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Foundling Hospitals

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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'FOUNDLING HOSPITALS, originally institutions for the reception of "foundlings," i.e. children who have been abandoned or exposed, and left for the public to find and save. The early history of such institutions is connected with the practice of infanticide, and in western Europe where social disorder was rife and famine of frequent occurrence, exposure and extensive sales of children were the necessary consequences. Against these evils, which were noticed by several councils, the church provided a rough system of relief, children being deposited ( jactati ) in marble shells at the church doors, and tended first by the inatricularii or male nurses, and then by the nutricarii or fosterparents.' But it was in the 7th and 8th centuries that definite institutions for foundlings were established in such towns as Treves, Milan and Montpellier. In the 15th century Garcias, archbishop of Valencia, was a conspicuous figure in this charitable work; but his fame is entirely eclipsed by that of St Vincent de Paul, who in the reign of Louis XIII., with the help of the countess of Joigny, Mme le Gras and other religious ladies, rescued the foundlings of Paris from the horrors of a primitive institution named La Couche (rue St Landry), and ultimately obtained from Louis XIV. the use of the Bicetre for their accommodation. Letters patent were granted to the Paris hospital in 1670. The Hotel-Dieu of Lyons was the next in importance. No provision, however, was made outside the great towns; the houses in the cities were overcrowded and administered with laxity; and in 1784 Necker prophesied that the state would yet he seriously embarrassed by this increasing ev11.2 From 1452 to 1789 the law had imposed on the seigneurs de haute justice the duty of succouring children found deserted on their territories. The first constitutions of the Revolution undertook as a state debt the support of every foundling. For a time premiums were given to the mothers of illegitimate children, the "enfants de la patrie." By the law of 12 Brumaire, An II. "Toute recherche de la paternite est interdite," while by art. 341 of the Code Napoleon, "la recherche de la maternite est admise." France. - The laws of France relating to this part of what is called L'Assistance Publique are the decree of January 1811, the instruction of February 1823, the decree of the 5th of March 1852, the law of 1 See Capitularia regum Francorum, ii. 474

De l'administration des finances, iii. 136; see also the article '"Enfant expose" in Diderot's Encyclopedie, 1 755, and Chamousset's Memoire politique sur les enfants, 1757.

the 5th of May 1869, the law of the 24th of July 1889 and the law of the 27th of June 1904. These laws carry out the general principles of the law of 7 Frimaire An V., which completely decentralized the system of national poor relief established by the Revolution. The enfants assistes include, besides (1) orphans and (2) foundlings proper, (3) children abandoned by their parents, (4) ill-treated, neglected or morally abandoned children whose parents have been deprived of their parental rights by the decision of a court of justice, (5) children, under sixteen years of age, of parents condemned for certain crimes, whose parental rights have been delegated by a tribunal to the state. Children classified under 1-5 are termed pupilles de l'assistance, " wards of public charity," and are distinguished by the law of 1904 from children under the protection of the state, classified as: (1) enfants secourus, i.e. children whose parents or relatives are unable, through poverty, to support them; (2) enfants en depot, i.e. children of persons undergoing a judicial sentence and children temporarily taken in while their parents are in hospital, and (3) enfants en garde, i.e. children who have either committed or been the victim of some felony or crime and are placed under state care by judicial authority. The asylum which receives all these children is a departmental ( etablissement depositaire ), and not a communal institution. The etablissement depositaire is usually the ward of an hospice, in which - with the exception of children en depot - the stay is of the shortest, for by the law of 1904, continuing the principle laid down in 1811, all children under thirteen years of age under the guardianship of the state, except the mentally or physically infirm, must be boarded out in country districts. They are generally apprenticed to some one engaged in the agricultural industry, and until majority they remain under the guardianship of the administrative commissioners of the department. The state pays the whole of the cost of inspection and supervision. The expenses of administration, the "home" expenses, for the nurse ( nourrice sedentaire ) or the wet nurse (nourrice au sein ), the prime de survie (premium on survival), washing, clothes, and the "outdoor" expenses, which include (1) temporary assistance to unmarried mothers in order to prevent desertion; (2) allowances to the foster-parents ( nourriciers ) in the country for board, school-money, &c.; (3) clothing; (4) travelling-money for nurses and children; (5) printing, &c.; (6) expenses in time of sickness and for burials and apprentice fees - are borne in the proportion of two-fifths by the state, two-fifths by the department, and the remaining fifth by the communes. The following figures show the number of children (exclusive of enfants secourus ) relieved at various periods: Year. Number relieved.

1890. .. 95,701 1895.. 121,201 1900.. 138,308 1905.. 149,803 The droit de recherche is conceded to the parent on payment of a small fee. The decree of 1811 contemplated the repayment of all expenses by a parent reclaiming a child. The same decree directed a tour or revolving box ( Drehcylinder in Germany) to be kept at each hospital. These have been discontinued. The "Assistance Publique" of Paris is managed by a "directeur" appointed by the minister of the interior, and associated with a representative conseil de surveillance. The Paris Hospice des Enfants-Assistes contains about 700 beds. There are also in Paris numerous private charities for the adoption of poor children and orphans. It is impossible here to give even a sketch of the long and able controversies which have occurred in France on the principles of management of foundling hospitals, the advantages of tours and the system of admission a bureau ouvert, the transfer of orphans from one department to another, the hygiene and service of hospitals and the inspection of nurses, the education and reclamation of the children and the rights of the state in their future. Reference may be made to the works noticed at the end of this article.

1 Belgium

2 Russia

3 Great Britain



In this country the arrangements for the relief of foundlings and the appropriation of public funds for that purpose very much resemble those in France, and can hardly be usefully described apart from the general questions of local government and poor law administration. The Commissions des Hospices Civiles, however, are purely communal bodies, although they receive pecuniary assistance from both the departments and the state. A decree of 1811 directed that there should be an asylum and a wheel for receiving foundlings in every arrondissement. The last "wheel," that of Antwerp, was closed in 1860. (See Des Institutions de bienfaisance et de prevoyance en Belgique, 1850 a 1860, par M. P. Lentz.) Italy is very rich in foundling hospitals, pure and simple, orph ns and other destitute children being separately provided for. (See Della caritd preventiva in Italia, by Signor Fano.) In Rome one branch of the Santo Spirito in Sassia (so called from the Schola Saxonum built in 728 by King Ina in the Borgo) has, since the time of Pope Sixtus IV., been devoted to foundlings. The average annual number of foundlings supported is about 3000. (See The Charitable Institutions of Rome, by Cardinal Morichini.) In Venice the Casa degli Esposti or foundling hospital, founded in 1346, and receiving 45 o children annually, is under provincial administration. The splendid legacy of the last doge, Ludovico Manin, is applied to the support of about 160 children by the "Congregazione di Carita" acting through 30 parish boards ( deputazione fraternate). Austria. Austria foundling hospitals occupied a very prominent place in the general instructions which, by rescript dated 16th of April 1781, the emperor Joseph II. issued to the charitable endowment commission. In 1818 foundling asylums and lying-in houses were declared to be state institutions. They were accordingly supported by the state treasury until the fundamental law of 10th October 1860 handed them over to the provincial committees. They are now local institutions, depending on provincial funds, and are quite separate from the ordinary parochial poor institute. Admission is gratuitous when the child is actually found on the street, or is sent by a criminal court, or where the mother undertakes to serve for four months as nurse or midwife in an asylum, or produces a certificate from the parish priest and "poor-father" (the parish inspector of the poor-law administration) that she has no money. In other cases payments of 30 to Poo florins are made. When two months old the child is sent for six or ten years to the houses in the neighbourhood of respectable married persons, who have certificates from the police or the poor-law authorities, and who are inspected by the latter and by a special medical officer. These persons receive a constantly diminishing allowance, and the arrangement may be determined by 14 days' notice on either side. The foster-parents may retain the child in their service or employment till the age of twenty-two, but the true parents may at any time reclaim the foundling on reimbursing the asylum and compensating the fosterparents.


Under the old Russian system of Peter I. foundlings were received at the church windows by a staff of women paid by the state. But since the reign of Catherine II. the foundling hospitals have been in the hands of the provincial officer of public charity (prykaz obshestvennago pryzrenya). The great central institutions (Vospitatelnoi Dom), at Moscow and St Petersburg (with a branch at Gatchina), were founded by Catherine. When a child is brought the baptismal name is asked, and a receipt is given, by which the child may be reclaimed up to the age of ten. The mother may nurse her child. After the usual period of six years in the country very great care is taken with the education, especially of the more promising children. The hospital is a valuable source of recruits for the public service. Malthus (The Principles of Population, vol. i. p. 434) has made a violent attack on these Russian charities. He argues that they discourage marriage and therefore population, and that the best management is unable to prevent a high mortality. He adds: "An occasional child murder from false shame is saved at a very high price if it can be done only by the sacrifice of some of the best and most useful feelings of the human heart in a great part of the nation." It does not appear, however, that the rate of illegitimacy in Russia is comparatively high; it is so in the two great cities. The rights of parents over the children were very much restricted, and those of the government much extended by a ukase issued by the emperor Nicholas in 1837. The most eminent Russian writer on this subject is M. Gourov. See his Recherches sur les enfants trouves, and Essai sur l'histoire des enfants trouves (Paris, 1829).

In America, foundling hospitals, which are chiefly private charities, exist in most of the large cities.

Great Britain

The Foundling Hospital of London was incorporated by royal charter in 1 739 "for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children." The petition of Captain Thomas Coram, who is entitled to the whole credit of the foundation,' states as its objects "to prevent the frequent murders of poor miserable children at their birth, and to suppress the inhuman custom of exposing new-born infants to perish in the streets." At first no questions were asked about child or parent, but a distinguishing mark was put on each child by the parent. These were often marked coins, trinkets, pieces of cotton or ribbon, verses written on scraps of paper. The clothes, if any, were carefully recorded. One entry is, "Paper on the breast, clout on the head." The applications became too numerous, and a system of balloting with red, white and black balls was adopted. In 1756 the House of Commons came to a resolution that all children offered should be received, that local receiving places should be appointed all over the country, and that the funds should be publicly guaranteed. A basket was accordingly hung outside the hospital; the maximum age for admission was raised from two to twelve months, and a flood of children poured in from the country workhouses. In less than four years 14,934 children were presented, and a vile trade grew up among vagrants of undertaking to carry children from the country to the hospital, - an undertaking which, like the French meneurs, they often did not perform or performed with great cruelty. Of these 15,000 only 4400 lived to be apprenticed out. The total expense was about £500,000. This alarmed the House of Commons. After throwing out a bill which proposed to raise the necessary funds by fees from a general system of parochial registration, they came to the conclusion that the indiscriminate admission should be discontinued. The hospital, being thus thrown on its own resources, adopted a pernicious system of receiving children with considerable ' Addison had suggested such a charity ( Guardian, No. 3).

sums (e.g. £ioo ), which sometimes led to the children being reclaimed by the parent. This was finally stopped in 1801; and it is now a fundamental rule that no money is received. The committee of inquiry must now be satisfied of the previous good character and present necessity of the mother, and that the father of the child has deserted it and the mother, and that the reception of the child will probably replace the mother in the course of virtue and in the way of an honest livelihood. All the children at the Foundling hospital are those of unmarried women, and they are all first children of their mothers. The principle is in fact that laid down by Fielding in Tom Jones - " Too true I am afraid it is that many women have become abandoned and have sunk to the last degree of vice by being unable to retrieve the first slip." At present the hospital supports about 500 children up to the age of fifteen. The average annual number of applications is over 200, and of admissions between 40 and 50. The children used to be named after the patrons and governors, but the treasurer now prepares a list. Children are seldom taken after they are twelve months old. On reception they are sent down to the country, where they stay until they are about four or five years old. At sixteen the girls are generally apprenticed as servants for four years, and the boys at the age of fourteen as mechanics for seven years. There is a small benevolent fund for adults. The musical service, which was originally sung by the blind children only, was made fashionable by the generosity of Handel, who frequently had the "Messiah" performed there, and who bequeathed to the hospital a MS. copy (full score) of his greatest oratorio. The altar-piece is West's picture of Christ presenting a little Child. In 1774 Dr Burney and Signor Giardini made an unsuccessful attempt to form in connexion with the hospital a public music school, in imitation of the Conserva torium of the Continent. In 1847, however, a successful "Juvenile Band" was started. The educational effects of music have been found excellent, and the hospital supplies many musicians to the best army and navy bands. The early connexion between the hospital and the eminent painters of the reign of George II. is one of extreme interest. The exhibitions of pictures at the Foundling, which were organized by the Dilettanti Club, undoubtedly led to the formation of the Royal Academy in 1768. Hogarth painted a portrait of Captain Coram for the hospital, which also contains his March to Finchley, and Roubillac's bust of Handel. (See History and Objects of the Foundling Hospital, with Memoir of its Founder, by J. Brownlow.) In 1704 the Foundling hospital of Dublin was opened. No inquiry was made about the parents, and no money received. From 1500 to 2000 children were received annually. A large income was derived from a duty on coal and the produce of car licences. In 1822 an admission fee of £5 was charged on the parish from which the child came. This reduced the annual arrivals to about 500. In 1829 the select committee on the Irish miscellaneous estimates recommended that no further assistance should be given. The hospital had not preserved life or educated the foundlings. The mortality was nearly 4 in 5, and the total cost £10,000 a year. Accordingly in 1835 Lord Glenelg (then Irish Secretary) closed the institution.

Scotland never seems to have possessed a foundling hospital. In 1759 John Watson left funds which were to be applied to the pious and charitable purpose "of preventing child murder" by the establishment of a hospital for receiving pregnant women and taking care of their children as foundlings. But by an act of parliament in 1822, which sets forth "doubts as to the propriety" of the original purpose, the money was given to trustees to erect a hospital for the maintenance and education of destitute children.


Histoire statistique et morale des enfants trouves by MM. Terme et Montfalcon (Paris, 1837) (the authors were eminent medical men at Lyons, connected with the administration of the foundling hospital); Remade, Des hospices d'enfants trouves en Europe (Paris, 1838); Hugel, Die Findelhduser and das Findelwesen Europas (Vienna, 1863); Emminghaus, "Das Armenwesen and die Armengesetzgebung," in Europdischen Staaten (Berlin, 1870); Sennichon, Ilistoire des enfants abandonnes (Paris, 1880); the annual Rapport sur le service des enfants assistes du departement de la Seine; Epstein, Studien zur Frage der Findelanstalten (Prague, 1882); Florence D. Hill, Children of the State (2nd ed., 1889). For United States, see H. Folks, Care of Neglected and Dependent Children (1900; A. G. Warner, American Charities (enlarged, 1908) and Reports of Massachusetts State Board of Charities. Information may also be got in the Reports on Poor Laws in Foreign Countries, communicated to the Local Government Board by the foreign secretary; Accounts and Papers (1875), vol. lxv. c. 1225; Report of Committee on the Infant Life Protection Bill (1890); Report of Lords Committee on the Infant Life Protection Bill (1896). (See also CHARITY AND CHARITIES.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Foundling Hospitals'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​f/foundling-hospitals.html. 1910.
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