A foundling hospital was originally an institution for the reception of
foundlings Child abandonment is the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one's offspring in an illegal way with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. The phrase is typically used to describe the physical abandonment of a chi ...
, i.e., children who had been abandoned or exposed, and left for the public to find and save. A foundling hospital was not necessarily a
medical hospital
medical hospital
, but more commonly a children's home, offering shelter and education to foundlings. The antecedents of such institutions was the practice of the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the List of Christian denominations by number of members, largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Catholics Catholic Church by country, worldwide . As the wo ...

Catholic Church
providing a system of relief, children being left (''jactati'') in marble shells at the church doors, and tended first by the ''matricularii'' or male nurses, and then by the ''nutricarii'' or
foster parent Foster care is a system in which a underage, minor has been placed into a ward (law), ward, group home (Residential Child Care Community, residential child care community, Treatment centre, treatment center, etc.), or private home of a state-cert ...
s. But it was in the 7th and 8th centuries that definite institutions for foundlings were established in such towns as
Milan Milan (, , Milanese: ; it, Milano ) is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the List of cities in Italy, second-most populous city proper in Italy after Rome. The city proper has a population of about 1.4 million, while its ...

Montpellier Montpellier (, , ; oc, Montpelhièr , it, Mompellieri ) is a city in southern France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental coun ...

. Historically, care for foundlings tended to develop more slowly or with greater variation from country to country than, for example, care for
orphan An orphan (from the el, ορφανός, orphanós) is a child whose parents have died, are unknown, or have permanently abandoned them. In common usage, only a child who has lost both parents due to death is called an orphan. When referring ...

s. The reason for this discrepancy was the perception that children abandoned by their parents carried with them a burden of immorality. Their parents tended to be unmarried and poor. Alleviating the burden of unwanted pregnancies was often seen as encouraging infidelity and prostitution.
Thomas Malthus Thomas Robert Malthus (; 13/14 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) was an English cleric Clergy are formal leaders within established religion Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, be ...

Thomas Malthus
, for example, the noted English
demographer Demography (from prefix ''demo-'' from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided i ...
economist An economist is a professional and practitioner in the social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , pl ...

, made, in his ''The Principles of Population'' (vol. i. p. 434), a violent attack on foundling hospitals. He argued that they discouraged marriage and therefore population, and that even the best management would be unable to prevent a high mortality. He wrote: "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".

Foundling hospitals in the world


In Austria foundling hospitals occupied a very prominent place in the general instructions which, by
rescript In legal terminology, a rescript is a document that is issued not on the initiative of the author, but in response (it literally means 'written back') to a specific demand made by its addressee. It does not apply to more general legislation. Overvi ...
dated 16 April 1781, the emperor
Joseph II Joseph II (German: ''Josef Benedikt Anton Michel Adam''; English: ''Joseph Benedict Anthony Michael Adam''; 13 March 1741 – 20 February 1790) was Holy Roman Emperor from August 1765 and sole ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy, Habsburg lands from N ...

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 20 October 1860 handed them over to the provincial committees. , they were local institutions, depending on provincial funds, and were quite separate from the ordinary parochial poor institute. Admission was free when the child was actually found on the street, or was sent by a criminal court, or where the mother undertook to serve for four months as nurse or midwife in an asylum, or produced a certificate from the parish priest and poor-father (the parish inspector of the poor-law administration) that she had no money. In other cases payments of thirty to 100
florin The Florentine Florentine most commonly refers to: * a person or thing from Florence, a city in Italy * the Florentine dialect Florentine may also refer to: Places * Florentin, Tel Aviv, a neighborhood in the southern part of Tel Aviv, Is ...
s were made. When two months old the child was sent for six or ten years to the houses in the neighborhood of respectable married persons, who had certificates from the police or the poor-law authorities, and who were inspected by the latter and by a special medical officer. These persons received a constantly diminishing allowance, and the arrangement could be determined by fourteen days notice on either side. The foster-parents could retain the child in their service or employment till the age of twenty-two, but the true parents could at any time reclaim the foundling on reimbursing the asylum and compensating the foster-parents.


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 (see below), and can hardly be usefully described apart from the general questions of local government and
poor law In English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World langu ...
administration. The ''Commissions des Hospices Civiles'', however, are purely communal bodies, although they receive pecuniary assistance from both the ''départments'' and the state. A decree of 1811 directed that there should be an asylum and a ''wheel'' for receiving foundlings in every ''
arrondissement An arrondissement (, , ) is any of various administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms ...
''. The last wheel, that of
Antwerp Antwerp (; nl, Antwerpen ; french: Anvers ) is a city in Belgium and the capital of Antwerp (province), Antwerp province in the Flemish Region. With a population of 520,504,
, was closed in 1860.


Louis XIII Louis XIII (; sometimes called the Just; 27 September 1601 – 14 May 1643) was from 1610 until his death in 1643 and (as Louis II) from 1610 to 1620, when the crown of Navarre was merged with the French crown. Shortly before his ninth bi ...

Louis XIII
's France,
St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul
rescued, with the help of the
Louise de Marillac Louise de Marillac , also Louise Le Gras, (August 12, 1591 – March 15, 1660) was the co-founder, with Vincent de Paul Vincent de Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660) commonly known as Saint Vincent de Paul was a French people, French ...
and other religious ladies, the foundlings of Paris from the horrors of a primitive institution named ''La Couche'' (on the rue St Landry), and ultimately obtained from
Louis XIV , house = House of Bourbon, Bourbon , father = Louis XIII, Louis XIII of France , mother = Anne of Austria , birth_date = , birth_place = Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Kingdom of France, F ...

Louis XIV
the use of the Bicêtre for their accommodation.
Letters patent Letters patent ( la, litterae patentes) ( always in the plural) are a type of legal instrument ''Legal instrument'' is a legal Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act acco ...
were granted to the Paris hospital in 1670. The
Hôtel-Dieu of Lyon
Hôtel-Dieu of Lyon
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
Jacques Necker Jacques Necker (; 30 September 1732 – 9 April 1804) was a Republic of Geneva, Genevan banker who served as List of Finance Ministers of France, finance minister for Louis XVI of France, Louis XVI and a statesman. Necker played a key role in Fre ...

Jacques Necker
prophesied that the state would yet be seriously embarrassed by this increasing evil. 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 foundling hospitals had been started as a reform to save the numerous infants who were being abandoned in the streets of Paris. Infant mortality at that date was extremely high – about 50 percent, in large part because families sent their infants to be
wet nurse A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeding, breast feeds and cares for another's child. Wet nurses are employed if the mother dies, or if she is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", ...
d. The mortality rate in the foundling hospitals, which also sent the babies out to be wet nursed, proved worse, however, and most of the infants sent there likely perished. The first constitutions of the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consi ...

French 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 la matérnité est admise''. , laws of France relating to this part of what is called ''l'Assistance publique'' were: *the
decree A decree is a rule of law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, ...

of January 1811 *the instruction of February 1823 *the decree of 5 March 1852 *the law of ''De l'administration des finances'' of 5 May 1869 *the law of 24 July 1889, and *the law of 27 June 1904 These laws carried 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 assistés'' included, 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, and (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 were termed ''pupilles de l'assistance'', wards of public charity, and were 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 dépôt'', 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 received all these children was a departmental (''établissement dépositaire''), and not a communal institution. The ''établissement dépositaire'' was usually the ward of a
hospice Hospice care is a type of health care that focuses on the palliation Palliative care (derived from the Latin root ''palliare, or'' "to cloak") is an interdisciplinary medical caregiving approach aimed at optimizing quality of life Quality o ...

, in which, with the exception of children ''en dépôt'' the stay was 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 were generally apprenticed to someone engaged in the agricultural industry, and until
majority A majority, also called a simple majority to distinguish it from similar terms (see the "Related terms" section below), is the greater part, or more than half, of the total.See dictionary definitions of "majority" aMerriam-Webster
they remained under the guardianship of the administrative commissioners of the '. The state paid the whole of the cost of inspection and supervision. The expenses of administration, the home expenses, for the nurse (''nourrice sédentaire'') or the
wet nurse A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeding, breast feeds and cares for another's child. Wet nurses are employed if the mother dies, or if she is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", ...
(''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, etc.; (3) clothing; (4) travelling-money for nurses and children; (5) printing, etc.; (6) expenses in time of sickness and for burials and apprentice fees were borne in the proportion of two-fifths by the state, two-fifths by the ', and the remaining fifth by the communes. The ''droit de recherche'' was 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 was managed by a ''directeur'' appointed by the
minister of the interior An interior ministry (sometimes called ministry of internal affairs or ministry of home affairs) is a government ministry responsible for internal affairs, particularly public security, emergency management, civil registration and identification ...
, and associated with a representative ''conseil de surveillance''. The Paris ''Hospice des enfants-assistés'' contained about 700 beds. There were 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 occurred in France on the principles of management of foundling hospitals, the advantages of tours and the system of admission ''à bureau ouvert'', the transfer of orphans from one ' 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.

Great Britain


Foundling Hospital A foundling hospital was originally an institution for the reception of foundlings Child abandonment is the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one's offspring in an illegal way with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guard ...

Foundling Hospital
of London was incorporated by
Royal Charter A royal charter is a formal grant issued by a monarch under royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing ...

Royal Charter
in 1739 for "the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children." The petition of
Thomas Coram Sea captain, Captain Thomas Coram (c. 1668 – 29 March 1751) was a philanthropist who created the London Foundling Hospital in Lamb's Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury, to look after abandoned children. It is said to be the world's first incorporated c ...
, 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 newborn infants to perish in the streets. The Foundling Hospital kept receiving children until the 1950s, when British law changed the focus in care for foundlings from children's homes to
foster care Foster care is a system in which a minor Minor may refer to: * Minor (law), a person under the age of certain legal activities. ** A person who has not reached the age of majority * Academic minor, a secondary field of study in undergraduate e ...
adoption Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting Parenting or child rearing promotes and supports the physical Physical may refer to: *Physical examination, a regular overall check-up with a doctor *Physical (album), ''Physical'' ...

. The Foundling Hospital is now a child care charity called Coram Family. Its history and art collection are on display at the
Foundling Museum The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. The city stands on the River Thames in the south-east of En ...

Foundling Museum


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.



In 1704 the Foundling hospital of
Dublin Dublin (; , or ) is the capital and largest city of Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster-Scots: ) is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_ ...

was opened. From 1,500 to 2,000 children were received annually. Due to the high mortality and financial cost of the hospital, in 1835 Lord Glenelg (then Irish Secretary) closed the institution.


A Foundling Hospital in
Cork Cork or CORK may refer to: Materials * Cork (material), an impermeable buoyant plant product ** Cork (plug), a cylindrical or conical object used to seal a container ***Wine cork Places Ireland * Cork (city) ** Metropolitan Cork, also known as G ...
was opened in 1747 at Leitrim Street, following a 1735 Act of the Irish Parliament. It was funded by local taxes. The building site, now occupied by the Lady's Well or Murphy's Brewery, was based around a small quadrangle with a chapel, school-rooms, boys dormitories, girls dormitories, and staff apartments. Following the enactment of the Poor Laws in Ireland the Poor Law Union workhouses replaced many of the functions of the Foundling Hospital. In Cork, the Union Workhouse was opened on Douglas Road in 1841. The Foundling Hospital at Leitrim Street subsequently closed in July 1855, when it was converted by the Emigration Commissioners for use as an Emigration depot.The Foundling Hospital Cork. ''Westmeath Independent'', 7 July 1855.


, Italy was very rich in foundling hospitals, pure and simple, orphans and other destitute children being separately provided for. In Rome one branch of the
Santo Spirito in Sassia Church of the Holy Spirit in the Saxon District ( Italian: ''La chiesa di Santo Spirito in Sassia'') is a 12th-century titular Titular may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media * Title character in a narrative work, the character referred to in ...

Santo Spirito in Sassia
(so called from the ''Schola Saxonum'' built in 728 by King Ina in the
Borgo Borgo may refer to the following places: Finland * Borgå France * Borgo, Haute-Corse Italy * Borgo (rione of Rome), a ''rione'' in the City of Rome. *Borgo a Mozzano, in the province of Lucca *Borgo d'Ale, in the province of Vercelli *Borgo di ...
) was, since the time of
Pope Sixtus IV Pope Sixtus IV (21 July 1414 – 12 August 1484), born Francesco della Rovere, was head of the Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the List of Christian denominations by number of memb ...

Pope Sixtus IV
, devoted to foundlings. The average annual number of foundlings supported was about 3,000. In
Venice Venice ( ; it, Venezia ; vec, Venesia or ) is a city in northeastern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of delimited by the and surrounding ...

the ''Casa degli Esposti'' or foundling hospital, founded in 1346, and receiving 450 children annually, was under provincial administration. The splendid legacy of the last ''
doge A doge (; ; plural dogi or doges) was an elected lord and Chief of State in several Italian city-states, notably Venice and Genoa, during the medieval and renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. was a peri ...
Ludovico Manin
Ludovico Manin
, was applied to the support of about 160 children by the Congregazione di Carità acting through thirty
parish A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus Christ. The words ''Christ ( ...
boards (''deputazione fraternate'').


Under the old Russian system of
Peter IPeter I may refer to: Religious hierarchs * Saint Peter (c. 1 AD – c. 64–88 AD), a.k.a. Simon Peter, Simeon, or Simon, apostle of Jesus * Pope Peter I of Alexandria (died 311), revered as a saint * Peter I of Armenia (died 1058), Catholicos o ...

Peter I
foundlings were received at the church windows by a staff of women paid by the state. But starting in the reign of
Catherine II russian: Екатерина Алексеевна Романова, translit=Yekaterina Alekseyevna Romanova en, Catherine Alexeievna Romanova, link=yes , house = , father = Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst , mother ...
, foundling hospitals were in the hands of the provincial officer of public charity (''prykaz obshestvennago pryzrenya''). The great central institutions (''Vospitatelnoi Dom''), at Moscow and
St. Petersburg Saint Petersburg ( rus, links=no, Санкт-Петербург, a=Ru-Sankt Peterburg Leningrad Petrograd Piter.ogg, r=Sankt-Peterburg, p=ˈsankt pʲɪtʲɪrˈburk), formerly known as Petrograd (1914–1924) and later Leningrad (1924–1991), ...

St. Petersburg
(with a branch at
Gatchina Gatchina (russian: Га́тчина, ) is a town A town is a human settlement. Towns are generally larger than villages and smaller than city, cities, though the criteria to distinguish between them vary considerably in different part ...
), were founded by Catherine. When a child was brought to these institutions the baptismal name was asked, and a receipt was given, by which the child could be reclaimed up to the age of ten. After the usual period of six years in the country care was taken with the education, especially of the more promising children. The hospitals served as a valuable source of recruits for the public service. The rights of parents over their children were very much restricted, and those of the government much extended by a ''
ukase Example of a modern ''ukaz'': the ambassadorial appointment of Sergey Kislyak to the United States in 2008. In Imperial Russia The Russian Empire, . commonly referred to as Imperial Russia, was a historical empire that extended across Eurasia ...

'' issued by the emperor
Nicholas I
Nicholas I
in 1837.

United States

, in the United States of America, foundling hospitals, which are chiefly private
charities A charitable organization or charity is an organization whose primary objectives are philanthropy and social well-being (e.g. educational, religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, b ...
, existed in most of the large cities.

See also

Child abandonment Child abandonment is the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one's offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. The phrase is typically used to describe the physical abandonment of a c ...
Orphanage , Finland File:St. Nicholas Orphanage.jpg"> residential institution, or group home, devoted to the Childcare">care CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, formerly Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) is a major int ...

Street children Street children are poor or homeless child Biologically, a child (plural children) is a human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairles ...

Street children


* {{DEFAULTSORT:Foundling Hospital Child welfare Children's hospitals Adoption, fostering, orphan care and displacement