A collection of essays on a wide range of topics, from New York Quaker marriage lengths in the 1800s to a review of feminist literature from the 1970s. Naturally some were more interesting to me than others, but overall this was a very informative collection. Here are some of the notes I took while reading it.
Emily Coleman--Drawing from the Polypytch of the Abbot Imminion, which describes the lands and families belonging to the monestary of Saint Germain-des-Prés. In the 9th century in France, there were four categories of peasants: liberi, coloni, lidi and servii. The Liberi were legally free, the coloni mostly descendents of Roman peasants, the Lides were originally laeti (barbarians introduced into Gaul by Diocletian) who started as farmers and soldiers, then became servile laborers, and the servi who were the descendents of slaves. Children took their mother's class. There were few women on the land at the time, so one might assume that women would be able to pick and chose, thus generally marrying up in class. But actually, records show the opposite was true: among marriages between people of different classes, 76% were women marrying a man of lower class. Coleman's hypothesis is that since women maintained their class status regardless of who they married, and generally passed their own status on to their children, they married for land while men married (at least partly) for social status. No way to prove this, sadly.
Pierre Goubert--A review of the current state of knowledge and theories about early modern French history (17th century). Short and violent demographic crises, caused by epidemics and high prices for cereals. Large variability in fertility (women of some areas, like Brittany, French Flanders, gave birth every year, while other areas like the South-Western provinces gave birth every third year)and death rates (especially among children--on Normandy's sea shore, infant mortality was as low as 15%, while among abandoned children of Paris it exceeded 80%). Girls generally married around 25 or 26, and 95% were not pregnant (very unlike 18th century England). Coitus interruptus began really making an impact on the French birth rate, which fell from 39/1000 in 1780 to below 25 in 1880. "No other country in the known world experienced so early and so rapid a decline." The cause is mysterious, because no one wrote about such behavior at the time. In the 2nd half of the 18th century, when contraception was starting to get used more, mobility also increased 2 or 3 fold.
Peter Laslett--Tried to determined age and menarche for 17th century Europeans. tried to use age at marriage or age at 1st childbirth to get some idea, but really it's impossible.
Edward Shorter--"Starting in the mid 18th century a dramatic increase in the proportion of illegitimate births commenced all over Europe." Probably not just a rise in reporting, since priests were very careful to distinguish per-maritally conceived babies in the 17th century. Shorter proposes that it could be due to less abortion. He says it isn't just that women had a harder time getting their lovers or rapists to marry them, because premarital conception increased just as illegitimate births increased. A few more points: Half of all illegitimate births in 17th century Grenoble were fathered by women's masters or employers. "A distinctive feature of factory worker life in the 1800s was staggering rates of illegitimacy...The single group most prone to illegitimacy was urban domestic servants." "In every city in England and the continent for which data are available, the upsurge in illegitimacy commenced around 1750 or before." "In most German-speaking areas from Austria to Pomerania, legal restrictions on marriage were reinforced in the 19th century" because they feared that allowing the poor to marry would lead to loads of children being born and having to be supported by welfare. But in fact, marriage restrictions just meant there was an explosion in illegitimate births. When the laws were repealed in the late 1860s, illegitimacy ratio sagged in the space of a year or two.
Robert Wells--American life expectancy at birth doubled between 1800 and 1970, while the birth rate fell by over 50%. Wells wanted to see how these demographic changes affected the family, so he compared Quaker NY families in the early 1800s to families in the mid 1900s. Women married at about the same age (20 to 22), and in most cases in both eras, they had their first child within a year or two of marriage. But modern women stopped having babies after about 30, whereas Quaker women didn't--so Quaker women spent about 17.4 years bearing children. (This is, if anything, an underestimation of average 18th century Americans, since Quakers were among the first to deliberately limit the size of their families.) Because mortality fell, length of marriage rose over time. For early Quakers, the last child only left home when the woman was around 60, and half the marriages were broken by the death of a partner less than a year after that. By the 20th century, longer life expectancy and fertility decline meant that for the first time, couples could expect
a life together after their children were gone. Before, marriage was virtually synonymous with children. After, it was also about companionship.
Joseph Kett--When the range of choices available to people was very narrow, no need for a period of indecision. Population concentration in US after 1800 led to decline of family as the working unit (especially in urban settings) and separation of children from adults. Around this time came the Second Awakening, where the majority of converters were teenagers. This drew people's imaginations to the idea of youth as a time of plasticity and instability; you can start to see this in medical texts from the 1830s onwards. Focus of literature is one men of around 20, when they were leaving home, but for girls focused on puberty, when their sexual purity became at risk. "Youth" wasn't a well defined age, more dependent on whether someone was working or in school. Since men were educated seasonally (after harvest, before planting), they'd be considered adult part of the year, and a youth or a child for others. The loose and informal nature of 19th century academics and ease of switching from one occupation to another created a sort of built-in period of indecision. But Protestants got anxious that if someone converted later in life, they might choose the "wrong" church, and so started pressuring people to convert earlier, around puberty.