The London Foundling Museum, one of the lesser known museums that I visited last fall, was the first home built to house London's huge number of abandoned children.
In the earliest days, when mothers brought their newborn babies to the hospital there was a lottery to determine if the baby would be admitted. The mother had to select a ball from a bin; if it was the right color, her baby would be taken in. Later a law was passed that every baby had to be accepted and a basket was placed outside the hospital for mothers to leave their infant.
Mothers were allowed to leave a letter to be kept at the hospital for their child, but since many could not write, they were also allowed to leave a token that would identify the child as theirs if they ever sought to be reunited. At the museum is a sad and moving exhibit of these items: coins, buttons, fabric scraps, cheap jewelry, a poem. Only a very few ever were able to return to claim their child.
Many of the babies were relinquished because their mothers were servants in the big houses of London who would be unable to work with a child to watch. What a heartbreaking choice for a mother to have to make--essentially her life (and that of others who depended on her job) or her child's.
Children were only admitted in their first days of life. They went to wet nurses in the country until they were 4-5 years old and then returned to the hospital to live. At 16 girls were apprenticed out as servants for four years, boys at 14 for seven years.
The survival rate of the children was abysmal. In a four year period, almost 15,000 babies were presented to the hospital; 4,400 survived to the age to be apprenticed.
Coram helped to fund the Foundling Hospital by opening the first public art gallery in London. Other funds came from benefit concerts generously given by George Frideric Handel in the hospital chapel.
|(photo from Wikipedia)|
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