I do remember when having a baby out of wedlock was a serious stigma for a young woman and her family. This was the 1970s in New Zealand, and often the pregnant woman would have her baby in secret and put it up for adoption. "Gone up north for a while" the family would say about the daughter or sister. A film of that title was made in 1972:-
It starts "Last year there were eight and a half thousand illegitimate births in New Zealand" and in style is much like Cathy Come Home.
"After a young woman falls pregnant, she decides to go against the tide of advice from her family and unsympathetic welfare authorities by keeping her baby. Misery and hardship ensues. . . The story can claim to have effected social change, stirring up public debate about the DPB [Domestic Purposes Benefit – Sole Parent] for single mothers."
In fact I remember a few films made about pregnant single girls and long concerned magazine articles, as part of the general loosening of taboos at the time, with the result that social serices sympathised more and punished less.
The word "illegitimate" has pretty much disappeared now though in those days it was in all our mouths as a social and moral evil. This was the era between shot-gun marriages (the bride was often pregnant at the wedding) and social acceptance.
That seems the dark ages now though it is only a generation ago. New Zealand, however, was not so priest-ridden or conservative as Ireland, which is now in the news with the discovery of 800 bodies of the children of unmarried mothers in a septic tank in Galway.
Here's a fine angry piece by Stephanie Lord on what she calls "Ireland's honour killings".
Women were not allowed keep their babies because the shame that their existence brought upon the community would be far too great. They were imprisoned within Magdalene Laundries to atone for their sins of honour, and their babies were removed from them as part of their punishment – women who dishonoured the community were deemed to unfit to parent.
Contemporary Ireland feigned shock when stories of the Laundries and residential institutions emerged. Perhaps the shock of those who were too young to be threatened with being put in one for “acting up” was genuine, because the institutions started to close as the years went on. But people in their fifties and sixties now, will remember how the “Home Babies” sometimes came to schools, and were isolated by other (legitimate) children, and then sometimes never came back. While those school-children may not have comprehended fully the extent of what happened, their parents and teachers, and the community of adults surrounding them knew.
Ireland as a whole was complicit in the deaths of these children, and in the honour crimes against the women. They were the “illegitimate babies” born to the “fallen women” who literally disappeared from villages and towns across Ireland in to Magdalene Laundries. Everybody knew, but nobody said, “Honour must be restored. We must keep the family’s good name.”....
People did know what went on in those institutions. Their threat loomed large over the women of Ireland for decades. On rare occasions when people attempted to speak out, they were silenced, because the restoration of honour requires the complicity of the community. Fear of what other people will think of the family is embedded in Irish culture...
Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour.
So the authorities were not winking at the family stoning or stabbing the disgraceful daughter but instead connived with the Church to imprison her and neglect her children to death. That's not a surprise any more - but I am slightly shocked that the children didn't receive something like a Christian burial.