Abandoned Children

Foundlings and Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century France

Edited by Rachel G. Fuchs
Introduction by Rachel G. Fuchs

Subjects: European History, French Studies, Social And Cultural History
Paperback : 9780873957502, 375 pages, June 1984
Hardcover : 9780873957489, 375 pages, June 1984

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Table of contents

List of Tables
List of Figures and Maps
List of Illustrations
1. Social Problems and Social Welfare Until the Restoration
Medieval and Early Modern Child Welfare
The Eighteenth Century
Provisions for Care of Abandoned Children
State Assumption of Responsibility
Policies, Codes, and Decrees
Conclusion: Child Abandonment by 1815
2. Attitudes and Public Policy Toward the Family
Adoption, Orphanages, and Foster Parentage
Foundation of the System, 1811–1830
The July Monarchy and the "Social Question": Theory
The "Social Question": Reality
Further Efforts to Restrain Abandonment, 1850–1870
Beginning of Concern for the Children, 1850–1870
The Third Republic: Mothers and Children, 1870–1904
The Third Republic: Public Policy, 1870–1904
Conclusion: Responsibility
3. Mothers and Their Babies
The Children Abandoned: Their Age, Sex, and Legitimacy
The Effect of Rules and Regulations on Abandonment
The Mothers
Motives for Child Abandonment
Mothers' Alternatives
How Mothers Abandoned their Children
Conclusion: Maternal Love
4. In the Hospice
Functioning of the Hospice: Administration and Admissions Procedures
Functioning of the Hospice: Initial Care of the Children
Conditions in the Hospice
Infant Feeding
Death in the Hospice
Hospice to Hospital
Conclusion: Budgets not Babies
5. Spreading the Wealth
Fiscal and Administrative Apparatus
Recruitment of Wet Nurses
Geographical Distribution of Wet Nurses
Transportation of Wet Nurses
The Wet Nurses' Backgrounds
Conclusion: Objects of the System
6. Chez la Nourrice
Enfants Perdus—Infant Mortality
Effect of Travel on Mortality
Living Conditions Chez la Nourrice: Housing and Hygiene
Living Conditions Chez la Nourrice: Clothing
Living Conditions Chez la Nourrice: Attention and Neglect
Living Conditions Chez la Nourrice: Food
Inspection and Medical Care Chez la Nourrice
Conclusion: Improved Conditions
7. Survivors: The Older Children and Young Adults
Parental Reclamation of the Children
Children and Young Adults with their Foster Parents
Incurably Infirm or Disabled Children and Young Adults
Secular and Religious Education
Vocational Training, Agricultural Labor, and Apprenticeship
Military Service
Deviant and Criminal Behavior
Conclusion: Bonds of Affection
General Conclusion
Appendix A: Decree of January 19, 1811
Appendix B: Deliberation of January 25, 1837


In nineteenth-century France, parents abandoned their children in overwhelming numbers—up to 20 percent of live births in the Parisian area. The infants were left at state-run homes and were then transferred to rural wet nurses and foster parents. Their chances of survival were slim, but with alterations in state policy, economic and medical development, and changing attitudes toward children and the family, their chances had significantly improved by the end of the century.

Rachel Fuchs has drawn on newly discovered archival sources and previously untapped documents of the Paris foundling home in order to depict the actual conditions of abandoned children and to reveal the bureaucratic and political response. This study traces the evolution of French social policy from early attempts to limit welfare to later efforts to increase social programs and influence family life.

Abandoned Children illuminates in detail the family life of nineteenth-century French poor. It shows how French social policy with respect to abandoned children sought to create an economically useful and politically neutral underclass out of a segment of the population that might otherwise have been an economic drain and a potential political threat.

Rachel Ginnis Fuchs is Assistant Professor of History at Arizona State University.