Sacrificed For Honor


  • Runner-up, 1995 Goode Award (book on family), American Sociological Association.


  • Choice, December 1st, 1993

    An engaging, deeply researched history of institutionalized infant abandonment in 19th-century Italy. Kertzer combines local studies with statistical generalizations and ably places them in sweeping comparative and historical perspective. The book complements John Boswell's The Kindness of Strangers (1988) and Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (CH, May'78). Kertzer explores social norms and ideologies through the prism of the "the Wheel"—a device linking the foundling home and the outside world, contrived so as to permit anonymous abandonment of infants. He wisely notes several causes for institutionalized infant abandonment, but stresses the Catholic Church's overriding concerns for family honor and the infant's soul as distinct from its welfare; hence the book's forceful but overly pointed title. Of special interest is the discussion of efforts to cope with unintended consequences and perverse incentive effects in the system of "reproductive control." An epilogue suggests that this history sheds fresh light on current controversies over reproductive rights and policies in the US.

  • Reference and Research Book News, November 1st, 1993

    Looking at the complex history of unwed mothers and their babies in Italy, Kertzer illuminates today's controversies in connection with reproductive rights, abortion, child care, and welfare—a wide range of issues that seriously need the light shed by clear, imaginative studies such as this one.

  • Publishers Weekly, June 21st, 1993

    Pregnant single women in 19th-century Italy, threatened with the loss of their own and their families' honor, gave their babies to foundling homes, where hundreds of thousands of children died from starvation and disease. In this shocking and engrossing study, Kertzer, a historian and anthropologist at Brown, blames the Catholic Church for its central role in nurturing a system that controlled women's sexuality, exempted men from parental responsibility and consigned infants to death. Midwives were recruited by church and state officials to inform on illicit pregnancies. Many foundling homes devised programs under which unwed mothers, in order to pay for their own infants' care, were forced to serve as wet nurses for other children. Kertzer draws loose parallels between the system of legalized infant abandonment, which spread throughout southern Europe, and contemporary debates on abortion and the role of church and state in defining the social good.

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