Foundlings and Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century France
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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.