The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance - John Boswell John Boswell writes "From Roman times to the late Middle Ages, children were abandoned throughout great numbers, by parents of every social standing, in a great variety of circumstances." If this passage evokes images of suffering, despair and death, Boswell postulates that from the standpoint of the family and social contexts (if not from the standpoint of children from their social niche and limiting their chances of marriage and reproduction, it curtailed the number of heirs without actually eliminating OH, really?] the children." Abandonment allowed parents " to correct for gender, shift unwanted children to situations where they were desired or valued.." The practice was widespread. Rousseau bragged of throwing his five children to foundling homes. ( “Rousseau wrote that he persuaded Thérèse to give each of the newborns up to a foundling hospital, for the sake of her "honor")* Children were regarded as property' in Roman times and the father had absolute authority. Christian parents, too, abandoned children, although many were concerned lest the fathers later risk incest upon meeting their daughters unknowingly in the local brothel! Boswell suggested the church unwittingly encouraged abandonment by its emphasis on procreative sexuality and its opposition to abortion and infanticide.

It seems to me that abandonment should be viewed less as demographic and cultural relief mechanism, than as a social disaster. By the early 15th century when evidence becomes more substantial we learn rates of mortality in and out of orphanages were very high. Certainly the religious institutions of the times must bear a large share of the blame for not encouraging a sense of individual responsibility. They supported profligate procreation rather than careful recreation. There is a lesson in that which we as a society have yet to learn.