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‘So Foul A Deed’: Infanticide in Montreal, 1825–1850


The preceding narrative is, in many ways, illustrative of the complex and contradictory phenomenon of infanticide in the district of Montreal during the first half of the nineteenth century. Although notices regarding the finding of infant bodies were frequent, discovery of twin infant bodies was not. This account was also unconventional in its tone: lacking the usual sterile narration typical of newspaper coverage of that topic, it cried out for the apprehension of the “perpetrator of so foul a deed.” Although the call for justice might have appeared strong, infanticide prosecutions were fairly rare and convictions rarer still. The prevalent view might have been to characterize the responsible party as an “unfeeling mother,” but the reality surrounding infanticide was altogether more complicated, yet fully as tragic.

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Marie-Aimée Cliche , “L'infanticide dans la région de Québec (1660–1969),” Revue d'histoire de l'Amérique française 44 (1990): 34, n.8

Ian C. Pilarczyk , “‘The Terrible Haystack Murder’: The Moral Paradox of Hypocrisy, Prudery, Piety in Antebellum America,” American Journal of Legal History 41 (1997): 25

Constance Backhouse , “Desperate Women and Compassionate Courts: Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century Canada,” University of Toronto Law Journal 34 (1984): 456, n.26 (indicating only three infanticide cases were reported in nineteenth-century Canada)

Mary Beth Wasserlein Emmerichs , “Trials of Women for Homicide in Nineteenth-Century England,” Women and Criminal Justice 5 (1993): 99109 (surveys in 5- year increments of infanticide prosecutions in England)

Paul A. Gilje , “Infant Abandonment in Early Nineteenth-Century New York City: Three Cases,” Signs 8 (1983) 580–90

Kenneth Wheeler , “Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century Ohio,” Journal of Social History 31 (1997): 407–18

R. Sauer , “Infanticide and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Population Studies 32 (1978): 8093

W. Peter Ward , “Unwed Motherhood in Nineteenth-Century English Canada,” Communications Historiques/Historical Papers (1981): 3456

Peter Gossage , “Les Enfants Abandonnés à Montréal au 19e Siècle: La Crèche d'Youville des Soeurs Grises, 1820–1871,” Revue d'Histoire de l'Amérique Française 40 (1986–87): 537–59

David Field , Jeremy Hockey , and Neil Small , eds., Death, Gender and Ethnicity (New York: Routledge, 1997), 6

Jim Phillips , “The Operation of the Royal Pardon in Nova Scotia, 1749–1815,” University of Toronto Law Journal 42 (1992): 401–49

Elizabeth de G.R. Hansen , “Overlaying in Nineteenth-Century England: Infant Mortality or Infanticide?Human Ecology 7 (1979): 333–43

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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