Poor Edith. Season four of Downton Abbey was supposed to be her time. Not so. The neglected middle sister found out that she is pregnant and the father of her baby, her married boyfriend Michael Gregson, is missing.
What should poor Edith do?
Online forums and social media sites have lit up with answers and reactions. Some of their online talk is speculation on what would have happened in the 1920s to pregnant out of wedlock aristocratic women.
As her Aunt Rosamund demonstrated when she chided Lady Edith for coming home in the morning, having pre-marital sex was highly frowned upon in the early 20th century. It was associated with low-life people, prostitutes.
Aristocratic women were supposed to get married “undefiled” so to speak; their virginity was their capitol. Finding out that they had sex with someone else before a wedding could ruin their reputation and prospects for a good match. An aristocratic woman who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock could cause a scandal for herself and her family.
British historian Stephen Hague from New Jersey’s Rowan University tells the TODAY show that it “would have been almost unthinkable” for an aristocratic woman to raise a child born outside of marriage by herself.
"Even in the 1920s, (Edith's pregnancy) would likely have resulted in being cast aside by her family and being left to fend for herself, or possibly being essentially locked away in the country house or elsewhere not really to be talked of,” says Hague who hosts a Downton Abbey panel at the university.
Having an abortion was not an option in those days either.
"Abortions would have been available and safer (for upper-class women like Edith) than for other classes, but still quite dangerous," explains Hague. "Even many women’s (rights) advocates and suffragettes" — like Edith and her sister Sybil — "had opposed abortion, not out of concern for the fetus but because of the threat to a mother’s health and the sense that available abortion would make it more likely for men to continue to dominate women."
Lady Edith doesn’t have many options, it any. Of course, when Cora learned of Lady Mary’s dalliance with the late Mr. Pamuk, she rallied behind the her older daughter. Here is hoping she will do the same for he now youngest child.