absence. This is the woman who is able to use the chances the Centre offers, as a remedy at first, and once the ill is remedied, as a straightforward opportunity. Thus she lifts herself and so her family with her out of the category of compensative existence into the category of health. Without the Centre how soon would she have dragged herself and them all into the category of frank disease?

But this is not the only response. There is the woman who, when faced with a swimming bath feels her own disability so strongly that she cannot bring herself to the point of going in; whose response to every new chance is yet one more withdrawal and refusal. Honestly persuaded of her child’s delicate constitution and ‘sensitive’ nature, unable to bear the anxiety of its not eating its tea, worried about the harm that constant crying might do it, after a few days she will stop bringing it, and so save herself from the painful operation now necessary to take the place of the natural process of weaning. This will probably bring the family membership to an end.

This mother-child relationship is but one aspect of what is a family disorder. The reader can for himself appraise its significance for the husband. Other symptoms begin to appear in the syndrome. The young wife’s attention, at one time given to her husband, is now concentrated upon the child. At first the father is happy to linger with his wife in her contentment, but as the child grows, he expects to stride out again with her at his side. But not so the wife. She is now tied to her baby, indeed physically as well as psychologically tied, for the baby cannot be left alone in the evenings while its parents go out even for a short walk. A separation of interest begins. It is a small cleft, but one deep in the nucleus of the family—a rift in the unity of the pair.

As the months go by, either the husband stays at home, lapsing into morose silence, or he goes further afield in innocent compensation for the interests and companionship he has lost. But he is changed by marriage. He cannot now rejoin his old bachelor friends, so he falls quite naturally into the company of other disconsolate husbands—birds of the same moult as he. The wife misinterprets this and resents what she feels to be his indifference to her and to their child. This resentment grows in proportion to her concentration on the child, till at last she extrudes him— its father— from the fragmenting home and ‘protects’ the child from his influence. What a pitiable misunderstanding and how little— at the right time— might have availed to change the course of that family’s history. Later we meet the same sort of family living in domestic propinquity in which the wife accepts the material obligations of her domesticity —and even of her wifehood—but has grown poles apart in feeling, intent and action. The sole link between them now is the only child pulled both ways by the severing influence of each parent— subconsciously, if not openly, at war in the barren spaces that should have become a live and functioning home. The mutuality in which a home can grow has long since disappeared.

This is the picture of many families when in middle age they join the Centre. Owing to the restricted circumstances of their early life they have been unable to draw sustenance for their growth, or to grow from their schismatic nucleus any developing home.

Often the husband has become so confirmed in his compensative habits or negativity that his wife has the greatest difficulty in persuading him to join at all, though to do so would confer on her and on their child some real and immediate benefit that he would be the last to wish to deny them; or even though he may recognise that membership would help them in dealing with the problems common to them both, presented by their children already out of hand. Or again, the woman in her encystment and unfacultised state may have contracted an obstinacy or unwillingness for change so powerful that the greatest tact and patience has to be exercised by all concerned to persuade her to yield to her child’s importunity.

The parents of the school child often present us with a picture of this sort. There are those parents who never come to the Centre except for their overhaul; those families where the husband never goes out with his wife or the children. A child of such a family once said ‘ ‘I hate our garden, my father never comes to the Centre”. In other cases the mother never comes, pleading that she is too busy, or pleading nothing at all; just keeping away, using her membership for its usefulness in occupying the children and keeping them off the streets’. On rarer occasions we have met such a mother who later in life has taken up some outside activity with the zeal characteristic of compensatory action. In either of these cases where each parent is acting individually, there is no understanding of the fact that the exploration of the social field by the child they both still cherish, needs for its digestion the specific and familial nurture derived from their mutuality of action. Habit now binds them; it is too late.

Yet for all it is not too late. We have seen even middle-aged families who were drawn together by the social life opened to them by the Centre.

When they joined Mr. and Mrs. S. had been married for 16 years. Mrs. S. was quiet, competent, but self-abnegatory and withdrawn. Her husband was a man of some considerable native intelligence long unfed in the narrow confines of their limited home. But his energy was not to be denied and in the billiard hall he had sought the society which the terms of life in his district had not elsewhere yielded. There he had fallen in with companions who made use of his unemployed energy and surplus of unused skill, turning them to doubtful purposes. Debt, drink, betting, sharp practices had brought him—and thus the family too—all too near the arm of the law. So the children had grown in the furtive knowledge of something amiss, and the wife, devoted yet unarmed against an intangible situation she was impotent to change, struggled, wearing herself to the bone.

This family joined the Centre. The man, soon recognised as a skilled craftsman, quickly gained the respect that was his due in a society where his gifts could find legitimate exercise. He was quite ridiculously proud to see his small daughter of four and a half sweep round the arena on skates—the youngest child to achieve ease and competence in this form of balance. He was deeply interested to find that something could be done for his eldest son whose disability they had accepted as inevitable. He gave his skill freely and without stint to the construction of the electrical installation of the theatre and the illumination of the Centre for festive occasions, and so on. He never failed to take part in and was a valuable contributor to discussions on the management and progress of the Centre. After a year all the old habits had dropped away. When it came to their third periodic health overhaul the wife left the family consultation with tears that revealed her deep recognition of what the Centre had meant for them. This family, through the chances the Centre held for utilisation of the man’s capacity, has refound its unity and established its equilibrium in society. The husband now has a field for the exercise of his active capabilities, his wife a sphere in which she can operate as an effective focus of their social life and their children a home through which they can be nurtured to the limits of the excursion possible to them as a family.

Social Remedy

Age does not necessarily deter people from making use of a wider environment. On joining, many older people make magnificent efforts to overcome their disuse-atrophy, physical, mental and social. But, fascinating though it is to us and to them to see their ineptitude in some measure overcome, at this stage in their lives such action must, for most of them, be in the realm of remedy rather than the true development of health. It may be thought that we are being unduly pessimistic or even harsh, but no-one can doubt the truth of this observation who notes the covert interest of the spectators and the embarrassment of her grown-up children, as the grandmother of over 60, less than four months after first entering the bath and learning to swim, makes for the diving board and, amidst a breath-taking hush, dives from the topmost 7 metre board. Such a delayed repair of an adolescent omission is not the balanced action of health. That much of the activity of the adult society is in this realm there can be no doubt, because so often the first reaction of the adult is not, like that of the child, an instant response, but first a drawing back followed by a set determination requiring an effort out of all proportion to the significance of the achievement.

Consciousness of disability is the great stumbling block to the majority. In that phrase is summed up the effect of years of lack of excursion, lack of exercise of potential capabilities and limitation of effort. Faced with a simple situation like a cafeteria full of friendly talk, a swimming bath and swimmers, a dance floor and dancers, their first reaction is so often “Oh, I couldn’t do that”. Action has been inhibited and now help is needed; the encouragement of friends, the aid of a husband, instruction in a quiet place hidden from general view, a crutch to overcome lost faith in their capacity. They need some stepping stone so that the minute scrap of viability represented by their hesitant desire shall flourish in a soil not too strong.

Outlook on Teaching by the Professional

Women in the gym

It is for these people that what little formal teaching there is in the Centre is provided. Apart from one part-time swimming instructor largely engaged in teaching the older women, and a very successful “Keep Fit” class for women, there is now in the Centre no professional instruction. This does not mean that there is no skill that is up to professional standards, nor that the adept do not teach. Indeed teaching and learning goes on busily everywhere, but by the neighbour who can and wants to do it. So teaching as an art of the enthusiast—not of the professional—has begun to flourish all over the building : in dancing, fencing, badminton, in diving and swimming, in dramatic and concert party work, in music, in wireless, in dressmaking, cooking and so on. Indeed professionalism in the Centre has proved to be not only unnecessary but actually inimical as a means of encouraging the development of skill in the ordinary man and woman hitherto without skill.

Swimming instruction

The consciousness of disability that we have described permeates the adult’s approach to all kinds of activities—even the simplest—to reading, to writing, to dress, to all forms of social excursion. To such people nothing inhibits their own attempt at action more than the demonstration of a high degree of skill. So it comes to be true that in the present unfacultised state of society the exhibition of high proficiency is a bar to adventure by the majority. Specialism will always defeat both the educator and itself if it is allowed to flourish unchecked, extending its sway beyond the field of the enthusiast and the already partially competent. Any activity exclusively organised on a basis of skill will fail to attract the interest and sustain the endeavour of the man-in-the-street, for the first essential to gain these ends is to sweep away his unconscious self-distrust.

Potentiality Wasted

Working in the conditions created by the Centre, it has become abundantly clear to us that what in these older people lies unexpressed for want of opportunity in the past, still has some degree of viability. Though learning to swim or to dance at the age of 60 might be the tardy repair of an omission of youth, the energy to do the repair is an expression of a residue of health. This power and wish to achieve is poignantly moving. That these people should need to exercise such effort and suffer so much to achieve a co-ordination proper to youth is a tragedy indeed. These families, the blasted oaks, the pollarded willows, and the stumps in the forest of the society of families we see in the Centre, are all too prevalent. But it could hardly be otherwise when we consider what their lives have been. Though the shoots and branches will burst through the bark and clinging corky layers of the old trunks, such sporadic outbursts, proof enough of what the development might have been, cannot now contribute to the tree-like contour of the family.

Amongst our members there are, of course, the few who have become so confirmed in their sedentary habits that no fresh growth is possible. They try to make use of the club solely as a place of amusement, and grumble if there is not constantly some ready-made entertainment to take their fancy; members who show a total inability to make use of the varied chances for action that the Centre offers, or who when they join pick up some previously established interest—generally their only one —and for two, three or four years show no change in that interest and never move outside their chosen circle of cronies. We have, for instance, members who play whist two nights a week, three when we have an extra game, and in the afternoon also when we have an afternoon drive; who cry out for it on other afternoons and evenings and who go to other clubs where they can get it at times when it is not on in the Centre. These families, though conspicuous in the company, are in a small minority.


What of the children of these middle-aged families? The first thing we notice is that how the weaning of adolescence is accomplished affords clear evidence of whether the growth of the home has been healthy, balanced, ‘whole’ or whether pathological and distorted.

In cases where no functioning zone of mutuality ever seems to have formed within the family, at an early age the children appear as though extruded from the family, being left to fend for themselves prematurely in an alien and unfamiliarised world. After the first two years, members of the staff who might not know the circumstances of any particular family, came to be able to spot such children as they moved about the building with what might be described as a waif-like mien. They seem in some way without any centre of gravity in the community. They are the products of atrophic parenthood. In the same type of family at a later stage, where the adolescent has persuaded his more or less indifferent parents to join, but where apart from the necessary visits for periodic health overhauls they never come near the building, the adolescents are usually ‘off the rails’ and characterised by bad behaviour. Where, on the other hand, we see the children cling to their parents, where they are diffident and afraid; or where on the contrary they are over-eager to break from the home and headstrong to dash into an unknown world; also where the parents fight against their going, regret their departure, or attempt to impede it, so that the weaning of adolescence becomes a battle royal, we have the measure of a parentbound home.

Often the father, but more particularly the mother, clings to the children as the only link with the outside world. Social life is so constricted and so moribund that by the time their children reach adolescence, the parents have no field of excursion. There is no useful work for them to move on to when their children are fledged. In five years those working in the Centre have become keenly aware of the problem of the competent mother left without occupation when her children grow up. There is here a store of wisdom and ripe experience which we feel should be turned to good account in the community.

From reference to the comprehensive list of activities in the Centre,[See Appendix I.] it will be seen that there is as yet little that makes a particular appeal to the older man or woman. But in spite of this, they do come, for the age distribution of use of the Centre’s amenities, is as wide as that of the actual membership, and the Centre has a fine robust middle-aged life. Every new activity carried on by these adults is to them a social adventure:—their contributions to the organisation of the various activities, the ideas they bring and the work they do to make the Centre better known in the district, their new found ability as swimmers or badminton players, their dramatic or other interests—all carry them forward to a wider life. Not only does the spice of life thus enter once again into the mutual relationships of many middle-aged couples, but it enters into their relationships with their children. And so it is that we often see them beginning to relax their too tight grip on an adolescent or older son or daughter. But how often the absence of any natural outlet causes the parents to become parasitic upon their children! We have a number of families of this type; families where the boy or girl comes only with the parents. It was a pitiful sight to see the girl of 17 who, if she did not enter the building with her mother, was inevitably followed by her within half an hour; to see her charming and coquettish advances watched and approved by the mother, who, kindness itself— the iron hand in the velvet glove— never interfered but who had such control that there was never any danger of anything happening that needed interference. One had the impression that never for a single moment was her daughter outside her consciousness and it was evident that she was never beyond her physical ken or psychological power. Or, we may cite the boy of the same age who, held at home by homework enforced upon him by his father’s ambitions, went out rarely in the evenings and then only with his parents; who left their side to play billiards— his father’s chosen game— returning to his parents obediently when finished and whose independent movement and initiative was reduced to a minimum. These children’s lives are being lived for them by their immature , and insufficiently occupied parents, whose energies should normally be flowing in other directions. In later stages the action of some of these children is significant. We see them at last react against their parents’ domination—perhaps they either never come if there is any chance that they may meet their parents in the building, or when they meet them studiously and sometimes insolently refuse to acknowledge them. But whether they react or not, it is probable that the majority are scarred for life, their own undevelopment being carried over into their own subsequent marriages.

Youth and Leadership

The two extremes, the neglected and the overlain, are few in number— and equally distressing to meet; but those in some degree affected are all too many. We know what the world at large is doing to correct these pathological adolescents; it is shouted from the housetops at every Educational Conference and at every Youth Committee. First it segregates them, then isolates them from the opposite sex, tends always to isolate them from all older and younger members of society— and then cries out for “leadership”. But there is no short way to eradication of disorders that have their origin deep in the family circumstances. It is the social environment that is defective ; the social environment that needs cultivation— not “leadership”. It is forgotten that the natural leaders of the young are, to be found in society, where every skilled man, every amateur athlete, every happily married couple, become automatically and — most important— unconsciously their leaders.

But herd these adolescents together and incarcerate them in age groups cut off from the natural incentives and inherent, discipline of a mixed and more mature society, then a situation is created in which both the stimulus to and the control of action must be provided by authority; by masters, not leaders. That measures are taken to palliate and adjust the condition of the adolescent thus only deepens the disaster and leads to the conclusion that the present trend of the social services for these young people is actually furthering the devitalisation of society —unwittingly, of course. The stream of social life having been allowed to become blocked and stagnant, to further isolate the adolescent is to produce localised whirlpools in the remaining fairway into which finally even the vital are sucked.

In making plans for reconstruction— too often without reference to natural law— it is hoped by means of remedy to save a situation the origin of which lies in long-tolerated circumstances that have bred a disintegrated society. From this there can proceed neither sustenance nor natural stimulus for the development of the family. So the educationalist and the social worker —like the doctor with a new found drug—finding a remedy effective in certain clamant cases, hasten in optimism or often a kind of quackery, to apply it to the populace at large. The inevitable long-term result of this procedure can be no other than a devitalised and ‘drug’-sustained society. This danger into which we are so prone to fall is, in fact, similar to that of the accepted practice of feeding the populace with artificially prepared vitamins and other substitute ‘foods’, to make up for deficiencies that arise from agricultural procedures which, denying natural law, lead to a continuous depletion of the vital qualities of the food produced.

The alternative— in each case— is to plan for health, whether health of the soil or health of the society in which the human family is to grow; reserving remedy strictly for those who fall by the way. The demands of sickness are so vociferous and cumulative that they distract our attention from the truth that even a modicum of health is a leaven which, if liberated to act freely in society, has power to ‘vitalise’ the whole lump.

Bad Beginnings

What chance then has the young man or woman growing up in the segregation of a disintegrated society to find his or her appropriate mate? The way to increase the possibility for appropriate mating, as we have seen, is to widen the excursion and multiply the contacts of those who are inevitably going to mate. For whatever the conditions, mate they will, falling in love being almost the only vestige left of primitive instinct in the adult human being. The poverty and starvation of the conditions in which social contact among young people of both sexes can be made is hardly appreciated, and rarely referred to. It is, however, in our opinion, one of the root causes of unsatisfactory mating and of the subsequent inco-ordination of parenthood. So restricted are the conditions for meeting and association, that we are forced to witness on every hand vicious forms of social inbreeding— and without thought or heed to the genetic effects we go on with the process of sex, age and wage-group segregation of the urban and suburban populace and call it social and housing reform. We have here a glaring example of the specialist who in ‘curing’ social disorder, is unwittingly sterilising society.

And so the young are driven to backstairs, cinema gloom, and sub rosa courtship. This is fraught with follies and disaster because it accentuates and unduly exaggerates erotic attraction, so clouding and narrowing the choice and inducing reactionary return to purely compulsive mating ; whereas choice, to be choice at all, must arise out of the interplay of discretionate action on the part of adult individuals. But discretionate action in adulthood is the result of the progressive facultisation of the individual, who stage by stage as infant, child and adolescent has found circumstances in which he can pass naturally from one appetitive phase to the next in the exercise of appropriate action. This can only arise as the result of a nurtural process in which he moves from the intimate and familiar in ever-widening excursion in the midst of an integrated society—such a society of families, for example, as we have seen beginning to form in the Centre.

The Place of Psychology in the Peckham Experiment

One last word. The Centre has often been accused of neglecting Psychology. In our opinion, however, there is as yet no psychology; only a knowledge of psycho-pathology. Indeed, how can there be a scientific study of psychology until an experimental field for the study of the healthy has been established? At present, knowledge of the physiology of the psychological mechanism lags far behind its pathology which fills libraries, for all knowledge so far available on this subject is derived from the disordered, and its theories and technique are devoted to remedy. Remedy is important for the sick, but the sick are not the primary concern of the Centre. Once however a medium is found in which we can watch the action-pattern of function in the family unit, we are presented with an experimental field in: which we can begin to look for a psychology based upon health rather than pathology. That such a field simultaneously gives us the opportunity of observing non-function and of tracing the departure from function as the individual parts company from health, is true, as this chapter demonstrates. In this way we have come to see displayed before us the aetiology of the ‘devils’ to the more advanced stages of which psycho-pathology has long been paying attention. In the Centre we see clearly that the disorders that both we and the psycho-pathologist know so well, are no more than the tail-end of a long train of events following upon unfulfilment of the functional development of the family— in due season and sequence. With the figures for physical disease and disorder before us, it is no surprise that we should find corresponding disorder and absence of function in the psychological and social realm. Moreover a disintegrated society must inevitably deprive the family of a live environment, its legitimate source of nutriment for development.

It must be recalled that for this experiment we chose what we thought likely to prove the least disintegrated society to be found in the London area. Its disintegration is not due to poverty, unemployment, abnormal sickness, the congregation of one class or of one wage level. It was, so far as we could judge when choosing a specimen of the populace to work with, the most healthy and vigorous. This is all-important in view of the picture we have had to give of the background of families against which the first sketch of the action-pattern of health has made its appearance.

We cannot reiterate too often what our experience has taught us. This picture with which the Peckham Experiment has presented us of social pathology with its accompanying psycho-pathological signs arises out of primary disorders just as apparently trivial, just as effectively compensated and therefore cloaked, and of just as long duration, as the physical disorders we find in the bodies of those who, in the aggregate, go to make up the families we have been considering. Neither can we repeat too often that such minor disorders would either not occur at all, or would fail to develop into the grave socio-pathological conditions we have had to describe, in circumstances that made a functioning life possible for the young family.

It is not wages that are lacking; nor leaders; nor capacity; certainly not goodwill; but quite simple—and one would suppose ordinary—personal, family and social opportunities for knowledge and for action that should be the birthright of all; space for spontaneous exercise of young bodies, a local forum for sociability of young families, current opportunity for picking up knowledge as the family goes along, and the seemingly trivial— “Oh, I couldn’t do that”, “I couldn’t go there” that spell out so long and truly pathetic a story, and such deep-seated psycho-pathological frustration, need no longer be heard in the realm.

Health is more, not less, infectious and contagious than sickness — given appropriate circumstances in society for contact. By that we mean that Nature has its own laws of transmission for health which are no less inexorable than are those of transmission in the realm of pathology. But health, whether through intuitive means or through knowledge, can only come through conformity with these laws.