Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor


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Corruption! - Abuses within the System

The requirements set out for the wet nurses for the protection of the children were often not followed. Many abuses grew out of the women themselves, dishonest officials, greedy or fearful mayors, unethical doctors, and mercenaries among the women.

Abuse from the Wet Nurses: Some wet-nurses were not qualified to care for the abandoned child they were given, and others only did it for the money. Therefore the term "killing nurses" was sometimes applied because when only enough money was sent for a few weeks update, infanticide was used since the child was too much of a financial burden to keep around without the promised compensation (Demause). Another major abuses was done by the wet nurses called nourrices voyageuses or traveling wet nurses. These women received their required certificate, their infant from the hospice, the money for the trip home and the first trimester. Back in their province, they gave the child to a woman who was either too old, ill or infirm, or without milk. These "dry nurses" received the rest of the money until the baby died. Meanwhile the nourrices voyageuses began the process again (Fuchs 168).

Disqualifications of Wet Nurses: Due to the lack of wet nurses and abuses in the system many women of dubious qualifications were accepted as wet nurses. One of the biggest disqualifications was that their milk was older than fifteen months old, which was one of the qualifications. In reality, in the 1830s, three-fourths of the wet nurses that came to the hospice were unfit (Fuchs 167).

Le Retour en Nourice. Jean Baptiste Greuze, 1780. Abuse from the State Officials: For various reasons ranging from believing the stereotypes placed on the childrem to greed, many officials did not follow the requirments placed on wet nurses. Mayors, often refused to sign the certificats the women were required to have to become a wet nurse because they did not want as many abandoned children in their district as the laaw allowed, which was five for every one hundred inhbitants. The mayors believed the stereotypes that were placed on the abandoned children, which was that they would inherit their mothers "sinful and immoral" nature, and thus they believed the children would become criminals, and vagabonds and eventually swell their prisons (Fuchs 165). The doctors accepted women unqualified for the position because their wages was based on the number of wet nurses they recruited. The doctors often just found it easier to accept the women who came to them, no matter the quality, than to seek out ones of good quality on their own (Fuchs 166-167). Many state officials turned their backs to these abuses because keeping a child at the hospice was financially difficult since all the expense fell on the
hospice itself. But if a child was sent to live with a wet nurse, the financial burden was shared between the state and the department and commune in which the child was abandoned (Fuchs 168).

Stop the Abuse: In the 1840s and 1850, the authorities began to realize the lack of concern for the children's well-being and the high number of abuses. So, they began to advocate for stricter enforcement of the requirements and the number of abuses did actually fall (Fuchs 169).