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Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

I knew nothing about London workhouses until the few brief mentions of it on Call the Midwife, so I was excited to learn more about their creation from this book. It made me think a lot about how so many seemingly devious social situations began with the best of intentions. Workhouses were legitimately started as a place of refuge for the poverty-stricken Londoners. And then it turned into a prison. And while it's easy to hate the institution that oppressed and abused people for so long, the original reason for its existence was beautiful and charitable. But as with everything, people tend to ruin the best things by imposing their own beliefs and prejudices on a well-intentioned program.


The sequel to Jennifer Worth's New York Times bestselling memoir and the basis for the PBS series Call the Midwife.

When twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Worth, from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, went to work as a midwife in the direst section of postwar London, she not only delivered hundreds of babies and touched many lives, she also became the neighborhood's most vivid chronicler. Woven into the ongoing tales of her life in the East End are the true stories of the people Worth met who grew up in the dreaded workhouse, a Dickensian institution that limped on into the middle of the twentieth century.Orphaned brother and sister Peggy and Frank lived in the workhouse until Frank got free and returned to rescue his sister. Bubbly Jane's spirit was broken by the cruelty of the workhouse master until she found kindness and romance years later at Nonnatus House. Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran, lost his family in the two world wars and died in the workhouse.

Though these are stories of unimaginable hardship, what shines through each is the resilience of the human spirit and the strength, courage, and humor of people determined to build a future for themselves against the odds. This is an enduring work of literary nonfiction, at once a warmhearted coming-of-age story and a startling look at people's lives in the poorest section of postwar London.

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