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The Definition of 'Good Character': Unmarried Mothers, Class and the London Foundling Hospital, 1898–1904

Kieran Campbell-Johnston[1], Department of History, Art History and Philosophy, University of Sussex

Abstract

This article assesses the availability of non-state social support for destitute mothers, through an investigation of Foundling Hospital applicants from 1898 to 1904. The Hospital granted assistance to children whose mothers had been abandoned by the child's father and who fitted the Hospital's definition of moral and social respectability. By proving their social respectability, regardless of their social status, the mothers could ensure that their child would be accepted. This project demonstrates, however, that access to this non-state social support was not openly accessible, but contained bias that favoured those from a higher class. This research is based on the cases of 51 successful applicants from 1898 to 1904, held at the London Metropolitan Archives, which allow the characteristics of specific applicants to be demonstrated. The character traits of applicants are measured against children's admittance speed, located in the Foundling Hospital medical records, to assess if petitioner characteristics had any bearing on the speed the child was admitted. We find no significant relationship between the mother's occupation or age and the speed at which her child was admitted. However, we find a statistical significance between the father's occupation and the child's admittance speed. The association suggests the importance class and gender assumptions played in determining the accessibility to non-state social support.

Keywords: London Foundling Hospital, domestic servants, social respectability, unmarried destitute mothers, Victorian illegitimacy.

Introduction

Ms Jupp says she will not keep my boy after Saturday […] I have nowhere to put him as I am out of a situation through illness […] the doctor ordered me not to go to service yet awhile; so if you have a place vacant to take him will you kindly take him into your care.(London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), application petition (AP). A/FH/A08/001/002/113:22890).

So stated Alice Randall, a 21-year-old servant from Worthing in East Sussex, who had been abandoned by her child's father, Arthur William Davis, a sheeter who left almost a year after the child was born. Ostracised by her wider family and financially unsupported by Davis, who took an incarceration of six weeks rather than paying her remittance, Alice Randall wrote to the London Foundling Hospital to request they take her child.

Alice's story is typical of many mothers in late nineteenth-century London and highlights how destitute mothers sought the best for themselves and their illegitimate children. Recent studies have focused on the mother's agency as they sought the best social provision they could (Murdoch, 2006). Previous work on the women who requested help from the London Foundling Hospital discussed how those who applied shaped their applications in order to gain favour with the institution (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012), and how those who were successful dealt with separation from their children (Frost, 2014). Such work has attempted to reconstruct the various voices of the mothers from the scarce sources available.

This article, however, takes a more nuanced approach in order to understand the type of women who were likely to receive help. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Foundling Hospital acted as a moral arbiter, deciding who received assistance through a rigorous assessment of applicants that centred on the mother's moral reputation. This study assesses a number of successful applicants to the Hospital from 1898 to 1904 in order to explore the connection between personal poverty and institutional help. This reveals what type of woman was deemed 'virtuous' and 'worthy' of institutional help and shows how illegitimacy and destitution were addressed socially. The conduct of the research was informed by two questions: who were the mothers of the children admitted to the Foundling Hospital between 1898 and 1904? Did the Foundling Hospital treat them differently depending on their circumstances? Initially the article will outline the context of the era and give an overview of the Foundling Hospital and its application process. Then it discusses each of the research questions. The article demonstrates that the Foundling Hospital mainly assisted young domestic servants, and that the admittance process favoured some applicants over others based on contemporary perceptions of 'respectability' related to class and gender.

Institution and context

Founded in 1739 by former seafarer Thomas Coram, the Foundling Hospital was the first children's charity of its kind in Britain and set a pattern for charitable organisations in England over the next two centuries (Pugh, 2007: 10). In its earliest years, the Hospital attempted to run a policy of 'indiscriminate admission', admitting both legitimate and illegitimate infants under two years of age, a process that reflected contemporary public opinion about the necessity of conserving infant lives. The unmanageable nature of the early admissions policy was demonstrated when a basket and bell system was set up in 1756, whereby a mother could deposit her child and ring the bell for the porter: this led to 425 infants being relinquished in the first month (Nichols and Wray, 1935: 52).[2]

Throughout its first 60 years, the Hospital tried out various admittance procedures. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century, there was a prominent shift in attitudes and policy, which from 1801 focused less on the mothers' economic need, and more on the specific characteristics of the mother. In a statement in 1797, the Hospital treasurer set out the objectives of the institution, these being 'to preserve and educate Infants otherwise exposed to perish, and to restore the mothers to a course of Industry and Virtue so that almost every Act of Charity is attended with a double Benefit, the preservation of Child and of the Parent' (Pugh, 2007: 51). This notion of the mother's virtue and character played a significant part in shaping admissions policies, as the Hospital sought to prevent resources going to promiscuous women or prostitutes, reducing the dependency of the poor and encouraging 'self-help' (Williams, 2005: 95). The new philanthropic culture surrounding illegitimacy constructed and reinforced gendered identities for the mother and father, and created a sexual identity of victimhood, which the mothers had to comply with when petitioning (Williams, 2005: 100).

The Hospital sought to accept illegitimate children under the age of one year, whose mothers had 'fallen' once, and who had been deserted by the father. When investigating the entitlement of the mother, the Hospital would make sure of her 'good character' and that she could demonstrate she had employment once the child had been taken. Character references for the petitioners therefore became increasingly important as the Hospital established and verified the mother's social character. Interviewers from the Hospital would assess the mother's moral standards, to see if she met societal standards for an impeccable reputation, aside from this one 'fall' (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 2). Thus a paradoxical discourse of 'respectable illegitimacy' emerged surrounding the successful applicants (Williams, 2005: 97). The governors' philosophy was to offer this 'second chance' to both child and mother, and without such conditions being satisfied it was highly unlikely the child would be admitted (Frost, 2014: 46; Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 157). For successful applicants, the Hospital offered a fresh chance, as opposed to the workhouses, which refused to let women leave without their children. Such an opportunity was highly prized, as it offered a step towards social rehabilitation at a time when respectability equated to employment (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 4).

Once admitted the children were fostered out to families in Sussex, Kent or Essex until the age of five. On their return, children would remain in the Hospital until the age of 15 when they were apprenticed out; boys as marching band musicians and girls as domestic servants (Pugh, 2007).

The social and moral outlook of this era informed gender-appropriate behaviour. Gender in this instance is understood as a 'constituent element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes' (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 8). The key 'difference' that arose during the nineteenth century was the conceptualisation of separate spheres, with the nuclear family at its heart (Davidoff et al., 1999). The 'public sphere' was the place of work and was characterised by language with strong masculine connotations, originally founded in ideas of 'muscular Christianity' and championed by writers such as Charles Kingsley (Rosen, 1994: 17). Juxtaposed against this was the 'private sphere' which centred on the home. Femininity and virtue were its characteristics, and the making and maintenance of the home was viewed as the women's prerogative (Davidoff et al., 1987). Even at the start of the twentieth century the intensely aggressive, 'new-masculine' tone of business kept the 'new women' out of most entrepreneurial opportunities, and confined them instead to traditionally feminine sectors (Nenadic, 2007: 287). One of these was domestic service, viewed as essential preparation for young middle- and working-class women in the domestic duties of married life, conceptually constructed as 'gender-defined work' (Higgs, 1983: 210).

In addition to maintaining the home, motherhood was also considered the 'sacred duty' of women, particularly for middle-class ideals, for whom a woman's duty was to give birth to and raise successful children (Frost, 2014: 45). During the early twentieth century, motherhood became increasingly connected with Imperial Britain, contributing to the 'white women's burden' of civilising the world (Frost, 2014: 45). This view was fuelled by concerns about 'racial purity' and the health of the British 'race' following defeats in the Boer War which were thought to have exposed the decline of the British nation (Davidoff et al., 1987: 128). Such discussions tied into the broader ideology of 'national efficiency', a desire to direct social organisation, discredit and remove habits, beliefs and institutions that appeared to handicap British competition with 'foreigners' (Searle, 1971: 54). Thus, while a married woman dutifully raising her children was viewed as the epitome of motherhood, children born out of wedlock were branded 'illegitimate' and symbolised the moral failings and disreputable character of the mother. Successful petitioners therefore effectively transcended this cleavage, treading a middle path back to sociability with their children redefined as 'respectable-illegitimates'.

The legal standing of single mothers disadvantaged them when seeking assistance. Despite general reform throughout the nineteenth century regarding women's standing, women remained subservient to men before the law in many respects. On issues such as divorce and married property rights it was not until the 1920s that women achieved a comparative legal standing with men (May, 1996: 303). Similarly, many Poor Law practices disproportionally impacted women, specifically the Bastard Clause in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, which held unmarried mothers entirely responsible for their children (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 8). Deserted wives were also often refused relief and, until 1914, were more likely to end up in the workhouse owing to assumptions that a women had morally failed if her husband left. While legislation in 1876 allowed for magistrates and mothers to sue estranged fathers for financial support, difficulties persisted in how to track fathers down (Thane, 1978: 32). Some of the petitioners failed to receive support from the father even with police assistance. Crucially, however, the law dictated that the mother was solely responsible for the wellbeing of her child.

Data and methodology

The study uses data held at the London Metropolitan Archives. The specific sources used are a selection of successful applications to the Foundling Hospital 1898-1904 which have recently been released; records of unsuccessful petitions no longer survive for this period. These records offer an opportunity for original research on this period as they have not been previously available to social historians.[3] All petitions contain three documents: an application form, a transcript of an oral deposition from the mother, and a letter to the Hospital summarising the mother's account. The initial application contains the name of the mother, her address, age, child's birth date, father's name, his occupation and when the petitioner last saw the father. The second document is an account of the mother's relationship with the father, including where she lived, when she met the father, the father's address, when they slept together and whether the father was the only person she had slept with. In addition the petitioner was asked to give details of family, friends or employers who could verify the nature of their story, as well as those who attended them at the birth. The final document is the interviewer's summary to the Hospital confirming the mother's story, including if it was the petitioner's first child, or 'first confinement', and the whereabouts of the father, if known.

While the application petitions hold a vast array of information, there are a number of limitations in the data which mean that the findings of the study should be treated with some caution. First, only successful applications remain, so it is not possible to compare the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful applicants. Thus when this article outlines what factors may have resulted in the success of a petition in having a quicker application, the findings are speculative, as comparable analysis is not possible. Second, no information is available about the Hospital's procedures for handling applications. The lack of evidence of this process followed for each applicant means it is impossible to assess the potential impact of the process itself on the success of the application. The study therefore provides only a snapshot of a sample of successful applicants and the limitations of the data set should be borne in mind when considering any conclusions about bias in the outcome of the process.

A further issue relates to how the women's statements were recorded. Oral depositions were recorded by the Foundling Hospital secretary, and while they include much information on the characteristics of the mother and occasional quotes, they are not verbatim transcripts and the original voice of the mother is lost. Sheetz-Nguyen focused heavily on the transcripts of the mother's oral testimony in her study, but that approach relies heavily on inference, subtext and speculation, and, as Sheetz-Nguyen notes, the poor did not write for themselves (Sheetz-Nguyen, 2012: 8). However, the specific details in the source material allow this article to demonstrate who the women are, and how the institution treated them. When assessing the petitioners, the Foundling Hospital made meticulous notes of the specific details of each case. Such details, set against a contextual analysis of late Victorian and early Edwardian London, reveal much about the petitioner's lives and their relationship with the institution.

From 1898 to 1904 there were 572 applications to the Foundling Hospital, of which 328 were accepted. Overall there was a 57.43% acceptance rate and a 22.8% rejection rate, with 17.12% of applications withdrawn or postponed; 2.61% of applicants died before admittance (E. Schneider personal communication). I used a random sample generator to select 51 petitions (about 16%) from the records.[4] The robustness and significance of the sample is tested by contextualising the data against wider material such as the 1901 census. This study takes a mixed qualitative and quantitative methodological approach to addressing the research questions. This allows me to demonstrate general trends in the study data, while drawing out specific examples and personal anecdotes of the women. The main variable explored connected to the second question is the length of time taken to process the application in relation to the petitioner. The petitions offer the only surviving information on these mothers, and through their examination, along with information from the Foundling Hospital medical records, a more comprehensive understanding is gained of petitioners' relationship with the institution, and indeed the institutions broader relationship to gender and status from 1898 to 1904.

Who were the women accepted by the Foundling Hospital between 1898 and 1904?

The following section describes the mothers who successfully petitioned the Foundling Hospital, by following the general narrative of their relationship with the fathers. The initial section provides an overview of their age, background, occupation, the father's occupation, the courtship between them, and the mother's eventual 'abandonment'.

The women ranged in age from 15 to 26. The sample was skewed towards the younger women (Figure 1). The greatest concentration of women was between the ages of 21 and 22; the average age of the sample is just over 21 and the median 22.[5] The majority of the women (42) were originally from London, with only nine originating from outside the capital.

Figure 1: Foundling Hospital petitioner ages 1898-1904.

Figure 1: Foundling Hospital petitioner ages 1898-1904.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: Each bar represents the total number of female petitioners who fall within the age range specified.

To prove that they were of 'good character', petitioners had to provide character references, which usually came from family or employers. Employment played a significant role in determining admittance to the Hospital, while also showing what type of person was most likely to apply (see Appendix). Of the sample, the great majority of the women, 61%, were involved in domestic and personal services. This vastly outweighed all other occupation types, with commercial occupations and food, drink and tobacco both standing at 5% (Figure 2).

The sample broadly reflected the occupational profiles for unmarried working women in the 1901 Census of London (1901 census). The percentage of the unmarried working population of London women involved in commercial occupations, food, drink and tobacco, manufacturing and public administration were roughly similar. However, only 45% of that population was involved in domestic and personal services. There is some evidence that domestic service has been generally underestimated in the census (Higgs, 2005), so the 1901 census may not accurately represent women's work at this time. But should the number of domestic servants with illegitimate children come as a surprise? Workhouse and hospital records emphasise that such workers were the predominant group who used their maternity services. Additionally, previous studies of the Foundling Hospital records also found that the great majority of petitioners were servants. Explanations point to the attitudes of domestic servants and their vulnerability to and the likelihood of them being faced with sexual propositions or harassment from employers and other servants (Gillis, 1979; Barber, 1993).[6] However, where Gillis (1979) found the majority of the domestic servants accepted by the Foundling Hospital were from the 'upper ranks' of cooks, housekeepers, lady's maids and governesses, this study found that servants came overwhelmingly from the 'lower ranks' of general servants such as kitchen-, parlour- and housemaids. The nature of employment here is significant in explaining why the women had to give up their children. Moving beyond the moral issue of having an illegitimate child, from an economic perspective, a newborn child could push even a two-person family from the lower-middle classes into poverty (Gillis, 1979: 154; Anderson, 1971: 31-32). For a single mother, this issue was even more acute, particularly for domestic servants who were low waged and unlikely to work while caring for an infant, as was the case with Alice E. Wilkins, a servant who since the child's birth had 'not been able to buy anything for myself for a year', after being dismissed by her employer (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/108/HN:22623).

Figure 2: Foundling Hospital petitioner's occupation compared to 1901 London census.

Figure 2: Foundling Hospital petitioner's occupation compared to 1901 London census.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography, compared against the 1901 census report. Census of England and Wales 1901 (63 Vict. c. 4.) County of London. Area, houses and population; also population classified by ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birthplaces and infirmities. 1902; (Cd. 875), CXX.1. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.882004&res_dat=xri:hcpp&rft_dat=xri:hcpp:rec:1902-001955 (accessed 10 August 2015)

Notes: The dark grey bars represent the occupations from the Foundling Hospital sample. The light grey line is calculated from the unmarried working women from London, 1901. A full breakdown of the petitioner's specific occupation can be seen at Figure 8.

In comparison, the fathers were generally from a higher class than the petitioners. The majority of fathers came from the lower-middle or skilled working classes, with skilled workers comprising 54% of the sample (Figure 3).[7] Such trades included builders, cabinet makers, butchers and engineers (see Appendix). Unfortunately no information is available in the petitions about the age of the fathers, which prevents a more complete and comparative analysis. Specifically, the work categories of domestic offices and services or the conveyance of men, goods and messages both represented 15% of fathers in the sample, with food, tobacco, drinks and lodgings representing 13%. For classification those petitioners who worked in 'lodgings' were categorised into 'domestic and personal services' in the 1901 census. Data for the sample fathers broadly matches that for the unmarried male working population in the 1901 London census data (see Figure 4). However, the biggest difference between the sample and the census is that domestic offices and services stands at 15% in the sample, but only 3% of the male London workforce. The difference between these two figures is probably explained by the close nature of domestic work, with servants more likely to strike up relationships with other servants, as it was with 22-year-old Margaret Racklyeft, who was 'seduced' by fellow servant Hector Lewis when living and working at the Duke's Head Hotel (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/108HN:22648).

Figure 3: Foundling Hospital father's occupation by class bracket, 1898-1904.

Figure 3: Foundling Hospital father's occupation by class bracket, 1898-1904.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: Fathers were placed into class categories outlined by Armstrong (1972) as follows.

1: The upper and middle class.
2: Intermediate between the middle and working class.
3: Skilled working class.
4: Intermediate working class.
5: Unskilled working class.

Figure 4: Foundling Hospital father's occupation, 1898-1904 compared to 1901 London census.

Figure 4:Foundling Hospital father's occupation, 1898-1904 compared to 1901 London census.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography compared against in and out of work males in London 1901. Taken from Census of England and Wales. 1901. (63 Vict. c. 4.) County of London. Area, houses and population; also population classified by ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birthplaces and infirmities. 1902; (Cd. 875), CXX.1. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.882004&res_dat=xri:hcpp&rft_dat=xri:hcpp:rec:1902-001955 (accessed 10 August 2015)

Notes: Occupation of fathers compared to those of the 1901 London census. For a full breakdown of the father's specific occupation see the Appendix. No complete account of the ages of all the fathers were given, thus they are not included in this study.

Reconstructing a complete narrative of the courtship between the petitioner and father from the record is difficult because of the issue of finding the mother's real voice at a time when she was trying to persuade the Hospital that she was of 'good character' and worthy of aid. It is possible to identify general patterns from the source material, however. On average the petitioners had had contact with the fathers for a period of 11.4 months, ranging from 1 to 30 months. This was the total time the petitioners had known the father, from the time between when the petitioner 'first met' him and when she last 'heard of him' (LMA/AP/A/FH/A08/001/002/108/HN:22651). This average conforms to what was noted as a 'steady relationship' by the Hospital of between 7 and 12 months, which increased a petitioner's chance of success. During the course of the relationship 17% of the women were engaged, or at least there was the strongest assumption that they would become married, as with Charlotte A. Cox who had arranged her marriage to Arthur Tilly at the local church when he was arrested and sentenced to five years for burglary (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/113/HN:22866). More common, though, was the situation where the father gave a promise of marriage in order to start a sexual relationship; this was the case in 31% of the petitions. Louise Leslie suffered this predicament. Having being told by Leslie Wagriedleen that he had been to the registry office to arrange their marriage, she was 'seduced' on the train to Brighton (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/113/HN:22897). Such a situation was characteristic, particularly of young domestic servants who would seek older men from a higher social class for future stability (Gillis, 1979: 153). While the age of the father cannot be ascertained from these sources, the second point holds true, as was shown in Figure 3, with fathers predominantly being from classes two or three. Such descriptions suggest that Hospital petitioners needed to conform to the feminised image of the 'seduced victim' in order to be accepted (Evans, 2005: 128).

What then happened to the mothers once they found themselves pregnant? The most important data from these sources are details of the reasons why the father left, and thus why the mother ended up alone. Strikingly, 19% of the fathers were already married, highlighting how deception was used to procure sexual relations from the women, perhaps indicating the petitioners' vulnerability. However, these sources do not adequately represent the mothers' own voices, and we can only speculate about their vulnerability, bearing in mind the 'rhetoric of need' in which petitions were shaped (Williams, 2005: 100). Just under half of the fathers abandoned the petitioner outright, with 15% due to dismissal from their employment. 9% left for work-related reasons and 17% went abroad. For example William Hibbert, a private in the Queens Guards, was shipped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War in 1901 (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/110/HN:22720). On average, petitioners gave birth to their child 17 weeks after last seeing the father.[8]

When delivering, 64% of the petitioners gave birth either in a workhouse or infirmary, a hospital or a maternity home, with 35%, 21% and 8% born in each respectively. 25% of the women gave birth at home or with relatives, with 11% being born elsewhere. For all except one women this was their 'first confinement'. Of the sample, 57% of the children born were girls and the remaining 43% were boys.[9] Of the 31 oral depositions which contained information about who the children stayed with after the birth, 31% remained with either the petitioner or their family, 9% were in an institution, 17% stayed with friends and 2% stayed elsewhere. Those who did not look after their child themselves usually paid for their keep. For example, Florence M. Greenfield paid 7s 6d to one 'Ms Pickering' to look after the child (LMA/AP/ A/FH/A08/001/002/112/HN:22849).

This section provides a description of the women were who were admitted to the London Foundling Hospital between 1898 and 1904. The findings broadly confirm those of Gillis, that successful petitioners tended to be young domestic servants and the fathers were mainly lower-middle or skilled working class. The high percentage of domestic servants reflects Gillis's assertion that illegitimacy was a particular problem for servants in this period. However, this study shows that petitioners were predominantly from the 'lower ranks' of services rather than the 'upper ranks', and thus disputes Gillis' claim that the Hospital favoured those from the 'higher ranks'. These findings suggest that these petitioners essentially needed to 'aim high' in their choice of partner in order to access help if deserted, as will be demonstrated later. It is also ironic that the very occupation the Foundling Hospital considered most appropriate for its female residents was the occupation perhaps most likely to place women in a vulnerable and therefore potentially morally comprising position. The importance of the gendered occupations of petitioners is also significant as the Hospital predominantly accepted those who it viewed as conforming to acceptable gendered work.

Did the Foundling Hospital treat petitioners differently depending on their circumstances?

This section explores the connection between the applicants' characteristics and how the institution treated them. This expands our understanding of how gender differences manifested in specific institutional outcomes, connected to who was deemed as 'deserving'. This addresses the issue not adequately tackled by Sheetz-Nguyen, that of the relationship between 'self-representation' and institutional experience. The analysis explores whether a correlation exists between the characteristics of the petitioner or of the father, and the time taken to process the successful application. The independent variables measured against the admittance speed of the child were the age and occupation of the mother and the father's class type. Admittance speed is the time between when the mothers first petitioned the Hospital and when their children were accepted. If we presume that all petitions should take approximately the same time to be processed, notable differences in admittance speed may indicate underlying assumptions of how the institution operated. Admittance times themselves are important, owing to the expense of caring for a child; a quick and successful application would assist the mother finding work, and avoiding further poverty.

To test the correlation between the mother's age and the child's admittance speed the mother's ages were grouped into three categories: Young Mothers, 15-19 years; Average Mothers, 20-23 years; and Older Mothers, 24-26 years (Figure 5). There was a clear difference between the age of the mother and the length of time it took to admit the child. The findings showed that the children of Young Mothers were admitted 73 days sooner than those of Average Mothers and 54.75 days sooner than Older Mothers. This suggests that the Hospital gave younger mothers priority when managing their applications. However, the overlapping confidence intervals between each category suggests that the difference between the groups is not statistically significant. Thus, although there is a difference in the time in admittance between age groups, we cannot be certain whether this difference is significant with such a small sample size.

Figure 5: Foundling Hospital petitioners' age 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Figure 5: Foundling Hospital petitioners' age 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: The bars reflects the mean age of the petitioner compared against the age of the child at admittance. The ages of the petitioner were grouped into three age brackets, in order to get a more accurate comparison owing to the small size of the sample. The capped lines show the variation in the sample when factoring in the standard deviation, with a confidence interval of 95%.

The next two correlations explore the influence of the mother's occupation on admittance speed. In view of the small sample size, mothers' occupation was classified as either 'domestic' or 'other'. The findings in this instance point to the petitions of domestic servants taking the longest time to be accepted, and all other occupations being accepted sooner. This suggests that those most likely to need the Hospital's help were those who had to wait longest. But when re-estimated, factoring in the standard deviation for occupation category, the overlapping confidence intervals show that the difference in admittance speed between the occupation categories is not statistically significant (Figure 6). Thus there does not appear to be any specific characteristic of the mothers that affected how the institution treated them.

Figure 6: Foundling Hospital petitioners' occupations 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Figure 6: Foundling Hospital petitioners' occupations 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: The bars represent the mean of all admittance ages for the petitioner's occupation. The capped lines show the variation in the sample when factoring in the standard deviation, with a confidence interval of 95%.

No conclusive correlation was demonstrated between the father's class based on his occupation and the speed of admittance (Figure 9). However, when the father's class bracket was readjusted, so that classes two and three were grouped to became Middle Class and Skilled, and classes four and five became Working Class and Unskilled, the results were more significant. The confidence intervals for these two correlations did not overlap (Figure 7), so we can trust the difference between mean estimation of the father's class in relation to the speed of admittance. This demonstrates that there is an association between father's class based on occupation and the speed of admittance. It appears that a bias existed that favoured those petitioners socially connected to a higher class. This suggests that Hospital associated respectability if the women petitioners with the class of the father.

Figure 7: Updated class occupation classification of the father corrected with speed of admittance for their children.

Figure 7: Updated class occupation classification of the father corrected with speed of admittance for their children.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: Father's occupations were reclassified from four class brackets (as in Figure 3) into two, plus blank.

Considering that domestic service was such a common occupation among petitioners, it is interesting that the institution was more influenced by the standing of the father. It is possible that the institution implicitly associated moral respectability with occupation (specifically domestic service), and that social respectability was automatically associated with class based on the occupation of the father, all of which was underpinned by certain gender assumptions. More broadly we can relate this to notions of 'national efficiency', reflecting an attitude that the children of disreputable groups were not to be assisted. This suggests that the social provisions for women were still dictated by the male figure in their lives, and that the help destitute women could receive paralleled certain gendered structural disadvantages experiences by women.

Conclusions

This article explored applications to the Foundling Hospital from 1898 to 1904. The study described the specific characteristics and backgrounds of those who fell into destitution, and demonstrated how some in their poverty could still claim a reputable status in order to receive institutional help. Women who were most likely to receive the services of the Hospital tended to be young domestic servants, most likely from London who had been abandoned by the child's father. The fathers, who tended to be predominately from the lower-middle or skilled working classes, had known the women approximately 11 months in total, and left on average 17 weeks before the birth of the child. Ironically, the very occupation that the Hospital considered appropriate for girls in its care was the occupation most likely to need its assistance. This indicates the importance of gender assumptions in determining 'good social character', and expands how such assumptions manifested in institutional outcomes. This raises some wider issues, which have not been dealt with here but are worth further consideration, namely the vulnerable nature of domestic service for women, and whether it put them in a compromising position. Did obligations of service, or the need to continue employment in that profession, necessitate the abandonment of their offspring? Exploring these issues helps to address and elucidate further the nature of women's employment and agency - or the lack of it - in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period.

The social importance of morality and its connection to illegitimacy were also crucial to understanding the Hospital and its relationship to those admitted. Given the Foundling Hospital's position as a moral arbiter of destitute women, examining its practices exposes aspects of the experience of late Victorian illegitimacy, and how 'self-representation' corresponded to actual experience of the women themselves. This study demonstrates the importance of the social background of the father. The second part of this article explored possible connections between the specific characteristics of the petitioners and the speed with which their children were admitted to the Hospital. The study found no evidence of a statistically significant correlation between the petitioner's characteristics and the child's admittance speed. However, the study did find a statistically significant correlation between the speed of admittance and the class of the father based on his occupation. This raises a number of issues about the importance of class background in relation to personal morality and assumptions of respectability. It suggests that the Foundling Hospital discriminated against petitioners who did not have a connection with a higher-class male, which gives some insight into what constituted 'deserving' and 'underserving' applicants. The experience of poverty therefore disadvantaged women in different ways depending on their relationships and the way in which they represented themselves in applying for assistance. This goes beyond views on how society defined the 'deserving' poor and suggests what assumptions underpinned who could access help. Personal morality and good character were not necessarily sufficient in themselves to allow women to access institutional help, instead wider notions of class must be considered, which further compound the difficulties that certain women with illegitimate children faced in seeking social aid.


Acknowledgments

With thanks to the University of Sussex Doctoral School, Sarah Campbell, Rose Holmes and Eric Schneider. Of course any remaining errors are entirely my own.

List of figures

Figure 1: Foundling Hospital petitioner ages 1898-1904.

Figure 2: Foundling Hospital petitioner's occupation compared to 1901 London census.

Figure 3: Foundling Hospital father's occupation by class bracket, 1898-1904.

Figure 4: Foundling Hospital father's occupation, 1898-1904 compared to 1901 London census.

Figure 5: Foundling Hospital petitioners' age 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Figure 6: Foundling Hospital petitioners' occupations 1898-1904 compared against their child's admittance age to the Hospital.

Figure 7: Updated class occupation classification of the father corrected with speed of admittance for their children.

Figure 8: Breakdown of petitioner's and father's occupation in relation to category.

Figure 9: Class occupation classification of the father compared to admittance age of their children 1898-1904.

Appendix

Figure 8: Breakdown of petitioner's and father's occupation in relation to category. Occupation categories taken from Armstrong (1972). All 'Unknown' categories left blank in this table. Table does not repeat occupation if it is already listed beforehand.

Figure 8: Breakdown of petitioner's and father's occupation in relation to category. Occupation categories taken from Armstrong (1972). All 'Unknown' categories left blank in this table. Table does not repeat occupation if it is already listed beforehand.

Figure 9: Class occupation classification of the father compared to admittance age of their children 1898-1904.

Figure 9: Class occupation classification of the father compared to admittance age of their children 1898-1904.

Sources: Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

Notes: The class brackets on the X-axis were categorised against those by Armstrong (1972). The bars show the mean admittance age measures against the class of the father.

Notes

[1] Kieran Campbell-Johnston is in his third year of studying History at the University of Sussex. He is currently writing his dissertation on public perception and the boundaries for foreign policy: the American press and Iran January to October 1979 .

[2] For more information on the Foundling Hospital and the changes in admissions policies in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and influences of philanthropic culture particularly in the changes of 1801, see Evans (2005) and Williams (2005). Also see Levene (2007) for the relationship between children, health and abandonment and wider social issues and changes. For a comprehensive history of Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital from its inception see Nichols and Wray (1935).

[3] The Coram Foundation retains a 110-year confidentiality rule, thus at the time of research petitions up to 1905 had been released.

[4] Data set is based on Application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography. There were originally 50 petitions, but an extra was added owing to one petitioner giving birth to twins.

[5] Calculation: average age equals total age of all petitioners divided by 51. Drawn from application petitions, A/FH/A08/001/002/107-113. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Respective hospital numbers noted in bibliography.

[6] For more reading on domestic service in Britain and the evolving dynamic of master/ servant power relations see Dussart (2005).

[7] Class brackets were measures against by Armstrong (1972).

[8] Calculation: difference between date 'petitioner last saw father', located in petition sources listed in bibliography and 'child's birth' located in London Metropolitan Archives, Medical Record of Foundling Hospital, London 1877-1911 by W. J. Cropley Swift, Medical Officer, A/FH/A/18/10/6. Also see London Metropolitan Archives, Medical Record, A/FH/A/18/15/1 (restricted information; personal communication from E. Schneider).

[9] Total admittances for this period were 49.1% male and 50.9% female (E. Schneider personal communication).

References

Primary sources

Census of England and Wales, 1901. (63 Vict. c. 4.) County of London. Area, houses and population; also population classified by ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birthplaces and infirmities. 1902; (Cd. 875), CXX.1. Available at http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.882004&res_dat=xri:hcpp&rft_dat=xri:hcpp:rec:1902-001955, accessed 10 August 2015

London Metropolitan Archives, Medical Record of Foundling Hospital, London 1877-1911 by W. J. Cropley Swift, Medical Officer, A/FH/A/18/10/6. Also see London Metropolitan Archives, Medical Record, A/FH/A/18/15/1 (restricted information; personal communication from E. Schneider).

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Application petition. A/FH/A08/001/002/107, bundles 1-3. Hospital numbers: 22612, 22610, 22583, 22603, 22600, 22594.

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To cite this paper please use the following details: Campbell-Johnston, K. (2016), 'The Definition of ‘Good Character’: Unmarried Mothers, Class and the London Foundling Hospital, 1898–1904', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 9, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume9issue1/campbell-johnston Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.