Event Title

Seduction, Premarital Sex, and the Law in Eighteenth-century France

Location

CSU 204

Start Date

5-4-2010 1:00 PM

End Date

5-4-2010 3:00 PM

Student's Major

History

Student's College

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Mentor's Name

Christopher Corley

Mentor's Department

History

Mentor's College

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Description

Although sources revealing single women’s lives in preindustrial Europe are scarce, paternity suits – official complaints filed by single women or their fathers against the women’s sexual partners – are one type of source eighteenth-century historians have used to shed light on some aspects of single women’s lives during the period. In an age without DNA testing, options available to women who became pregnant outside of marriage were limited, and historians have debated how much latitude and power these women had while they pursued their lawsuits. Researching premarital sex and pregnancy through paternity suits reveals at least one way women dealt with such issues in a given time and place. My research engaged this debate through an examination of several paternity suits in eighteenth-century Dijon, France. My mentor and I examined court documents from Dijon, including pregnancy declarations, initial complaints, witness depositions, and interrogations, both to understand courting rituals more generally and to assess women’s legal options once they became pregnant. My research suggests that women did have more control over their situations than some historians have claimed. I found that women used a variety of legal strategies and often won their cases. These findings will encourage historians to re-evaluate women’s relative authority, both within their families and in society at large.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Apr 5th, 1:00 PM Apr 5th, 3:00 PM

Seduction, Premarital Sex, and the Law in Eighteenth-century France

CSU 204

Although sources revealing single women’s lives in preindustrial Europe are scarce, paternity suits – official complaints filed by single women or their fathers against the women’s sexual partners – are one type of source eighteenth-century historians have used to shed light on some aspects of single women’s lives during the period. In an age without DNA testing, options available to women who became pregnant outside of marriage were limited, and historians have debated how much latitude and power these women had while they pursued their lawsuits. Researching premarital sex and pregnancy through paternity suits reveals at least one way women dealt with such issues in a given time and place. My research engaged this debate through an examination of several paternity suits in eighteenth-century Dijon, France. My mentor and I examined court documents from Dijon, including pregnancy declarations, initial complaints, witness depositions, and interrogations, both to understand courting rituals more generally and to assess women’s legal options once they became pregnant. My research suggests that women did have more control over their situations than some historians have claimed. I found that women used a variety of legal strategies and often won their cases. These findings will encourage historians to re-evaluate women’s relative authority, both within their families and in society at large.

Recommended Citation

Heaney, Kelly. "Seduction, Premarital Sex, and the Law in Eighteenth-century France." Undergraduate Research Symposium, Mankato, MN, April 5, 2010.
http://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/urs/2010/oral-session-07/3