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Mothering in the Casa Datini
Joseph P. Byrne (Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Kennesaw, Georgia), Eleanor A. Congdon (Berkshire Community College)
Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 35–56, (1999)
The Datini archive in Prato, Italy, provides much detailed information about mothers and children in a merchant-class household of late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Tuscany. Over some thirty years the childless Margherita Datini supervised and cared for children of friends, relatives and business associates, and her husband’s illegitimate daughter. Letters, household financial records, and Datini’s business ledgers reveal many aspects of the lives of Margherita – as surrogate mother – and the children. The data show a fluid environment overseen by a strong-willed and caring mistress.
During the later middle ages, one woman’s concern and care for the offspring of another was a common phenomenon. Both societal and natural factors encouraged surrogate-mothering practices including wet-nursing, fostering, and step-parenting. The well-documented Tuscans of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries provide some of the best information available about these child-rearing patterns.