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By Rachel G. Fuchs

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Extra info for Abandoned children: foundlings and child welfare in nineteenth-century France

Sample text

These crises occurred frequently in the eighteenth century. Rural mothers, in times of economic stress, sent their children to the Hôpital des Enfants Trouvés in Paris. Birth control methods were either too little known or practiced among the poor to have eased the problems of poverty and child abandonment. Page 12 The increase in the number of abandoned children in Paris is in part due to rural families sending their unwanted offspring to the capital city. Rural children generally arrived in Paris because either the parents themselves could not care for them, or the provincial hospitals where the children had been deposited did not have the financial resources to provide for foundling care without help from local nobles, who generally assumed little responsibility for the abandoned children within their jurisdictions.

It is not the task of this study to criticize the state for its failure to act decisively, according to twentieth-century standards at the beginning of the century, nor praise it for its involvement in child care after mid-century, nor condemn it for intrusion into family life at the end of the century. No system is perfect. Policies and provisions for the welfare of the children rested upon dramatic alterations in general nineteenth-century state policy, medical knowledge, and predominant attitudes.

The financial system for the support of abandoned children did not encourage local nobles to take an interest in the children's survival and some probably saw their own advantage best served if the children did not survive to place a drain on their pocketbooks. 4 On the other hand, these patrons' social prestige may have depended in some measure on such public acts of charity. For some it may have been an inexpensive way of enjoying the esteem of society. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, little change occurred in the care and treatment of unwanted babies.

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