A foundling hospital
was originally an institution for the reception of foundlings
, i.e., children who had been abandoned or exposed, and left for the public to find and save. A foundling hospital was not necessarily a medical hospital
, but more commonly a children's home, offering shelter and education to foundlings.
The early history of such institutions is connected with the practice of infanticide
, and in western Europe where social disorder was rife and famine of frequent occurrence, exposure and extensive sales of children were the necessary consequences. Against these evils the church provided a rough system of relief, children being deposited (jactati
) in marble shells at the church doors, and tended first by the matricularii
or male nurses, and then by the nutricarii
or foster parents
. But it was in the 7th and 8th centuries that definite institutions for foundlings were established in such towns as Trèves
Historically, care for foundlings tended to develop more slowly or with greater variation from country to country than, for example, care for orphans
. The reason for this discrepancy was the perception that children abandoned by their parents carried with them a burden of immorality. Their parents tended to be unmarried and poor. Alleviating the burden of unwanted pregnancies was often seen as encouraging infidelity and prostitution. Thomas Malthus
, for example, the noted English demographer
, made, in his The Principles of......