Childhood and Wet-Nurses: Women between Work and Motherhood in Italy in the Past (18th-20th Cc.).

Giovanna Da Molin, CIRPAS- University of Bari
Maria Federighi, CIRPAS- University of Bari

The paper wishes to examine the main aspects about the figure of the Italian wet nurse, a poor woman, who, by job or by vote, breast fed abandoned children in the foundling hospitals or children of wealthy families between 18th and 20th cc. Inside the archival documents children and wet-nurses become serial numbers, entering and leaving the institutions. That’s why wet-nurses have left numerous historical records, belonging mainly to the Venice foundling hospital "Registri di ruolo ", to Florence "Balie e bambini", to Bologna "Bollettari" and to Naples- "Libro Maggiore de 'Projetti". The sources’ analysis brings out quantitative-qualitative datas: name, age, provenance, health condition, social status, husband's profession, duration of wet nursing and wage. Some documents allow a qualitative analysis through the reconstruction of wet nurses’ life stories. From the study of the sources 3 models of nurse are outlined: internal, external, migrant. The profile of the internal is represented by a single mother, a poor single woman, who for poverty and shame has often given birth into the foundling hospitals and sells her milk in the institution. The external is a married woman, whose husband has a job, which, in addition to the budget, welcomes an abandoned child inside her family with her children. The migrant wet nurse is a poor woman who moves away from her children to go towards the big cities and abroad with wealthy families to sell her milk. The national scenario highlights a female socio-professional framework, focusing on the functions and tasks of the “mother-nurse-woman” who temporarily assumes the role of the child's adoptive mother. The research intends to reconstruct the "world of wet nurses" at the national level, highlighting similarities and differences from city to city, always maintaining the condition of women, single girl or mother, forced to sell milk for survival.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 172. Gender, Labor, and Power