Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

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Background: At the dawning of the Industrial age in the 18th century, female factory workersfor the first time were forced to seek out wet-nurses or to abandon their babies since taking time off of work or bringing your child to work were both not an option. Therefore, the women who did not abandon thier children went for the wet-nurses, and thus breast-feedin became a profession. However, the majority of women looking to become wet-nurses strived to work for individual bourgeoisie, artisan, and working-class families. There were never enough wet-nurses to go around for the abandoned children. At times, there were as many as five infants suckling from the same breast, thus giving the wet-nurses the derogatory name milk cow, and the term élévage humain to the raising of the abandoned children. It meant breeding, as in breeding cows.

Deterrent to Becoming a Wet Nurse for Abandoned Children: One of the many reasons women did not want to have an abandoned child as a nursling was due to the low wages. In 1821, they receive eighty-four francs for the year, or seven francs per month for the child's first year. However, if a women was able to secure a job as a wet nurse for a bourgeoisie family, she would receive a tremendous raise in salary.

Reasons for Becoming a Wet Nurse for Abandoned Children: Taking an infant often provided the individual women and her family with much needed money. Therefore, economic needs were the primary reason for becoming a wet nurse for the majority in nineteenth century France. But since most wished to become a wet nurse for an individual bourgeois, artisan, and working-class families, thus making the supply


of wet nurses far out ceded the demand throughout the nineteenth century. Why would anyone become a wet nurse for an abandoned child. There are several reasons. One, those who often came to Paris seeking for a bourgeois baby were unable to find a nursling (184-185). Secondly, only those farms well-off could afford to send a daughter away to Paris for one to two years. It was preferable for the daughter to travel to Paris, receive a child, and then come back to the farm

Problems with wet nurse: Sending children to wet nurse who were unhealthy, had no milk, or cared for more than one child was the result of an increase in the number of abandoned babies while the number of wet nurse remained the same (15). Wet nurses for abandoned children received very low pay, that is one reason so many looked for individual families (185). In the country, everyone in the household who was able to work, was expected to work. Therefore, during the day the wet-nurses, "...left the nurslings in the house all day, either alone or in the care of an older child who was often not more than six years old and thus too young for labor in the fields (Fuchs 216).

To learn more about wet-nurses click here


Still to Come:
1) Geographic Distribution of Wet Nurses
2) Payment
3) Qualifications
4) Socioeconomic Levels
5) Popularity
6) Roussel Law


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This page created and maintained by Devon Hill