Foundlings and society
in Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue
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This final chapter discusses foundling hospitals’ attempts to bring up children returning from foster homes in conservatories which imposed, especially on girls, a convent-like regime. Most boys became artisans, though a few were educated as clerics or professional men, while some girls were sent (despite misgivings) to be domestic servants, and some pupils of both sexes served the hospitals themselves. Small numbers became privileged musicians and singers, though some hospitals rejected any notion of creating a talented elite and sought to impose a drab, levelling discipline on all their pupils. Numbers could only be controlled if some young women agreed to marry, a prospect for which many had no enthusiasm, while a few became victims of rascally husbands perfunctorily selected for them. Abuses and rebellions were not unknown in conservatories and the status of many foundlings remained ambivalent: should they be treated as innocents deserving of rescue and social integration, or would they sink into an underclass facing grave prejudice, presumed to have inherited the temperaments of their wayward parents?

Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue

Dishonoured women and abandoned children in Italy, 1300–1800

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