Response to “Science and Controversy in the History of Infancy in America”

  • Margaret O’Brien Steinfels
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)


What intellectuals or journalists, or for that matter physicians or psychologists, report about child-rearing is not necessarily an accurate description of what parents do to their children, or how they raise them, think of them, or feel about them. Professor Kett’s opening, cautionary remark underlines a problem that historians have in turning to the past when trying to answer questions about the relationship between parents and children; about the details of child care; about the necessary distinctions to be made among child neglect, child abuse, and infanticide. Not only is it difficult to recover the details of domestic life (the fashion of using wet nurses, for example) or the meaning of public events (the establishment of foundling hospitals), it is nearly impossible to uncover people’s motives in using them. Institutions or services founded for one purpose are often used by clients for other or additional reasons. Foundling hospitals were established to care for abandoned newborns and they became the repositories for illegitimate and orphaned children as well. What were the motives of mothers in leaving their children at the foundling door?


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Margaret O. Steinfels, Who’s Minding the Children? The History and Politics of Day Care in America. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1974, Chapters 2 and 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2a.
    Donald M. Scott and Bernard Wishy, ed., America’s Families: A Documentary History. New York: Harper & Row, 1982, p. 139, and p. 130.Google Scholar
  3. 2b.
  4. 3.
    John Demos, “Child Abuse in Context: An Historian’s Perspective.” Unpublished paper, January 1979. Quoted with author’s permission.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    John Wain, Samuel Johnson: A Biography. New York: The Viking Press, 1974, pp. 17–26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Humana Press Inc. 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret O’Brien Steinfels

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