'So Foul a Deed': Infanticide in Montreal, 1825-1850

61 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2012 Last revised: 7 May 2012

See all articles by Ian C. Pilarczyk

Ian C. Pilarczyk

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: April 26, 2012


This article argues that infanticide, and the legal and social responses thereto, exhibited a compromise between conflicting sentiments, realities, and paradigms. As a result, the actions of defendants, prosecutors, judges and jurors, and the public at large were characterized by competing motives and countervailing sympathies. The infant victims were nominally the focus of the law, but in reality these acts were viewed as crimes against social conventions. The issue of infanticide during this period therefore presents a fascinating study in this heavily gendered area of nineteenth-century criminal law, reflecting stark differences between law and custom. This article will provide a brief discussion of the historiography and underlying methodology, followed by the political and historical context for the Montreal experience, before moving on to the issue of infant abandonment, coroner's inquests, and the legal mechanics of infanticide prosecutions.

From Law and History Review's introduction: "Our final article, by Ian Pilarczyk, examines the phenomenon of infanticide and the legal responses to [it] in Montreal from 1825 to 1850, a period marked by significant economic, social, political, and legal flux. Working with thirty-one unpublished case files of infanticide, he illustrates that the legal and social ramifications of this heavily gendered crime were characterized by complexity, compromise, and conflict. He finds that the Canadian response largely mirrored that of other nineteenth-century Western jurisdictions. This finding suggests that local context matters, but should also remind scholars to consider the significance of transnational patterns in policing."

Keywords: infanticide, Montreal infanticide cases, 19th century infanticide, legal response to infanticide

Suggested Citation

Pilarczyk, Ian C., 'So Foul a Deed': Infanticide in Montreal, 1825-1850 (April 26, 2012). 30 Law & History Review 575-634 (May 2012); Boston Univ. School of Law, Law and Economics Research Paper No. 12-18; Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 12-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2046647

Ian C. Pilarczyk (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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