*** United States orphanages -- orphanages

Charity Institutions: Orphanages

Figure 1.--These U.S. orphans are all dressed differently, but in the same general type of clothes. This looks like a Christmas picture with all the children getting dolls. I'm not sure what the boys thought of this. Presumably some donor gave a large number of dolls and they had to do for the younger boys as well. The boys are mostly at the back and it is hard to tell what they are wearing, but it seems to be dark colored smocks.

An orphanage is a facility for the care of orphaned or neglected children. Orphanages bring up very negative images in proples minds around the world. The word to many means the bleakness that Charles Dickens described in the mid-19th century. The image of poor Oliver asking for more porage is what most of us think about. The Dicksonian vision has been adopted in America and many European countries. Many early orphanages were indeed very bleak and often dangerous places. Many orphanages by the 20th century, however, were adequately addressing the basic needs of indigent children. Modern concepts have moved toward the group home and foster parents to better meet the needs of children in need.


An orphanage is a facility for the care of orphaned or neglected children. The children involved are usually past infancy, but are not yet able to care for themselves. An orphanage is distinguished from a foundling hospital which cares exclusively for infants. Orphanages admit more than actual orphans which are children who have lost their parents. In fact many orphanges cared mostly for children whose parents or parent could not take care if them. Phyically and mentally handicapped and delinguent children were once reared in orphanages, but now are cared for in specialized facilities.


Orphaned children were a challenge to medievel as well as modern welfare system. Many of classes of indigents (elderly, handicapped, widows, ect) could be sustained with limited assistance. They often had family and friends to assidt them. Thus these individuals were relatively inexpensive to support. They also oftren could earn part of theur keep. Often indigent adults had homes and needed only minimal support for food and clothing. They did not require supervision. Abanoned orphans on the other hand were very expensive to maintain. Not only did they have to clothed, housed, and fed, but people had to be hired to supervise them. And younger children were totally dependant. They could not contribute to their support in any way. And in addition there were added expences necessry to educate and prepare the child to support himself.


The first facilities for the care of indigent children that we know of were foundling homes established by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages as a deterent to infanticide by destitute parents. Modern orphanges first appeared in the late 18th century century, although they were more widespread in the 19th century. HBC notes references to English and American orphanages at this time, but is less familiar with the situation in other countries. Orphanages became a favorite ibject of philanthropy as a result of the growing concern at the illtreratment of children exposed by writers like Charkles Dickens in books like Oliver Twist. Orphanages continued to be the principal societal approach to the care of undigent chikdren through the mid-20th century. Substantial numbers of children were raised at state homes in America and orphanages throughout Europe. Modern approaches have involved placing children as foster children. Orphanages still exist, but the number of children involved are much reduced.

Orphanage Clothes

Clothes worn by orphans have generally reflected clothes worn by children from families with moderate means. In America this meant that actual uniforms were unusual. Often children brought clothes with them or clothes were supplied by relatives. Although there was some similarity as clothes were often brought in lots. European orphanages were different. I believe in France and Belgium, at the turn if the century, orphans were often dressed alike in smocks. I'm not sure about other countries.


Orphanages as we know them today appeared to have emerged in Europe during the 16th century, although records are only limited. Much more information is available from the 17th century. Our images of orphanages, however, were fixed by the Dicksoinian Englisg images of the 19th century. Information from the 20th century is much more varied. Children at many prphanages were well cared for and fed. An American reader rembers a strict routine, but being well fed and clothed. She and the otherorphans went to the local school. Accounts from some orphanages, however, detail abuses of varying degree. Many developed countries in the late 20th century closed down orphanages and persued alternative ways of caring for abandoned or nedy children without institutionalizing them. Many third-world countries, however, do stil maintain orphanages for needy children. Clothing and uniform policies at these institutions have varied widely. Available information on various countries includes:


Panter-Brick, Catherine and Malcolm T Smith. (Eds.) Abandoned Children (Cambridge University Press 2000). This book investigates children and childhood across cultures (historically and anthropologically) is Its specific focus, however, is on children separated from home such as foundlings.


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Created: March 5, 1999
Last updated: 4:19 AM 11/26/2007