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Banished Children: Jane Austen and the Village Wet Nurse

Readers are often surprised to learn that Jane Austen, typically for her time and place (the late 18th century in Western Europe), spent the first year-and-a-half of her life in the cottage of her wet nurse,

In this short article for the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America--New York region, I discuss the use of wet nurses among upper- and middle-class women, beginning in the late medieval period. In the days before bottles and formula, and when laundry day was enough to make strong women weep, most wives and mothers who could afford it employed a wet nurse for their newborns. Surprisingly for many modern readers, the typical wet nurse did not live in the same household, but had her own life and family in the village or the countryside.

p. 8-9 of the PDF