Christened an Engelmacher, or "angel-maker"
June 7, 2008 4:23 PM Subscribe
NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT -- The Advertiser, a Widow with a little family of her own, and moderate allowance from her late husband's friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent's care. Terms, Fifteen Shillings a month; or would adopt entirely if under two months for the small sum of Twelve pounds.
posted by Countess Elena (38 comments total)
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This kindly nineteenth-century advertisement had a hidden meaning. If a woman paid her adoption fee to a baby farmer
and handed over her infant, no one ever had to worry about that baby, ever again.
There were, of course, baby-farmers who took in children as actual providers of childcare, but the words "baby farming" acquired a very different sense. Without reliable contraception or any safe or legal abortions, poor unwed mothers in the English-speaking world of the nineteenth century had hardly any choices. Employers could turn out a girl "without references" -- quite the end of some work, such as domestic service -- if there was any hint of immorality about her. In a time of high infant mortality, prior to the reliable institution of birth certificates, it was unsettlingly easy for a newborn child to disappear. A combination of neglect and opiate-laced patent medicines would do for such children, and the formality of a burial could be foregone. Sometimes the children were simply smothered outright.
of Reading, was hanged in 1896 for the murder of the infant Helena Fry, whose corpse was dragged from the river by a boathook, but she may have murdered dozens more. Minnie Dean
, the only woman ever executed in New Zealand, was a baby farmer, convicted of the murder of Dorothy Edith Carter. The bodies of two other infants were found in her garden. American
examples can be found
in the free 19th century archives of the New York Times
(all PDFs), although some women branded "baby farmers" by the reporters of the old Times
seem more like victims of circumstance.