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Back in the days of family values, when abortion was illegal

 
 
Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 Jan, 2004 06:09 pm
Brandon9000 wrote:

Quote:
I think that you're making an oblique statement supporting abortion... I don't believe that it's a good idea to try to argue a political point on an extremely controversial topic on the History board, disguised as a simple historical presentation.


For the record, I considered posting this on the politics board, but it could be objected to there as well, on the grounds of relevance, as in: "What does this have to do with the situation in America today? This should be on the history board." In my judgement, faulty though it may have been, this material is of more interest to history buffs than it would be to the right-to-life OR the right-to-choose crowds, whose opinions tend to be ideological rather than swayed by evidence. AND I was more interested in responses to this material from a historical rather than a political perspective.

I thought some might question the accuracy of these figures, or wonder how they were compiled, which I would like to know myself. I hoped some might delve into speculation as to the motivation of women abandoning their children in defiance of a presumably stronger Church, the most obvious, but not only, explanation being poverty. Also, the near impossibility of divorce in those centuries was, I am sure, a factor in many cases, and as this suggests a very different world from today's, it is pretty clear that -my or anyone else's opinion to the contrary- the data does not lead to an automatic conclusion that abortion is a good or necessary thing.

I had no agenda. I thought it would either lead to further discussion, the nature of which would be up to the posters, or not.

In retrospect, I should perhaps have chosen a less inflammatory title, but I am stunned by the suggestion that either personal opinion or relevance to modern life are considered inappropriate to discussions of history. I would suggest that if you are offended by such, simply DO NOT READ threads that defy your standards, or include buzzwords that may lead to topics you do not wish to discuss any further. That's what I do. Obviously, if everyone agreed with your position, the thread would die off, as many threads have.

I am considering posting a short summary of a Smithsonian article detailing the treatment of Americans loyal to the crown (Tories) by the Patriots. It will be titled "Historical Precedent for the Patriot Act?" Again, I will be posting it because I found it fascinating, and in the hopes that others might too, and, although it obviously has political implications, in my judgement it is primarily of historical interest. And yes, the title is deliberately provocative. Maybe it will lead to further discussion, maybe it won't.

If it offends you, or you find it inappropriate in a History forum, you may wish to ignore that post as well. Unless, of course, you are determined to rise to the rank of Final Arbiter of the History Boards, grazing undisturbed in a private pasture.
0 Replies
 
lightfoot
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2004 12:03 am
If it happened in the past it's history, I see no harm in going on side tracks if the subject is revelent, at the same time if it offends.... don't read.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2004 09:07 am
Greyfan wrote:
....Unless, of course, you are determined to rise to the rank of Final Arbiter of the History Boards, grazing undisturbed in a private pasture.

There is nothing about anything I have said here which could reasonably be interpreted as setting myself up as final arbiter of anything. I am merely expressing a personal opinion that making a covert political point, but disguising it as interesting facts from history seems to violate the board's separation of topics. I understand perfectly that historical facts tend to have political implictions, but I suspected that the point of your post was primarily to make a political point, which was why my first post asked you whether you had a point. If we consider, say, a political viewpoint which presumably everyone here disagrees with - say neo-Natziism, I believe that no one would appreciate someone posting pro-Nazi sentiments on the History board in the guise of an interesting look at history, and such a person would be told very quickly indeed to take it to the Politics board. I am not comparing your ideas to Naziism, but merely saying that if it is your actual intention to make a political point on a controversial topic, I don't think this is a good place for it. However, this is only a personal opinion.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2004 10:19 am
Greyfan wrote:
I thought some might question the accuracy of these figures, or wonder how they were compiled, which I would like to know myself.

I question the accuracy of those figures, but without any kind of idea about the sources or methodologies used, it would be rather fruitless to speculate about these particular numbers.

In general, I'd say that relying on any pre-nineteenth century statistics is a rather risky affair. Furthermore, municipal and church records are not always complete, especially when dealing with potentially embarrassing facts like illegitimacy.

I am particularly dubious about the statistic regarding the percentage of women who were pregnant at the time of their marriage. Presumably, the researcher compared birth dates with marriage dates, and any birth that was less than nine months after the wedding would mean that the mother was pregnant at the time of the wedding (I can't imagine that any church register would specifically record who was or wasn't pregnant at the time of the wedding service). But that doesn't take into account premature infants (which would make the percentages smaller) or stillbirths/spontaneous abortions/induced abortions (which would make the percentages bigger) or incomplete record-keeping (which would make the percentages worthless).

I've read Lawrence Stone's book on the family, sex, and marriage in England from 1500-1800 (entitled, appropriately enough, "Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800"), which deals with many of these issues. Stone made a number of conclusions like the ones that you cited, Greyfan, but reading Stone's footnotes made one thing quite clear: Stone's sources and methodology sucked. He would draw vast conclusions from meager facts, very often relying on anecdotal evidence when the statistics were unavailable (or contrary). All in all, a rather shoddy piece of work.

So I'm not convinced by the statistics that you cited, Greyfan, at least not without looking at the sources. They're interesting, they merit further research, but they're not conclusive.
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2004 06:57 pm
The statistics for premarital pregnancy in England pretty much reflect what was going on in New England at the same time. There is a lot of academic literature on this but for an easily accessible account see "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on Her Diary 1785-1812", by Laural Thatcher Ulrich, A. Knopf 1990. These were not illegitimate or "low life" pregnancies but a fairly standard part of 18th century courtship and marriage, particularly in rural areas.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 Jan, 2004 07:03 pm
I would tend to trust statistics compiled in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well, because the entire concept of statistical recording and collating for purposes of demographic analysis arose there, and was used to assign the Poor Rates, and to administer the Poor Law and the Union Workhouses. In the Salford book, the author comments that in turn-of-the-century England, many couples not only produced their first child without benefit of clergy, but often continued to cohabit and reproduce in that estate. He is able to produce the by then quite reliable registers of births, deaths, christenings (a social statistic in a nation with an established church) and marriages.
0 Replies
 
Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 09:13 am
Brandon9000 wrote:

Quote:
I suspected that the point of your post was primarily to make a political point


I can only reply that it wasn't. I don't believe you can deduce my opinion about abortion from what I have posted in this thread, although you appear to think you have. The best way to convince you, I think, will be to continue to refrain from posting a personal opinion on the issue of abortion, which -for the last time- I have not done, and pledge not to do.

joefromchicago, you are correct as to the method used to determine the pregnancy rate for married women in England. That is the only methodology the article, which was a review of current books in family history, actually cited; in the other cases, the author seemed to be presenting the data as established fact, predating the books being reviewed. I would be grateful for any input from someone familiar with how these "facts" came to be established.

Setana's explanation of the English statistics seems reasonable to me, with the correction for "illegitimate" pregnancies suggested by joe in place. I can accept the possibility that the rate of "legitimate" babies turned over to the foundling hospital in Spain and Italy after mothers were required to present their offspring in person could be discovered, if the hospital records survived, but how was the death rate for infants in the care of wet nurses in eighteenth century France established, as well as the other overall numbers? Are there census records, or other documents, that could be used? Or is this, as joe suggests, a case of creative speculation on the part of researchers?

Acquiunk wrote, concerning the bride pregnancy rate:

Quote:
That statistic was true for New England for all of the 18th century but it began to decline rapidly after 1810 and was no longer found by 1840. It had nothing to do with lose(sic) morals or hypocrisy. Rather the structure and demands of rural families in preindustrial economies were very different those in an industrial economy. children were both an asset and an economic necessity and the child bearing capabilities of a prospective bride a real concern. Your statistic, in the form it is presented is meaningless.


I must politely disagree. It appears to have meaning to you; you are using it to illustrate a difference between a pre industrial and industrial economy, which may very well be what it illustrates. To me, it shows as well that the perception that a high illegitimacy rate is only a modern phenomenon is untrue. I also believe it does have something to say about loose morals and hypocrisy, building upon your interpretation. It shows either that the realities of life in the early nineteenth century took precedence over dogma, or that Christianity was not more influential in the past than it is today, as many suppose, or both. The past, I conclude in any case, was not a golden age; nor is the present a more degenerate one.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 12:53 pm
Acquiunk, Setanta: I have no doubt that, in some isolated instances, we can find reliable and complete statistics prior to 1800. Furthermore, I don't doubt that there were significant levels of illegitimacy, child mortality, and pre-marital sex in the pre-modern era. But extrapolating local statistics on marriage, family, and sex to a national level is theoretically invalid (and was one of the major failings of the Stone book). Thus I am somewhat more comfortable with statistics relating to the domestic habits of the inhabitants of a small town than I would be of a large nation.

Greyfan: I also doubt the figures regarding the death rates of infants sent out to wet nurses. The notion that we can know that statistic for 18th century France or any 13th century country seems rather farfetched to me.

I'm not sure if this is "creative speculation" or flawed methodology or sloppy research or something else. Historians who want to make big conclusions are often faced with small, incomplete bits of evidence. Rather than sacrificing the conclusion, some will fudge the evidence.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 01:04 pm
With regard to statistics in England after 1750, i consider them to be most likely reliable, with errors being more the exception, because of their use in relation to the administration of the Poor Laws. Given that Parliament before 1832 was representative of less than 3% of the population, all of whom were rate payers, they habitually took a narrow interest in how funds were being spent. When Scrooge asks the gentlemen soliciting a charitable donation whether the Union Workhouses and Treadmill are still in operation, and expresses his relief to learn that they are still operating in their useful fashion, it is simply hyperbole for a common attitude among the class of property owners whose tax rates supported such institutions. I would give such credence only in the specific case of England in the latter half of the eighteenth century and thereafter, because i don't know of any nation (with the possible exception of Prussia, about which i have no information on this subject) other than England which took such a painstakingly narrow and proximate interest in compiling such data. As for the "legitimacy" of any child born, i would pay no attention to that. Both anecdotal evidence and the sketchy data available strongly suggest that benefit of clergy was not a big issue with those below the "upwardly aspiring" classes.
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 01:14 pm
Setanta wrote:
As for the "legitimacy" of any child born, i would pay no attention to that. Both anecdotal evidence and the sketchy data available strongly suggest that benefit of clergy was not a big issue with those below the "upwardly aspiring" classes.


Of equal if not more significance, the definition of legitimacy, changes over time. In the 18th century it identified those children who had a legal claim on their parents estate. At present it identifies children born to a legally married couple. At present in most of the US (or at least Connecticut) all children regardless of the form of the parental relationship have a claim on the estate.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 01:47 pm
Setanta wrote:
With regard to statistics in England after 1750, i consider them to be most likely reliable, with errors being more the exception, because of their use in relation to the administration of the Poor Laws.

It is much more complicated than that, Setanta. The first British census was in 1801: prior to that date, there were no national demographic statistics for Great Britain. Consequently, any attempt to compile national statistics for pre-1801 Britain would necessitate compiling all of the local statistics together. But then we'd need to insure that the record-keeping among all the localities was uniform, consistent, and complete -- a daunting and, I would think, impossible task.

Now, to be sure, we could make some pretty solid educated guesses, based on, e.g., a compilation of local statistics that represented 90% of the population. I would guess, however, that any pre-1801 compilation would more likely represent a figure significantly less than that, and we'd still have the problem of possible inconsistencies between the localities (some, after all, were more generous in their administration of the Poor Laws than were others).

In short, although the local statistics can be suggestive of national percentages, they cannot be conclusive.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 1 Feb, 2004 01:51 pm
I guess i'm more comfortable with that, though, Boss, given that so little in historical research is conclusive, and we are in the realm of speculation at any event.

As for the core thesis, "the good old days," i'd have to say that i came to the conclusion that this was hogwash a very long time ago.
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