Children in Foundling Hospitals

An alternative to the workhouses for children were Foundling Hospitals. These were establishments for children who were abandoned or could not be cared for by their parents or relatives.

The first Foundling Hospital was opened in 1741 by Thomas Coram. Coram had noticed the amount of child abandonment and decided to create an establishment for those abandoned children.  The Foundling Hospital has since been turned into a museum and art gallery: The Foundling Museum.

Portrait of Thomas Coram by William Hogath, 1640. Wikimedia Commons.

Admission into the Foundling Hospital

Getting into the Foundling Hospital was difficult. There were so many abandoned children that as soon as the doors would open to allow children in, they would have to be closed because of the substantial amount waiting to get in. This led to a raffle system to use for means of admission. Every mother or person with a child would retrieve a colored ball from a bag. The color of the ball would determine the fate of the child. A white ball would mean that the child would be admitted, a red ball would mean the child would be placed on a waiting list, and a black ball would mean that the child would be rejected completely. However, this system did not last. With more government funding and assistance, the system was dropped and all children under the age of two months were accepted into the hospital. With the rates of children dying in the hospital still high and the money from the government gone, regulations on admittance were put into place again.

A New Beginning

Once the children were admitted into the hospital, they were baptized and given new names. The children were also given numbers that would accompany them and all of their belongings to be carefully noted down in the Hospital’s registry.

An early print of the Foundling Hospital. Wikimedia Commons.

Life in the Foundling Hospital

When first admitted into the Hospital, if under the age of five, the children were sent to be nursed with a family. Here, the children were noted to be the happiest because they were with an actual family and not in an institution.

Around the age of five, the children were sent back to the Hospital. They got their hair cut short and were dressed in simple clothes and an apron. They also received a tag that hung around their neck that had their name engraved on it.

The children had a strict schedule to follow while at the Hospital. Shown below is an example of what their schedule entailed.

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For employments, the girls and boys had different jobs. The girls had work like sewing and other housework. The boys had more physically demanding tasks such as rope making and gardening. Doing this work allowed the Hospital to earn more funding for the institution. It was not just meant to teach the children but also to prepare them for the life they were expected to achieve after leaving the Hospital.

Their life was simple with simple meals. There was a uniform worn by all of the children. The boys were placed in the west wing and were taught by the schoolmaster and drillmaster. The girls were placed in the east wing and supervised by the Matron. The Matron was in charge of making them intelligent and obedient. When it came time for visitors to come and potentially adopt the children, the boys were disciminated against compared to the girls. Placed in different observatory rooms, the girls were popular with the visitors and the boys were excluded from these visits in their room.

Leaving the Hospital

Some children brought into the Hospital were given a token of some kind that would allow them to be recognized in case their mother could come back for them. Some mothers, in a few years, would come back for their child. However, since at one time, the mothers were required to pay back the money used for the upbringing of their child, many did not. That fee was soon lifted and more mothers came back for their children. More often, the children would remain in the Hospital’s care until the ages of ten or twelve which soon became fourteen for boys and sixteen for girls. They would then take an apprenticeship with a master outside of the Hospital. Many of the children took an apprenticeship with the families of the nurses who they became close to over the years they had spent at the Hospital.

The menu for Foundling Hospitals compared to the menu for Workhouses had some clear differences.

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The above image is an example of the menu for a Foundling Hospital. The children were given meat on a daily basis with the exception of one day. The portions were a decent size for children. They were allowed milk and sugar and potatoes.

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The above images are examples of six different menus that were served in the workhouses. There was a lack of meat for the majority of the days. A large portion of their diets consisted of gruel, bread, and cheese.

The diets shown from the Foundling Hospitals were far more pleasant and nutritious in value than that of the diets in the workhouses. Along with the work conditions, Foundling Hospitals seemed like a better alternative than workhouses. For more on the diets in workhouses, see here.


Banerjee, Jacqueline. Captain Coram and the Foundling Hospital.

Banerjee, Jacqueline. Admission Procedures at the London Foundling Hospital.

Banerjee, Jacqueline. Life in the Foundling Hospital.