This book by Aigli Brouskou, in essence her doctoral dissertation, was written seven years ago as the results of her anthropological field research on the municipal public nursery of Thessaloniki, Agios Stylianos. It attempts to explore the entire period from the founding of the nursery in the nineteenth century to the present, although Brouskou’s research focuses primarily on the twentieth century because of the lack of data for the earlier period. The author presents a fascinating story with many surprising findings, well written for the most part, and solidly based on copious research.
The volume begins with a theoretical discussion on the topic of foundling homes through a historical and anthropological approach, mostly in a general European context. Her discussion on the handling of abandoned children is informed by the existing (and especially francophone) scholarship on the topic. In the second chapter, Brouskou turns to Greece again in a combination of anthropological and historical discussions of religion, marriage, birth, adoption, illegitimacy, honor and shame, and abortion, but also the legal framework that defined these concepts from Byzantine times to the Modern Greek state. Particular emphasis is given to the civil code of 1946, which, according to the author, for the first time allowed the state to intervene decisively in the family realm (110). In this chapter, the author also discusses the welfare institutions for abandoned infants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in regions that would comprise modern Greece, bringing in examples from Chios, Athens, and Patra, among others, along with regions that are not part of the Modern Greek state, such as Izmir.
The third chapter recounts the history of the municipal public nursery of Thessaloniki, Agios Stylianos, from its supposed origins in the mid-nineteenth century. Unfortunately, since the archives from the nineteenth century were destroyed in a series of fires, Brouskou’s account for that period is by necessity reliant on other sources. Her research picks up from 1913 onwards, when more solid data is still extant, especially the registrars of the institution, of which Brouskou makes extensive use. This early period under official Greek control, following the capture of the city by the Greek army, is particularly interesting because it examines the transformation of the institution from a private, philanthropic establishment with close ties to the Metropolitan of the city to a municipal institution in 1938 (under the Metaxas dictatorship, which the author does not discuss at all), although the Greek state had begun to attempt to encroach on its independence from as early as 1918 (147). The chapter also discusses the traumatic years of the German occupation in World War II and the ensuing civil war, as well as its [End Page 172] particularly nefarious side with regards to children (paidomazoma [child-taking] and paidophylagma [child-guarding]). It concludes with a discussion of the 1964 scandal over illegal adoptions that rocked the institution.
From Chapter 4 onwards, the author turns to the analysis of her data from the registrar of the institution and her interviews. She first analyzes quantitatively the various categories of infants that passed through the institution (abandoned, born out of wedlock, legal, orphan, refugee). Her analysis is fascinating and contains many surprising conclusions. For instance, a significant number of children were given to the institution by their parents temporarily as a result of economic hardship, while in other cases the mother of the child would also enter the institution and act as a wet nurse for her and other children. One of the most surprising findings of the author is the fact that she was unable to discover any gender differences with regards to the abandonment of infants to the institution (208). Instead, the young age of most infants was the most common shared characteristic, leading the author to the conclusion that the decision to abandon out-of-wedlock offspring was taken before the actual birth of the children (209–210).
The next two chapters explore life within the public nursery and the circumstances of the children after they left it. Infants were kept until they were adopted, until their parents returned to claim them, until they...