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Mothers, sisters, and daughters: girls and conservatory guardianship in late Renaissance Florence

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From 1540 to 1591, Florentines established six shelters for orphaned and abandoned girls. These came to be called ‘conservatories’ in light of their aim of conserving the girls’ virginity and honour, and were distinct from orphanages, which were reserved for needy boys. Conservatories run by men were mandated by the state and operated on the model of local hospitals. Those run by women originated in the religious and charitable drive of a group, and initially operated on the model of widows’ communities, without a formal organizational structure. Women had a distinct style of governance, but it did not outlast the generation of founders. Political and ecclesiastical forces turned one of the women's communities into a more formally organized conservatory under male administration and turned the other two into convents. (pp. 201–229)
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Toronto

Publication date: 01 June 2003

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