1902 Encyclopedia > Foundling Hospitals

Foundling Hospitals

FOUNDLING HOSPITALS are intended to save children from death by exposure, and it is therefore difficult to describe them properly apart from the general subject of infanticide. This practice was extremely common among nearly all ancient nations. It may still be studied in such horrible institutions of savage life as the Areoi of the Society Islands, or the Meebra of New South Wales; and it may be found in the greatest variety of form among the tribes of Hindustan. [Footnote 481-1]

The motives which suggested the practice were sometimes superstitious, more often extremely practical. As the natives of Gujarat said to Major Walker, "Pay our daughters’ marriage portions, and they shall live." The feeling here was one of social dignity mixed with the strong contempt which many savages express for the single life. But in most cases children were killed simply because the parents, having no realized wealth, did not expect to be able to clothe and feed them. This is especially seen in the frequent killing of female children and those who are sick or deformed. In some places the practice has been confined to the children of concubines, of stranger fathers, or of mothers dying from sickness. In the earliest society the right to kill belonged to the father, sometimes assisted by a person skilled in omens, or by a council of friends. But the usage soon hardened into a binding custom or into express legislation. Thus in the exogamous communities girls were clearly a source, not of weakness only, but of danger. At a much later period the number of a family, or of the daughters, was often fixed by law, and both Lycurgus and the Roman decemvirs directed the slaughter of deformed children. This violence to the domestic affections was probably made easier by the notion which appears in Greek science and in Roman law that neither the foetus nor the newly-born child is entitled to the privileges of humanity. The Greek pastoral of Longrus (The Loves of Daphnis and Chloe), and the Heautontimorumenos of Terence, show still better than the text of laws how the conscience of a civilized society reconciled itself to such cruelties. And the sober reasoning of Aristotle (Republic, vii. c. 16) goes even beyond the custom of his time. Pliny the elder defends infanticide as a necessary check on population, and Quintilian and Seneca bear witness to the frightful mortality among children exposed, and the systematic mutilation of those who survived. Notwithstanding the eloquent protests of the Christian fathers it was not till the time of Severus and Caracalla, that a Roman lawyer ventured to make the noble statement, "Necare, videtur non tantum is qui partum perfocat, sed is qui abjicit et qui alimonia denegat, et is qui publicis locis misericordiae causa exponit quam ipse non habet." [Footnote 482-1] The legislation of Constantine did not go beyond a declaration that the killing of a son was parricide, but the famous law of Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian (unusquisque suam sobolem nutriat, C. viii. 52, 2) punished exposure by the loss of the patria potestas, and secured the rights of the foster-father. Finally, by Novel 153, Justinian declared that the foundling should no longer be the slave of the foster-father, but should be free. This, however, did not affect western Europe, where social disorder and the recurrence of famine led to extensive sales of children. Against this evil, which was 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 matricularii or male nurses, and then by the nutricarii or foster-parents. [Footnote 482-2] Nothing is known of the brephotrophia which are said to have existed in the Eastern empire at this time, nor of the public tables (such as Velleiana, Boebiana) which Particular emperors are said to have provided for the support of children. The earlier traditions of a hospital at the Cynosarges in Athens and at the Columna Lactaria in the vegetable market at Rome are disputed. It is in the 7th and 8th centuries that definite institutions for foundlings are established in such towns as Tréves, Milan, and Montpellier. In the 15th century Garcias, archbishop of Valentia, is 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 Couebe (Rue St Landry), and ultimately obtained from Louis XIV. the use of the Bicêtre for their accommodation. Letters patent were granted to the Paris hospital in 1670. The Hôtel-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 be seriously embarrassed by this increasing evil. [Footnote 482-3] From 1452 to 1789 the law had imposed on the seigneurs de haut 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 paternité est interdite," while by art. 341 of the Code Napoléon, "la recherche de le matérnité est admise."

France.—The present 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 5th March 1852, and the law of 5th May 1869. These laws carry out the general principles of the law of 7th Frimaire An V., which completely decentralized the system of national poor relief established by the Revolution. The "enfants assistés" include, besides orphans and foundlings proper, infants brought by their parents into the asylum, and those born in lying-in hospitals and left there by their mothers, children of persons undergoing a judicial sentence, children temporarily taken in while their parents are in the hospital, and an increasing number of children, legitimate, illegitimate, and orphans, who are supported by a system of outdoor relief. The asylum which receives them is a departmental and not a communal institution. The state pays only the cost of inspection and superintendence. There remain the "home" expenses, for the nurse (nourrice sédentaire), washing, and clothes ; and the "outdoor" expenses, which include (1) temporary assistance to unmarried mothers in order to prevent desertion ; (2) allowances to the foster-fathers (pères nourriciers) in the country for board, school money, &c. ; (3) clothing ; (4) travelling money for nurses and children ; (5) printing, &c.; and (6) expenses in time of sickness and for burials and apprentice fees. In 1868 the total cost was 11,300,171 frs., of which 2,570,171 frs. were paid by the regular foundling asylums, and 8,730,000 frs. by the departments and communes. This represented the support of 67,000 children. In 1828 there were 112,730 children supported at a cost of 9,794,737 frs. The decrease is attributed partly to outdoor relief and partly to the suppression of the "tours," of which there were 235 in 1812, and only 25 in 1860. No payments are made for the children after the age of twelve. They are generally apprenticed to a peasant or artisan, and until majority they remain under the guardianship of the administrative commissioners of the department. These commissioners are about to receive a representative character, the councils of the communes and the department, the chambers of commerce, and the chief religious communities receiving a right of nomination, as well as the prefect who represents the state. The ministry of marine have a legal claim to the services of male foundlings, which is seldom exercised. 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 (Dreheylinder in Germany) to be kept at each hospital. These have been gradually discontinued. The "Assistance Publique" of Paris is specially provided for by the law of 10th January 1849. The management consists of a "directeur" appointed by the minister of the interior, and associated with a representative "conseil de surveillance." The Paris Asylum for Enfants Trouvés, with a small branch at Forges, contains about 700 beds. It receives about 4200 children in the year, or nearly one-seventh of the whole annual supply in France ; and the total average cost of each child for twelve years is said to be only 1500 frs. There is also in Paris (43 Rue de Journelles) a private charity called (Euvre de I'Adoption for the adoption of poor children and orphans. Among the better known school farms which receive children from the hospitals at very small rates of board are those of M. Fournet at Montagny near Chalon-sur-Saône, and of l’Abbé Vedey at Varaignes in the Dordogne. 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 advaritages of "tours" and the system of admission à bureau owvert, the transfer of orphans from one department to another, the free communication between parent and child, the hygiène 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 work of Terme and Montfalcon noticed at the end of this article.

Belgium.—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. The present law of 30th July 1834 distinguishes foundlings born of unknown parents from infants abandoned by known parents. Of the former the cost is divided between commune and province ; of the latter the cost falls entirely on the domicile de secours. The law of 1834 directs that the state budget shall contain an annual foundling subsidy, which is distributed among the provinces. The suppression of the "wheels" is supposed to have reduced the subsidy from 94,608 frs. to 50,000 frs. in 1873, and the number of foundlings from 7703 in 1849 to 5745 in 1860. The great mass of the foundlings are in Brabant, that is, in Brussels, which in 1872 paid out nearly 300,000 frs. on their account. In the Netherlands many of the foundlings are sent to the "beggar colonies,"—agricultural, spinning, and weaving establishments introduced in 1810 in imitation of the French dépôt de mendicité They also resemble the Flemish écoles agricoles de réforme. (See Des Institutions de Bienfaisance et de Prévoyance en Belgique, 1850 à1860, par M. P. Lentz.)

Italy is very rich in foundling hospitals, pure and simple, orphans and other destitute children being separately provided for. Piedmont has 18, making an annual expenditure of 1,084,000 frs.; Genoa has 6, with an expenditure of 350,000 frs.; Lombardy has 13, with an expenditure of 1,468,000 frs.; and the Emilia has 15, with an expenditure of 833,000 frs. In 1870 the gross expenditure in Italy on foundlings alone was 8,044,754 frs., more than twice the sum expended on pauper lunatics. The law concerning charitable works (3d August 1862) contemplates the erection of a charity board in every commune. At present both the communal council and the provincial deputation have certain rights of control over charitable administration. (See Della Carita Preventiva in Italia, by Signor Fano.) In Rome one branch of the St 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. For ten years before 1869 the annual average of children admitted was 1141, of whom 382 were ascertained to be illegitimate and 300 legitimate, the rest uncertain. The average annual number of foundlings supported is 3268, the average annual deaths 981. The death-rate in the hospital is said to be 88·78 ; in the country at the nursing houses 12·80. The Conservatory is for the support of foundling girls who after passing through the hospital do not get settled in life. The whole institution costs 305,603 frs. per annum. (See The Charitable Institutions of Rome, by Cardinal Morichini.) In Naples the foundling hospital is called "l’Annunziata." It receives yearly about 2000 "figh della Madonna" as they are called. It must not be confounded with the more famous Albergo Reclusorio, or Seraglio dei Poveri, which is an ordinary charity for the education of children and the maintenance of infirm old persons. The chief house at Florence is called "degli Innocenti"; [Footnote 483-1] at Genoa, the "Pammatone"; at Milan, "Santa Caterina alla ruota." In Venice the Casa degli Esposti or foundling hospital, founded in 1346, and receiving 450 children annually, was recently separated from the "Riunione di Instituti Pii," and placed 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.—In Austria foundling hospitals occupied a very prominent place in the general instructions which, rescript dated 16th April 1781, the emperor Joseph II. issued to the charitable endowment commission. Acting under the advice of Count Boucquoy, the author of The Neighbourly Love Association, which supplied first Bohemia and then the empire with a type of poor law administration, the emperor provided for the case of destitute children before Proceeding to deal with the cases of destitute sick and infirm poor. This class of children includes, besides foundlings proper, the children born in lying-in hospitals of unmarried women, and the children of unmarried women who can show that they have been suddenly confined when on their way to the lying-in hospital, and even in some cases legitimate children whose parents are prevented by illness or other temporary cause from maintaining them, and orphans when below the age required for admission to a regular orphanage. In 1818 these foundling asylums and the lying-in houses were declared to be state institutions. They were accordingly supported by the state treasury until the fundamental law of 20th 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 under the Boucquoy scherne) that she has no money. In other cases payments of 30 to 100 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 fosterg.arents may retain the child, in their service or employment till age of twenty-two, but the true parents may at any time reclaim the foundling on reimbursing the asylum and compensating the foster-parents. The enlightened principles of the rescript of 1781, with regard to the general and technical education of the children, do not seem to be carried out in practice. It is said that there are in the empire 35 foundling hospitals, receiving annually 120,000 children.

Turkey.—Under the Greek system of vestry relief, which works very efficiently at Constantinople, a large sum is spent on foundlings. There is no hospital, but the children are brought before the five members (GREEK) of the vestry (fabrique) or parish church committee, who, acting as the coumbaros or god-father, board out the child with some poor family for a small monthly payment, and afterwards provide the child with some sort of renumerative work.

Russia.—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. Of the 26,000 sent annually to these two houses from all parts of Russia, only 25 per cent. are said to reach majority. The hospital is still, however, 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 beat 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. Gouroff. See his Recherches sur les Enfants Trouvés, and.Essai sur l’histoire des Enfants Trouvés, Paris, 1829.

America the foundling hospitals are chiefly private charities. There is a large one called the Cuna in the city of Mexico. The house for girls at Rio de Janeiro is once a year frequented by men in want of wives, each application being considered by the managers. In Brazil there are several houses of mercy for foundlings, and exposures are often made at the doors of private houses. The foundling asylum of the sisters of charity in New York was opened in 1869. In 1873 it received 1124 infants not three weeks old. The annual cost is 115,000 dollars. A crib is placed in the vestibule at night, and the name and date of birth are generally left with the child.

Great Britain.—The Foundling Hospital of London was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1739 "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, [Footnote 483-2] states as its objects "to prevent the frequent murders of poor miserable children at their birth, and to suppress the inhuman custom of exposing newborn 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 oil 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 sums (e.g., £100), 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 enquiry 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. 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 236, and of admissions 4l. The children used to be named after the patrons and governors, but the treasurer now prepares a list. After three years in the country the children come back to town. 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 hospital has an income of above £11,000, which will be enormously increased in 1895, when the leaseholds of the Lamb’s Conduit grounds expire. From the famous chapel built byJacobsen in 1747 the hospital derives a net income of £500. 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 Conservatorium of the Continent. In 1847, however, the present successful "Juvenile Band" of about 30 boys 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 Roubiliac’s bust of Handel. Coram, the founder, was remarkable for the versatility of his public spirit. He did much for the development of Georgia and Nova Scotia. (See History and Objects of the Foundling Hospital, with Memoir of its Founder, by J. Brownlow, 3d ed., 1865.)

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 an d 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. The fundamental difference between Scotland and ulost other Protestant countries on the one hand, and those Catholic countries which have adopted the Code Napoléon on the other, is that in the former proceedings for aliment may be taken against the putative father. Hence the mother is not helpless. She cannot, however, in Scotland deposit her bastard in the poorhouse, unless she herself is entitled to relief and prepared to go there ; and relief is of course given only so long as the mother is not able to support herself. An infant absolutely deserted would of necessity be taken care of by the poor law authority. It is in Scotland a crime at common law to "expose" a young child to the risk of death or to any serious danger ; and it is also an offence against the Poor Law Act of 1845 for either the mother or the putative father (who has acknowledged the paternity) to desert an illegitimate child. In England the offence is defined as the abandoning or exposing a child under the age of two, whereby its life is endangered, or its health is, or is likely to be, permanently injured (24 and 25 Vict. c. 100, § 27). Besides this the provisions of the Industrial Schools Acts apply to a large proportion of the cases of homeless and deserted children which in other countries might be entrusted to the foundling hospitals. And indeed the system of boarding out pauper children seems to have realized most of the advantages promised by the hospital. The disagreeable feature of the Scotch practice is the number of women who, without any feeling of shame, get a family of illegitimate children by different fathers, whom they attack in succession for aliment. The rate of illegitimacy in some Scotch counties has reached 14, 15, and 16 per cent. It is not likely, however, that the hospital principle, though cured of its worst fault, that of secret admission without inquiry [Footnote 484-1], will ever be received in Great Britain or Ireland. The keynote of public opinion on the question was probably struck by Lord Brougham in his Letters to Sir Samuel Romilly on the Abuse of Charities, and by Dr Chalmers in his Christian Economy of Large Towns. The true solution, however, depends less on abstract political reasoning than on prudent management of existing institutions. In France, for instance, a great fund of practical skill in administration has been accumulated. In Great Britain the evil may be more safely left to private charity and religious effort. If fewer women fall there, there is perhaps a profounder degradation of those who do.

The following are the most important systematic works on this subject. Histoire Statistique et Morale des Enfants Trouvés,by MM.Terme et Montfalcon, Paris, 1837. The authors were eminent medical men at Lyons, connected with the administration of the foundling hospital. Remacle, Des Hospices d’Enfants Trouvés en Europe, Paris, 1838. Hügel, Die Findelhàuser und die Findelwesen Europas,, Vienna, 1863. Emminghaus, "Das Armenwesen und die Armengesetzgebung," in Europäischen Staaten, Berlin, 1870. An English translation of part of this book was published in 1873, by Mr E. B. Eastwick, M P., in the interests of the Charity Organization Society, but it does not contain the German editor’s European statistics. Some recent 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. 65, c. 1225. See also the well-informed articles by MMI. Esquiros and de Marisy, in vols. xiii. and liv. of the Revue des Deux Mondes. The references to Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, xxiii. 22, and to Voltaire, Dict. Phil., article "Cliarité," are more of literary than of practical interest. (W. C. S.)


481-1 Compare Moore on Hindu Infanticide, 1811, with Brown on infanticide in India, 1868. In Baluchistan, where children are often drowned in milk, there is a euphemistic proverb, "The lady’s daughter died drinking milk."

482-1 See Julius Paulus, sive de partus expositione et nece apud veteres, by Gerald Noodt, 1700, criticized by Bynkershoek, De Jure, occidendi, vendendi, et exponendi liberos apud Romanos, 1719.

482-2 See Capitularia Region Francorum, ii. 474.

482-3 De l’Administration des Finances, iii. 136; see also the article "Enfant Exposé" in Diderot’s Encyclopédie, 1755, and Chamousset’s Mémoire politique sur les Enfants, 1757.

483-1 For the history of the Misericordia and Bigallo (White Cock), founded by the Brothers of Mercy, see Horner’s Walks in Florence, vol i.

483-2 Addison had suggested such a charity (Guardian No. 3).

484-1 As M. de Marisy has said, the Enfant trouvé exists no longer; he has been replaced by the Enfant assisté.

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