‘Craving Charity’: Poor Mothers and the Public Philanthropic Imagination

  • Tanya Evans


Women facing the prospect of lone motherhood in mid-eighteenth-century London had a number of institutions that they might have turned to for support. One of these was the Foundling Hospital which spearheaded the philanthropic campaigns of the mid-century and opened its doors to ‘exposed and deserted young children’ in 1741. It admitted almost 19,000 children, the legitimate as well as the illegitimate progeny of London’s poor, over the course of the century.3 This institution was established and supported by people who demonstrated remarkable compassion towards the plight of unmarried mothers and their babies in their attempts to save infant lives. Many acknowledged that the increase in child abandonment during the eighteenth century was due to parental poverty rather than bastardy alone and that they had an obligation to humanity to alleviate the symptoms of the abandonment of children. They recognised that the relinquishment of children was almost always directly related to the experience of poverty. The objects of the Foundling Hospital were therefore legitimate as well as illegitimate children.


Eighteenth Century White Ball Unmarried Mother Lone Motherhood Poor Mother 
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  1. 2.
    P. Langford, A Polite and Commercial People, England 1727–1783 (Oxford, 1989), p. 142.Google Scholar
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    R.H. Nichols and F.A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (Oxford, 1935), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    D. Andrew, Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Century (Princeton, 1989), pp. 54–65Google Scholar
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    J. Brownlow, The History and Objects of the Foundling Hospital (London, 1865), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    J. Hanway, A Candid Historical Account of the Hospital for the Reception of Exposed and Deserted Young Children (London, 1760), p. 54.Google Scholar

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© Tanya Evans 2005

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  • Tanya Evans

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