Women in Need
Inside the Family
Making Ends Meet
"You see I cannot take my child into the
country. Work forbids it. With a child I could not find a place
there...it will not be long before I come back. Will you keep
my child for me?"
-Fantine ( Les Misérables. Fantine, Book Fourth,
Abandoned children, such as Cosette and Gavroche, played a significant
role in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. However,
these character's situations were not typical in France during
the 19th century.
Background: Abandoned children of pre-Revolutionary France
became wards of a religious charity group. Here their religious
education was placed ahead of their secular education. So, when
the children were released at age 25, they were often illiterate
and unskilled. They commonly became prostitutes, vagabonds, or
criminals in order to survive. The professions were the worst
fear of the bourgeoisie who believed the children inherited their
mothers immoral and sinful values, and thus to cycle continued.
However, to deal with this overwhelming problem, in 1801, abandoned
children became wards of the state. (5-16, Fuchs)
|Abandoned in Les Misérables
|From Le Boulevard.
Gustave Doré. 1862-1863. A couple abandoning
their child at a hospice, where unwanted children were
cared for by the state.
Hospices: Mothers who could either not care for
or did not want their children abandoned them at a hospice.
As many as one-fourth to one-half of the illegitimate babies
born in Paris each year were taken to a hospice. There was
one in each arrondissement(section) in Paris due
to the high number of abandoned children. Most women either
left their babies at the actual hospice, or gave birth at
the hospital and when the police and hospice authorities
could not deter the mother from abandoning the child,they
signed a form stating they were abandoning their child.
From here, the authorities took the baby to the hospice.
This was primarily done because abandoning children on the
street was illegal. Also, at this time, there was no adoption
Admitting Procedure: Outside the hospice,women
placed their babies in a tour, a wooden cylindrical
cradle-like turntable about 55cm, and rang the bell to notify
the nurse of a new baby. This anonymity was necessary to
prevent abortion and infanticide, which werealso illegal
at the time. Once taken in, the newborns were washed, changed,
warmed, given an ID necklace, and their names(which were
usually kept secret until 1831), date and place of birth,
mode of admissions, and date and time of admissions were
recorded in the Registre d'Admission. The names were
kept secret for two reasons; one to protect the family name
of the mother. Secondly, to prevent mothers who abandoned
their children to try to take jobs as wet nurse in order
to see them. They were then taken into the nursery. Older
children were admitted in the same manner to the hospices.
The only difference was that these children were taken to
dormitories instead of nurseries, where they stayed, generally
|From A. Dupoux, Sur
les pas de Monsieur Vincent. Identification necklace
worn by the infants. It consisted of silk and a silver
couple of days, until foster parents were found for them.
En Dépot: The term given to older children
who were believed to be provisionally abandoned. These children
were generally picked up off the streets by the police.
After several days, their parents could not been found and
the child was not reclaimed, their status changed from provisionally
abandoned to definitely abandoned. Once this happened, they
went through the same procedures as the other older children.
The Condition of the Hospices: The physical environment
was cold, dirty, and overcrowded. The conditions within
the hospices were not good. The authorities for the most
part were more concerned with finance than the welfare of
the children. For example, in 1830 in St. Vincent-de-Paul,
there were three sister and eleven nurse's aids in the nursery
for anywhere between eighty and one hundred and fifty infants.
In theory, each wet nurse cared
only for one newborn. However due to the lack of wet nurse,
there were usually four or five newborns to each wet nurse
while in the hospice. This was one of the reasons ,many
of the babies did not receive breast milk at all or on a
regular basis. The other reasons included the fear that
the majority of the infants carried syphilis. To deal with
this problem, the authorities along with doctors developed
a means of artificially feeding them. This consisted of
cows and goats milk. However, the milk often sat out in
the open with no lid for days on end; thus obtaining a large
amount of germ and bacteria. Dr. Hutinel described this
after a visit to a hospice as, " contained in large
jars, exposed to all dust, rested in an office situated
in the center of the rooms, where from morning to night,
it was contaminated by germs that dry sweeping would raise
up several times a day" ( Fuchs 137). Due to the unsanitary
conditions, one half of the infants died
in the hospice before their first year.
To learn about the care given in the Hopsices click