Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Recruitment of Wet Nurses

Eponine Home

The Hospice
The Care
The Wetnurse
The Government

Charity Home
The Church
Frederic Ozanam
Government Aid
Women in Need

Women and Poverty
Living Conditions
Inside the Family
Making Ends   Meet


The Road to the Hospice...and the Abandoned

Recruitment: A fundamental component of the hospice, since the majority of children eventually went to live with a wet nurse in the country (Fuchs 162). Field representatives, doctors, and mayors all played roles in the recruitment. Despite all the recruiting efforts, the money and labor provided to the wet nurses and her family through the child, many women were reluctant to nurse abandoned babies, and most wished to find work for individual families. In the country, the wet nurse were recruited by a man called a meneurs, a private entrepreneur (Fuchs 14). This man took the women from the country into the cities, generally Paris. At times, women either wrote or went to the mayor seeking employment (Fuchs 165). One of the biggest stumbling blocks though to the recruitment stemmed from the abuses of the system. These abuses often blocked qualified women from becoming wetnurses due to stereotypes of the state officials. (To read about these abuses, click here)


Distribution of WetNurses: The majority of wetnurses during the 19th century came from poor rural families south of Paris. This is clearly shown through the map above. However, the wetnurses only came from northern France. In the beginning of the century, the majority of the wetnurses came from areas right outside of Paris, such as Loiret. However, as the century progressed, the distribution of wetnurses got farther away from Paris and slightly farther south.

Qualifications: The qualifications or requirements to be become a wet-nurse varied between theory and practice. Although, the officials involved in making and emplacing these requirements had good intentions, these efforts did not also play out in practice either because of abuses on the side of the women themselves, or because of abuses on the side of the officials which basically stemmed from the social stereotypes they had on the abandoned children..

Qualifications in Theory: The woman must be married, had certifiable good morals, prrof that she gave birth to her last child seven to fifteen months prior to requesting an infant. She also must have a crib and a screen for the fireplace, and she had to prove that she was able to raise and take care of the child. This meant that she was not completely dissolute, overburdened with a dozen other children, or mentally incompetent.Meeting all these requirements allowed the women to receive the certificat d'allaitement,a wet-nurses certificate, and thus receive a child. The only exception to these requirements in theory occurred when the need for wet-nurses far out ceeded the supply, and then unmarried women were also accepted. Also, to official become a registered wetnurse, the woman had to get a certificate signed by the mayor of her province.

Qualifications in 1852: The requirements changed to included that the women were between the ages of twenty and fourty; that their own children were all older than nine months and were weaned from breast milk. Their milk was also tested for its purity and abundance in the three medical examinations they needed to pass. The third and final examination was given in the hospice by the doctor. If they did not pass the exam, they were sent home without an infant, and their trip expenses was paid by the prépose in their district (Fuchs 166). However, if they did pass, they received the child, money for the trip's expenses and for the first trimester. These requirements were very similar to those of the Directions des Nourrices in Paris. This was a registry of sorts for wet-nurses that placed them with individual families (164).

At the Hospice

Un Départ de Nourrices pour la province-Aux Enfants Assistés. W.I. (c. 1880-1890)

After arriving at the hospice usually after a ten to fifteen day ride in a wagon, the women were given a final medical examination. If they passes this, then they were given their infant to take back with them into the country. However, the wetnurses usually stayed in the hospice for about three dys with their infant prior to leaving for home again.

Expenses: The expense of the trip including lodging and the rise to and from the hospicewas paid for by the state. However, if the women sent to the hospice, did not pass the final exam, the expenses were to be paid by the propose in their home district. This was a reason for an abuse in the system to develop. The state and its officials at times did not want to spend the money that the trip incurred by the wet-nurses; therefore, some wet nurses were given more than one child, which lessened the need for wetnurses, and thus lowered the expense paid for by the state.

To read about abuses click here

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This page created and maintained by Devon Hill