From “That Wicked House”: Reputation and Infanticide in 17th-Century Massachusetts
My paper offers a new interpretation of why colonial Englishwomen committed infanticide, complicating existing categories of “social” vs. “anti-social” violence for colonial women. In doing so, it examines the profound role rumor and household reputation played in these women’s crimes. The public portrayed women accused of infanticide as disgraced perpetrators of unimaginable acts. But by examining the impact of fornication, adultery, and bastardy prosecutions on women and their households, as well as evidence from infanticide cases, we can see that women in seventeenth-century Massachusetts committed infanticide as part of a conservative desire to protect the interests of their households and kin groups in their communities. During a period in which infanticide was policed and prosecuted with unprecedented intensity, these women’s acts of violence helped perpetuate the very social order and structures of authority that sought to condemn them.
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