Prof Samantha Williams

Professor of Social History Institute of Continuing Education
Official Fellow and Director of Studies in History,
Girton College
Photo of Samantha Williams

I undertook my BA (Hons) in History at Lancaster, where I gained my passion for social history and the history of poverty, medicine and disease. I then moved to Oxford for an MSc in Economic and Social History, with a social history of medicine pathway at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. Another move to Cambridge meant that I studied for my PhD at the inspiring Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, where I now sit on the management committee. After a teaching job at Goldsmith's, University of London, I returned to Cambridge and to the Institute of Continuing Education (Madingley Hall) and Girton College. I enjoy teaching both undergraduates at Girton and older students at Madingley Hall. I am Course Director for the MSt (part-time) in History.

History of poverty and unmarried motherhood in England, 1700-1900

PhD supervision

MPhil supervision


  • Tripos Paper 10 ‘British Social and Economic History 1700-1914’, Paper 11 ‘British Social and Economic History Since 1870’, and ‘Historical Argument and Practice’ paper.

Continuing Education:

  • 'Poverty, disease and medicine'
  • 'Family, sex and marriage'
  • 'Agriculture, industrialisation and the poor law'
  • ‘The Georgian and Victorian underworld’
  • 'Victorian values'
  • 'Inventing childhood'
  • 'Health, wealth and poverty'

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Member of the Economic History Society


Tags & Themes

Key Publications


  • Poverty, gender and life-cycle under the English Poor Law, 1760-1834 (Royal Historical Society, Boydell and Brewer, 2011)
  • Unmarried Motherhood in the Metropolis, 1700–1850: Pregnancy, the Poor Law and Provision (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

 Edited books

  • A. Levene, T. Nutt, and S. K. Williams (eds.), Illegitimacy in Britain 1700-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)


  • 'Plague and poor relief in Cambridge, 1665–1666', Local Population Studies, 105 (2020), pp.47-55.
  • 'Paupers behaving badly: punishment in the Victorian workhouse', Journal of British Studies, 59 (2020), pp.764-792.
  • 'The maintenance of bastard children in London, 1790–1834', Economic History Review, 69, 3 (2016), pp. 945–971
  • ‘Unmarried mothers and the new poor law in Hertfordshire’, Local Population Studies, 91 (2013), pp. 27-43
  • ‘The Experience of Pregnancy and Childbirth for Unmarried Mothers in London, 1760-1866’, Women’s History Review, 20 (2011), pp.55-72
  • ‘Poor Relief, Labourers’ Households and Living Standards in Rural England c.1770-1834: a Bedfordshire case-study’, Economic History Review LVIII (2005), pp.485-519 - T. S. Ashton Prize from the Economic History Society
  • ‘Practitioners’ Income and Provision for the Poor: parish doctors in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’, Social History of Medicine, 18:2 (2005), pp.159-86
  • ‘Earnings, Poor Relief and the Economy of Makeshifts: Bedfordshire in the early years of the New Poor Law’, Rural History, 16 (2005), pp.21-52
  • ‘Malthus, Marriage and Poor Law Allowances Revisited: a Bedfordshire case study, 1770-1834’, Agricultural History Review, 52 (2004), pp.56-82
  • ‘Life Course and Lifecycle: reconstructing the experience of poverty in the time of the Old Poor Law’, co-authored with Susannah Ottaway, Archives, 23 (1998), pp.19-29

 Chapters in books

  • '"They lived together as Man and Wife": plebeian cohabitation, illegitimacy, and broken relationships in London, 1700-1840', in R. Probert (ed.), Changing Relationships? Cohabitation and births outside marriage, 1600-2012 (Palgrave Macmillan) , 2014
  • 'Support for the elderly during the "crisis of the Old Poor Law", c.1790-1834', in C. Briggs, P. Kitson, and S. Thompson (eds.), Population, welfare and economic change (Boydell and Brewer, 2014), pp.129-152
  • 'Britain, 1750-2000', in E Vanhaute, I. Devos, T. Lambrecht (eds.), Rural Economy and Society in North-Western Europe, 500-2000, Making a Living: Family, Income and Labour (Brepols, 2012), pp.70-95
  • ‘“I was Forced to Leave my Place to Hide my Shame”: the living arrangements of unmarried mothers in London in the early nineteenth century’, in J. McEwan and P. Sharpe (eds.), Accommodating Poverty: the housing and living arrangements of the English poor, c. 1600-1850 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp.101-219
  • ‘“That the Petitioner Shall have Borne a Good Character for Virtue, Sobriety, and Honesty Previous to her Misfortune”: unmarried mothers’ petitions to the Foundling Hospital and the rhetoric of need in the long eighteenth century’, in A. Levene, T. Nutt, and S.K. Williams (eds.), Illegitimacy in Britain 1700-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp.86-101
  • Levene, T. Nutt, and S.K. Williams, ‘Introduction’, in A. Levene, T. Nutt, and S.K. Williams (eds.), Illegitimacy in Britain 1700-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp.1-17
  • ‘Caring for the Sick Poor: poor law nurses in Bedfordshire, c.1770-1834’ in P. Lane, N. Raven and K.D.M. Snell (eds.), Women, Work and Wages, c. 1650-1900 (Boydell and Brewer, 2004), pp.141-169