Philobiblon: So French, so practical

Sunday, January 16, 2005

So French, so practical

Apparently in the 18th century French, or at least, Parisian, society had a very practical method of dealing with illegitimacy, and stopping girls and women seeking abortions. Louis Sebastien Mercier, chronicler of the city, reports midwives would house girls in their apartment, each living in a screened-off area so that they could talk to but not see each other.

They would tell relatives, friends and neighbours that they were spending time in the country. The midwife would take the baby to be adopted or to a foundling hospital.

The only problem in this comfortable tale is that this service was expensive, so available only to the bourgeois and above. (p. 27)

These babies would, apparently, be joining many others. Some have calculated that 40 per cent (!!) of all children born in 18th-century France ended up in foundling hospitals (p. 20)

From: The King's Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray, by Nina Rattner Gelbart. See below.


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