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Mothers of Misery

Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia

David L. Ransel
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 344
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    Mothers of Misery
    Book Description:

    At the height of its operation in the second half of the nineteenth century, the central foundling home in Moscow was receiving 17,000 children each year. The home dispatched most to wet nurses and foster care in the countryside, where at any one time it supervised over 40,000 children in Moscow province and six adjoining provinces. Established by Empress Catherine II in the middle of the eighteenth century, the two central foundling homes (the other was in St. Petersburg) were intended to deal humanely with the growing problems of abandonment and infanticide and to serve as social laboratories for educating artisans and craftspeople. David Ransel explores the creation and management of these institutions, shows how they functioned as a point of contact between educated society and the village, and compares them to the European foundling care programs on which they were modeled. "There were two central foundling homes in Russia, one in Moscow, one in St. Petersburg. . . . [In this book] no significant aspect of their history is left untouched, and many issues are described and analyzed in rich detail. . . . the book becomes, in part, a history of rural Russia over a one-hundred-fifty-year period, or, more accurately, of the provincial hinterlands of the two capitals. . . . The interaction between city and countryside turns out to be much more than a clich in this fascinating study."--Reginald E. Zelnik, American Historical Review

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5944-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-2)
  7. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    This study began when I was casting about for a way to learn more an about peasant life than could be found in standard ethnographic accounts. Russian ethnographic studies, though excellent for their genre, are static, even formulaic. They do not help historians of the peasantry solve their most difficult problem, which is to penetrate the apparent stasis of village life and map the processes of change. An inventive historian like George Yaney has tried to overcome this difficulty by composing parables that describe transformations of village life.¹ To move beyond parables and ethnographic accounts, it was necessary to find...

  8. TWO Illegitimacy and Infanticide in Early Modern Russia
    (pp. 8-30)

    The exposure and killing of infants first became a matter of government concern in Russia at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Peter I issued a decree in 1712 deploring this needless waste of human life. “Children of shame,” as he called them, were being left in various places to die or were being killed outright soon after their birth. He ordered the establishment of hospitals (shpitalety) in every province, places where mothers of illegitimate children could deposit them in secret and thus avoid “committing the still greater sin of murder.”¹

    A half-century later, Ivan Betskoi (of whom much more...

  9. THREE “You Too Shall Live”: The Betskoi System
    (pp. 31-61)

    The accession of Catherine II to the throne in 1762 brought to Russia the optimism of the midcentury European Enlightenment. The empress had read widely in the fashionable juridical and social tracts of the age and shared the assumptions of most educated people about the power of social institutions to mold and perfect the individual. These beliefs moved her to attempt a redrafting of Russian laws on the model of the most advanced political theories of the day. It led to an order to ban torture in criminal investigation and to the initiation of a series of educational and social-welfare...

  10. FOUR The Era of the Turning Cradle in Europe and Russia
    (pp. 62-83)

    Since the establishment of foundling homes in Russia owed much to the desire of Russian leaders to make their country more like Europe, the experience of Europe continued to influence the operation of the Russian homes. France and Belgium were especially important, because these countries adopted large nationwide systems of foundling care in the early nineteenth century. Moreover, the French municipal homes had served as Betskoi’s principal model in erecting the Russian institutions, and France after the Revolution continued to hold the attention of Russians, providing a standard of progressive legislation in social affairs. Yet what happened in France was...

  11. FIVE Public Criticism and Piecemeal Reform
    (pp. 84-105)

    Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853–1856) prompted a reevaluation of nearly all social and political institutions, and the foundling homes did not escape scrutiny. Even aside from that impulse, the flow of abandonments had mounted so rapidly after the failed measures of the 1830s and 1840s that nearly everyone associated with the homes had come to realize the need for a fresh approach. Some people argued that Russia should do away with large central homes and shift to the Protestant system of giving responsibility to local agencies. Others doubted that either the Protestant system or the “Latin” one...

  12. SIX A Break with the Past
    (pp. 106-129)

    Though long delayed, the reform put into effect in 1891 was well thought out and thorough. The homes ended the previous compromises on the central issue of admissions and tried for once to maintain a consistent policy in regard to the link between a mother and her child. Finally, officials implemented the reform with sufficient firmness and coherence to convince potential clients that they could not bend the new rules to their convenience. In short, the reform of 1891 radically reordered admissions procedures in the midst of a rising curve of illegitimacy and abandonment and so allowed the foundling homes...

  13. SEVEN Sex Ratios of the Abandoned Children
    (pp. 130-149)

    People in most cultures greet the birth of a boy with greater enthusiasm than the birth of a girl. Russians have expressed this preference in many popular sayings and proverbs. It is revealed in simple positive statements such as, “When a son is born, even the coals rejoice.”¹ It can also be seen in many direct comparisons with the less valued daughters: “Your son stays at home; your daughter goes off to others,” and “Feed a son and do well by yourself; feed a daughter and you provide for other people.”² These sayings stress the usually early departure of daughters...

  14. EIGHT The Abandoning Mothers
    (pp. 150-175)

    Some information about the women who abandoned children to the foundling homes has been presented in previous chapters. A clearer picture of the social and occupational status of these women is needed, however, if we are to understand their motives for abandonment. A profile of this type could also provide fresh perspectives on social and personal relations in Russia during the imperial period. Unfortunately, Betskoi’s policy of shielding the identity of women coming to the homes greatly restricts the amount of information about them that is available for the first one hundred years of the homes’ existence. In the early...

  15. NINE Fosterage: The First One Hundred Years
    (pp. 176-197)

    Not long after the foundling homes started their work, they began sending infants out to fosterage in the rural areas surrounding the two cities in which they were located. Within a few years, the majority of the children in the care of the homes resided in the countryside, and it could be said that the main work of the homes became the placement of foundling children with wet nurses and foster families. Increasing admissions and the closing of the urban training centers for foundlings in the first half of the nineteenth century brought an intensification and spread of the fosterage...

  16. TEN The Foundling Market: A Network of Exchange between Town and Village
    (pp. 198-221)

    The programs of village fosterage may be called a “foundling market,” because they were essentially commercial mechanisms carrying on a traffic in children. The women drawn to the work of wet nursing and fosterage were rarely motivated by charitable instincts or even by the desire for children they could not have themselves. They regarded it as a job, an opportunity to earn needed cash or goods. The children served as a means to this end. As was pointed out earlier (chapter 4), not very many of the children survived beyond the first four years of life; hence, far from being...

  17. ELEVEN Geography of the Fosterage System
    (pp. 222-255)

    The fosterage system was dynamic. The actions of foundling: home officials, wet nurses, and middlemen did not remain within a fixed arena and the boundaries of the areas served shifted over time. The concentrations and spread of foster children among the okrugs tell much about the character of the foundling traffic, the motives of the people engaged in it, and the nature of its social and economic integration with the urban fields of influence.

    The maps on the following pages are intended to portray this dynamism. The “regions” shown on the maps are units of analysis created for this study;...

  18. TWELVE Social and Medical Consequences of Fosterage
    (pp. 256-293)

    The foundling care system in Russia began as a program for producing urban artisans and professionals. But as hopes for this program waned and the homes redirected children to long-term rural fosterage, people became concerned about the impact of the foundling children on the families and communities that hosted them. By the second half of the nineteenth century, with over 40,000 fosterlings in the Moscow system and 30,000 in the St. Petersburg program, it was difficult to deny that the presence of this large population in the okrugs could have serious effects. The objections to the fosterage program voiced even...

  19. THIRTEEN Conclusions
    (pp. 294-302)

    A publicist writing about the Russian foundling homes in the early twentieth century commented that these institutions came to Russia too soon. If he meant that they were a borrowing from Europe artificially cultivated in Russia before the conditions of native life required this type of welfare agency, he was partially right. The huge establishments that Catherine II and Ivan Betskoi built in the second half of the eighteenth century aimed at much more than saving the lives of the children then being deserted in the streets. Betskoi planned the homes as laboratories of social engineering with the purpose of...

    (pp. 303-308)
    (pp. 309-324)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 325-330)