Ummm... Prostitute?

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Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby johnnyonthespot » 22 Oct 2010, 03:57

What is the most logical explanation for a woman giving birth to five children over a span of 16 years (1811-1827), all in the same comune, with each atti di nascita listing the father as "ignoto"?

Would it be fair to assume this woman may have been a prostitute? Is there another reasonable explanation? A "woman of poor moral character" perhaps?
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby maestra36 » 22 Oct 2010, 11:04

She could very well have been a mistress to a town priest. Often a priest had a mistress and had multiple children with her. Because of his position, he would not be named in the records, and the children carried her surname. Also he could have been a married man or a wealthy landowner or nobleman. Many peasants worked on large estates owned by such wealthy men, and it was common for rich landowners to impregnate the poor peasant girls. Unlike in Protestant countries where the father was expected to step up and accept his responsibility, in Italy, these men were protected and everything fell upon the woman. More than likely, everyone in the town knew who the father of these children were, but the man was protected by not being officially named in the records.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby maestra36 » 22 Oct 2010, 11:10

I should add that prostitution in Italy was highly regulated by the government, and it was more common in the bigger urban areas than in the small villages. An interesting book on the subject:

Prostitution and the State in Italy:1860-1915 by Mary Gibson.

Unfortunately, there is no discussion of the topic of pregnancy in this book.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby oilman19 » 22 Oct 2010, 12:18

Peg

I kind of chuckled when I heard you were reading that book. :lol:

It sounds like it was quite an education.
Jim

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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby maestra36 » 22 Oct 2010, 13:59

Jim
I probably would never thought about buying a book like this, although I too, at some point, had questioned whether a woman who had a number of children born of unknown fathers in the records could have been a prostitute.

I originally saw this book advertised on ancestry.com (my sons are always buying me books as gifts, but I have to provide them with book titles, since my reading is always so specialized). I came across this book on that website, and it cost $27.95. I wasn't really sure if I wanted it, so I never told them about it. Then I was in this huge used bookstore in my area. It's set up like a library, but there are very few books on Italy, and Italian related subjects, since there are so few Italians in this area. Probably some college student had to read it for a course and then sold to this book store. When I first saw the used copy, which is in excellent condition, it was $8, but I wasn't sure I wanted it at that price either. Then when I was there weeks later, the book was still there and had been reduced to $4. So, for that price, I grabbed it. It is a well researched book and an interesting read. Mary Gibson, the author, is a history professor -John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City U of NY.

From the college's current website-

Professor Mary Gibson of the Department of History received a $50,400 Faculty Research Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support her research for a book about the construction of prison policy by the new Italian liberal state after unification in 1860.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby Tessa78 » 22 Oct 2010, 14:10

An interesting read for the "flip side" of this issue is:
Sacrified for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control - by David Kertzer.

T.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby maestra36 » 22 Oct 2010, 14:17

I'm glad you mentioned that book, T. It is one of my very favorites. In fact, I own quite a few of Prof Kertzer's books.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby Tessa78 » 22 Oct 2010, 14:25

Hi Peg,

Just finished reading his latest... Amalia's Tale: A Poor Peasant, An Ambitious Attorney, and A Fight for Justice

Heart-wrenching!!!!

T.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby maestra36 » 22 Oct 2010, 15:00

That really is quite a heart-wrenching story, T. I was really interested in that book because I was doing a lot of research about women who served as "balie" or wetnurses to abandoned children.

Back to the subject of prostitution though, which was Carmine's original question, I meant to add that, because the Italian govt regulated prostitution, women who were prostitutes were required to register with the govt. Also a woman could be arrested for prostitution simply because she was homeless and unemployed. Those two factors alone marked a woman as immoral.

Prostitutes were also subject to regular medical exams. The govt, according to Gibson's research, was more concerned with these women not passing sexually transmitted diseases to the nation's military, for example, who might be inclined to go to prostitutes, than it was concerned with the health of these women.

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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby Tessa78 » 22 Oct 2010, 19:33

And, as you know, prostitutes were required by law to give up their children to the foundling homes. Midwives were required to report those who did not.

T.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby Italysearcher » 23 Oct 2010, 00:47

You do not say where or when these births took place. I recently did a search in Ceccano part of the former Papal States, around 1885 where almost all births gave only the father's name and the mother was ignota.
If the act reads: a man not her husband or relative and not wanting to be identified (or similar) then it could simply be that she was married only in the church and not civilly and the town were rigidly applying the law.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby johnnyonthespot » 23 Oct 2010, 08:00

Italysearcher wrote:You do not say where or when these births took place. I recently did a search in Ceccano part of the former Papal States, around 1885 where almost all births gave only the father's name and the mother was ignota.
If the act reads: a man not her husband or relative and not wanting to be identified (or similar) then it could simply be that she was married only in the church and not civilly and the town were rigidly applying the law.


Hi, Ann.

It was Malvito, in Cosenza province. I have reviewed hundreds of atti and only a very small number were of this type. In the particular case I was writing about, the father's name was specifically given as "ignoto" in all five atti di nascita.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby johnnyonthespot » 23 Oct 2010, 11:30

Let me add concerning Ann's comment, that many of my lines seem to reach a partial dead-end in the 1810's / 1820's with an atti di nascita which lists the father as ignoto and gives the child his/her mother's surname.

So, perhaps morals were a bit looser in that time and place, or, as Ann suggested, the marriages weren't officially recognized by the state. When did civil records become mandatory in Cosenza?

Where has Peter Timber been hiding? I would expect him to jump in with the answer to this last question. :)
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby tomassid » 03 Mar 2011, 17:42

I have ancestors in Sardinia and just found my great grandfather was illegitimate, born 1869. His birth record had his father's name stating "he laid with an unmarried woman" but no where on the birth record did it state the mother's name! On his later marriage record, 1891, the place for mother's name is left blank. However, I have his death record from US and his mother's name is Martina. Now, this same illegitimate man, names several children after this mother, who is unknown on all Italian records, including my grandfather, Martino. I cannot figure out what happened. If she was a prostitute, which I first thought might be the case, he wouldn't name his children after her. I am baffled. Any help would be appreciated.
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Re: Ummm... Prostitute?

Postby Italysearcher » 03 Mar 2011, 19:19

1809 for Cosenza I believe
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