Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue

Dishonoured women and abandoned children in Italy, 1300–1800

This book seeks to contribute to Italian social history and to deepen understanding of Catholic charity and social policy in past times. It focuses on two groups of disreputable (or at least tarnished) women and children and on the arrangements made to discipline and care for them, both by public authorities and by voluntary organisations and would-be benefactors. The first group consisted of prostitutes, concubines, single mothers, estranged wives, and girls in moral danger. The second was composed of children, many born outside wedlock, who were abandoned by their blood parents, out of shame or poverty or both. A synoptic survey, the book examines the complications involved in the tolerance and regulation of activities considered bad but impossible to suppress. Could licensed prostitution be used as a lesser evil to counter supposedly greater abuses, such as sodomy, adultery or concubinage, and to protect ‘decent’ women? Could child abandonment be tamed and used against the greater evils of infanticide or abortion, to preserve the honour of women who had borne illegitimate children and to save fragile lives? And what should be done to protect and rescue the victims of sexual exploitation and children separated from their natural mothers?

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