the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
Click to donate today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
are institutions for the reception and care of children, especially illegitimate ones, abandoned by their parents. They owe their origin, it is said, to the desire of preventing infanticide and the exposure of children. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, infanticide and abortion not only prevailed. to a fearful extent, but were tolerated, nay, in certain cases, even sanctioned b the laws and by the opinions of philosophers (see Plato, De Repub. 5:460, C.; Aristotle, Polit. 7:16; Livy, Hist. 27:37; Cicero, De Leg. 3:8, et al;). The exposure of children was a still more prevalent custom, commending itself, we may suppose, to the natural feelings of the parents as less cruel than infanticide, since it promised a chance, at least, of saving life. The foundling became the slave of the individual or community at whose expense it was cared for and educated. To facilitate the finding of exposed infants, places of public resort were chosen for the exposure, such as marketplaces, temples, road-crossings, wells, etc. In Athens the cynosarges, and in Rome the columna lactaria, were usually selected for this purpose. Frequently tokens (crepundia), as rings or other costly ornaments, or, ins the case of poor parents, trinkets of small value, were deposited with the child, for the purpose of inducing some one to receive it, or as a means of identifying the child, should its parents afterwards wish to recover it. Gibbon, treating of the limitations of paternal authority in his chapter on Roman jurisprudence (Hist. 4:344, N.Y. 1852), says: "The exposition of children was the prevailing and stubborn vice of antiquity; it was sometimes prescribed, often permitted, almost always practiced with impunity by nations who never entertained the Roman ideas of paternal. power; and the dramatic poets, who appeal to the human heart, represent with indifference a popular custom which was palliated by the motives of economy and compassion." As some relief to the dark shading of this picture, and yet a proof of its correctness, we may instance the praise which Strabo (lib. 17) bestows on the Egyptians, and AElian (Variae Historiae, 2, 7) on the Boeotian Thebes, because their laws and customs forbade the killing or exposure of children; as also the statement of Tacitus (De Mor. Germ. 19), that the Germans reckoned infanticide a crime. It is said however, that they exposed children before the introduction of Christianity among them.
Though the laws of Moses contained no express provisions on this subject, the Jews rightly interpreted their spirit as forbidding this unnatural conduct (see Tacitus, Hist. 5:5; Josephus, Contra Apion, 2:24, Philo Judaeus, De Legib. Special. ad praecept. 6 et 7).
The teachings of Christianity, by causing infanticide and child-exposure to be regarded as sins, gradually wrought a change in the laws and customs in regard to them, though the first Christian emperors did not venture to forbid exposure as a crime. Constatine, however, termed it a sort of murder, and, prompted perhaps by the humane Lactantius, sought in his decrees, A.D. 315, 322, 331, to prevent the murder, sale, giving in pawn or exposure of children, by making provision out of the public treasury for those whose parents were too poor to support them (Codex Theodos. lib. 11, tit. 27), and by depriving parents of the hope of recovering exposed children, or making good the expenses incurred by those who bad received sand maintained them (Codex Theodos. lib. 5, tit. 7, De Expositis, l. 1, page 487, ed. Ritter). The cruel custom was, however, not entirely prohibited until the latter half of the 4th century, when, under Valentinian and his colleagues, such murders were brought "within the letter and spirit of the Cornelian law" (Codex Justin. lib. 4, tit. 52). A further advance of opinion in the right direction was indicated by a special law of Justinian, A.D. 529, which forbade the. enslavement of foundlings (Codex Justin. lib. 8 tit. De Infant. Expos. 1. 3.
Some suppose that foundling hospitals, or institutions of a similar character, were, at a very early period, established at or near the columna lactaria at Rome and the cynosarges at Athens, mentioned above as places of exposure. The Justinian Codes, by the term brephotrophium (βρεφοτροφεῖον ), mentioned in connection with, but as distinct from, other institutions (for the relief of strangers, the poor, orphans, etc.), appear to refer to hospitals for foundlings. An establishment of the kind is said to have been founded at Treves in the 6th or 7th century. The Capitularies of Charlemagne employ the Justinian term brephotrophia apparently with reference to foundling hospitals, though the Franks at that time regarded foundlings as the, property of those who should receive and educate them. The earliest foundling hospital concerning which we have any authentic information was that founded at Milan, A.D. 787, by Datheus, a priest, because of the prevalence of infanticide. If the child had not been baptized, salt was strewed between its swaddling-clothes before bringing it to the hospital to denote that fact. The children were suckled by hired nurses, supplied with necessaries, taught some handicraft, and at seven years of age discharged as freeborn. In 1070 Oliver de la Trau founded at. Montpellier the order of the Hospitalarii Sancti Spiritus, one of whose vows was to provide for the maintenance and educations of foundlings. Since that time hospitals. for foundlings have been gradually established in most European,. and Spanish, and Portuguese American states, to the most important of which only we have space to refer. Attached to the hospital of the Spirito Santo in Rome is one for foundlings, with accommodations for 3000 children; the numbers annually received is about 800, some of whom are sent to the country to be nursed; the mortality in the hospital was (1859) 57 per cent., and still greater in the country. The Spedale degl' Innocenti at Florence was founded in 1316; here special means are taken to identify each child by secretly fastening a leaden badge, stamped with a certain number, around the neck. The use of tokens of some sort, attached to the person or clothing of thee child, for the purpose of identification, is not uncommon ins the history of other hospitals. There are many other foundling hospitals in Italy to provide for the numerous foundlings, for whom it is stated that Naples makes the best provision (1859). The Hospice des Enfans Trouvis at Paris was founded in 1640 by Vincent de Paul. ‘ In this, as well as many others in France, in order to secure secrecy in depositing the child, a turning-box (tour) is provided, in which the child is placed, and a bell rung for its removal without the person who brought it being seen. A decree in 1811 ordered that such boxes should be provided for all the French foundling hospitals, but,. owing to a conviction that the great increase in the number of foundlings since that time was due largely to the tours, they were retained in 1856 in only 65 of the 141 hospitals then existing. in France. In 1856 thee number of foundlings in France was estimated at 120,000 under 12 years of age, when the administrative control ceases; and 60,000 to 70,000 between the ages of 12 and 21. The proportion of foundlings to population was 1 to 353; to births, 1 to, 39; the annual number, 25,000 to 30,000, of whom nine tenths were illegitimate. The average life of the foundlings was only 4 years; the mortality 52 percent the first year, and 78 percent up to 12 years; while the general average for the community was only 50 percent up to 21 years. The male foundlings constituted 13 percent of the convicts and prisoners, and the female one fifth of the prostitutes in that country. Foundling hospitals are numerous in Belgium, where the number of abandoned children was estimated in 1859 to be 1 to 18 births. In 1826 there were only two foundling hospitals in Holland; that of Amsterdam receives about 3000 children annually. There is a well-managed one in Vienna, founded in 1784 by Joseph II, and others in the chief cities of the Austrian empire, but the system of maintaining. such institutions is said to be no longer regarded with favor in Germany. In Spain the number may be reckoned at 60 to 70, with some 13,000 foundlings, with larger proportional numbers for Portugal. The great hospitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg are said to be well managed under strict governmental supervision, to which annually great numbers of children are sent from various parts of the Russian empire, very many of which die on the way. The children are, it is said, carefully educated, those of superior promise specially so; and many of them become useful, the females as governesses, teachers, etc., and the males as engineers and mechanics. Recruits for the army and navy are also supplied from these hospitals. Foundling hospitals are numerous in Sweden, where the average of illegitimate births is said to he large, 1 to 11 in the country, and 1 to 2 in Stockholm. Norway has fewer, and also a less proportion of illegitimate children. The foundling hospital in London was established in 1739 through the efforts of captain Thomas Coram, butt not opened fully until 1756, from which time to 1760, 4 years, 14,934 children were received into it, but only 4400 lived to be apprenticed, or 30 per cent. In view of this frightful mortality, ands the abuses in the matter of admission, and the difficulty of correcting them or adequately providing against their recurrence, Parliament withdrew its grant of public funds, and the institution "ceased to be a receptacle for foundlings," and was made a hospital for poor illegitimate children whose mothers are known, and children of soldiers and sailors killed in the service of their country. One was also established in Dublin in 1730, in which the mortality is said to have been even greater than in London. The average yearly admissions from 1805-1825 were about 2000. A foundling hospital has been established in Canton, but had not up to 1859, much influence in preventing infanticide. The most important ones in America are those in thee city of Mexico and Rio Janeiro. There are no foundling hospitals in the United States where provision is made for foundlings in common with other objects of public or private charity, and the number of such children is comparatively small. Whether such institutions may or may not have proved beneficent under the conditions of ancient or medieval society we cannot at this day determine, but the trial of them as parts of the systems of the charitable and philanthropic agencies of modern times, either as controlled and supported in whole or part by the state, or as left to the care and direction of private benevolence, presents results, we think, contrary to thee expectation of their founders; and the general tendency of opinion, especially in Protestant countries, is against their usefulness as means for the attainment of the desired ends. Granting that they may have some effect in diminishing the frequency of direct infanticide (which, however, their statistics do not prove), they certainly tend to increase the number of children abandoned by their parents, while the frightful mortality connected with them would seem to demonstrate that there can be no actual saving of human life, through such establishments. We believe that vastly more children have prematurely died from causes inseparably connected with their transmission to and treatment in these hospitals than would have, been destroyed outright by the parents from the, same motives. Statistics seem clearly; to show that they tend to foster licentiousness, increase the number of illegitimate births, and relax morals. In reviewing all thee facts, the language of the author of the article Medical Jurisprudence, in the Encyclop. Britannica, 14:444, 8th ed.), seems hardly; too strong, "Foundling hospitals, from the mortality in them, even under the best management, seem,to be amongst the most pestilent institutions of mistaken benevolence." — New Amer. Cyclop. 7:634-640; Beckmann, History of Inventions, 2:434-449 (Bohn's ed.); Cassel's Magazine, 1:123- 4; Knight, Popular History of England, 7:118-19; Chambers, Encyclopedia, s.v.; Encyclop. Britannica, s.v.; Guerry, Statistique Morale de la France; Benoiston de Chateauneuf, Considerations sur les Enfans- trouves dans les principaux etats de l'Europe. (J.W.M.)
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Foundling Hospitals'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​f/foundling-hospitals.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.