By the 1970s teenage pregnancies were recognized as a problem worldwide. The continuing apprehension about teenage pregnancy was based on the profound impact that teenage pregnancy could have on the lives of the girls and their children.
Demographic studies reported that in developed countries such as the United States, teenage pregnancy results in lower educational attainment, increased rates of poverty, and worse “life outcomes” for children of teenage mothers compared to children of young adult women.
The pictures shown in this article chronicled the day-to-day lives of teen moms and moms-to-be in the typical southern California town of Azusa in 1971. It was originally published as a cover story in Life magazine and it was titled “Help for High School Mothers”.
“In a public high school classroom [the article began], a 16-year-old student, eight months pregnant and unmarried, presents a book report. Her classmates and teacher are unruffled, for the quiet scene is an everyday event at Citrus High in Azusa, Calif., and elsewhere around the country where educators are taking radical new approaches to an old and painful problem.
Until a few years ago, the nation’s public schools dealt with teenage pregnancies by expelling the girls or by putting pressure on them to leave. Many humiliated families arranged secret and illegal abortions for their daughters. Others sent them away to “visit relatives” or, if they could afford it, hid them in private nursing homes.
“Today the attitude toward high school mothers is changing dramatically. While teenage pregnancy is just as unwanted and undesirable as ever, more and more parents and schools are trying to help the girls put their lives together again instead of ostracizing them. In nearly every major city programs now exist to meet the special educational, medical, and psychological needs of teen-age mothers. In almost every case the programs have won strong community support. . . . Many communities provide medical clinics and counseling for the new mothers who will number an estimated 200,000 this year.”
“[That said], there are still not enough programs in the country. A recent study concludes that 75 percent of pregnant teen-agers drop out of school. But more and more girls are making the tough decisions to stay in school, for their own good and for the future of their babies.”
A few weeks after the story ran, the letters to the editor published in Life magazine in response to the story were mostly negative, along the lines of one from a reader in Colorado, who wrote that “the April 2 cover sets some sort of new dimension of achievement in crass, lurid, inelegant journalistic bad taste.
To proffer a picture of this pathetic schoolchild with her grotesque maternity figure over the bold type ‘High School Pregnancy’ simply makes a bad, sad scene.”
(Photo credit: Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images. Text: Ben Cosgrove).