The pre-modern breast pump was a man? Tell me more about tetaires.
September 13, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

In The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, the following sentence has prompted much speculation: "There were rebilhous, who called out the hours of the night, 'cinderellas', who collected and sold ashes used for laundering clothes, men called tetaires, who performed the function of a breast-pump by sucking mothers' breasts to start the flow of milk, and all the other specialists that the census listed under 'trades unknown' and 'without trade', which usually meant gypsies prostitutes, and beggars." So, uh, tetaires?

My google-fu is failing me. I've seen other passing references, like this 1977 Spectator article, but am not finding anything more in-depth. Are there books, databases, etc. with more detail? My French is limited, so I could have missed alternate spellings, etc.
posted by poodelina to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Apparently it was true but may have been regional - only in the Languedoc region of France. Here's a google translated post in French about it.
posted by vacapinta at 8:14 AM on September 13, 2014

I don't have time for much research, but a quick search turned up a blog devoted to the motif of "Roman charity" (itself rather an odd story) that reprinted a brief article by the author of a thesis on the subject of the tetaire. It appears that the trade was fairly common in the Hérault in the 19th century, often practiced by elderly men or the village idiot, to help women who had trouble getting milk to flow (e.g. if the nursling couldn't suck very hard). The author also notes that puppies were occasionally used for the same purpose. Breast pumps did exist but were not very effective.

A couple of Provençal-French dictionaries contained the word but they define it as an infant who nurses a lot.

On preview: Vacapinta found the same post!
posted by brianogilvie at 8:16 AM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Alternate spellings: tétaïres, téteur.

Some interesting facts here.
posted by rada at 8:17 AM on September 13, 2014

You might want to reach out to medical historians. From experience, nerds love talking about their research and this sounds like exactly the kind of thing a PhD student has written a paper on and is dying to share with an interested party. I know there are medical historians who specialize in 17th and 18th century France even, so I bet someone out there knows more! I would google around for some historians whose academic interests seem right and then email away!
posted by blue_bicycle at 9:17 AM on September 13, 2014

Thank you! My mind is still reeling.
posted by poodelina at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2014

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