See M. P. Hall, The Social Services of Modern England (6th ed., rev. 1963).
The Foundling Hospital in London, England was founded in 1739 by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram. It was a children's home established for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children." The word "hospital" was used in a more general sense than it is today, simply indicating the institution's "hospitality" to those less fortunate.
In September 1742, the stone of the new Hospital was laid in the area known as Bloomsbury, lying north of Great Ormond Street and west of Gray's Inn Lane. The Hospital was designed by Theodore Jacobsen as a plain brick building with two wings and a chapel, built around an open courtyard. The western wing was finished in October 1745. An eastern wing was added in 1752 "in order that the girls might be kept separate from the boys". The new Hospital was described as "the most imposing single monument erected by eighteenth century benevolence" and became London's most popular charity.
In 1756, the House of Commons came to a resolution that all children offered should be received, that local receiving places should be appointed all over the country, and that the funds should be publicly guaranteed. A basket was accordingly hung outside the hospital; the maximum age for admission was raised from two to twelve months, and a flood of children poured in from country workhouses. In less than four years 14,934 children were presented, and a vile trade grew up among vagrants, who sometimes became known as "Coram Men," of promising to carry children from the country to the hospital, an undertaking which they often did not perform or performed with great cruelty. Of these 15,000 only 4400 lived to be apprenticed out. The total expense was about £500,000, which alarmed the House of Commons. After throwing out a bill which proposed to raise the necessary funds by fees from a general system of parochial registration, they came to the conclusion that the indiscriminate admission should be discontinued. The hospital, being thus thrown on its own resources, adopted a system of receiving children with considerable sums (e.g., £100), which sometimes led to them being reclaimed by the parent. This was finally stopped in 1801; and it henceforth became a fundamental rule that no money was received. The committee of inquiry had to be satisfied of the previous good character and present necessity of the mother, and that the father of the child had deserted it and the mother, and that the reception of the child would probably replace the mother in the course of virtue and in the way of an honest livelihood. At that time, illegitimacy carried deep stigma, especially for the mother but also for the child. All the children at the Foundling Hospital were those of unmarried women, and they were all first children of their mothers. The principle was in fact that laid down by Henry Fielding in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling: "Too true I am afraid it is that many women have become abandoned and have sunk to the last degree of vice [i.e. prostitution] by being unable to retrieve the first slip."
There were some unfortunate incidents, such as the case of Elizabeth Brownrigg (1720-1767), a severely abusive Fetters Lane midwife who mercilessly whipped and otherwise maltreated her adolescent female apprentice domestic servants, leading to the death of one, Mary Clifford, from her injuries, neglect and infected wounds. After the Foundling Hospital authorities investigated, Brownrigg was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang at Tyburn. Thereafter, the Foundling Hospital instituted more thorough investigation of its prospective apprentice masters and mistresses.
The early connection between the hospital and the eminent painters of the reign of George II is of interest. The exhibitions of pictures at the Foundling Hospital, which were organized by the Dilettante Society, led to the formation of the Royal Academy in 1768. William Hogarth, who was childless, had a long association with the Hospital and was a founding Governor. He designed the children's uniforms and the Coat of Arms, and he and his wife Jane fostered foundling children. Hogarth also decided to set up a permanent art exhibition in the new buildings, encouraging other artists to produce work for the hospital. Indeed, several contemporary English artists decorated the walls of the hospital with their works, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Francis Hayman. Hogarth painted a portrait of Thomas Coram for the hospital. He also donated his "March of the Guards to Finchley." Another noteworthy piece is Roubiliac's bust of Handel. The chapel's altar-piece was originally "Adoration of the Magi" by Casali, but deemed to look too Catholic by the Hospital's Anglican governors, it was replaced by Benjamin West's picture of Christ presenting a little child. The Foundling Hospital art collection can today be seen at the Foundling Museum.
American Edition: New York: Farrar Straus Giroux: 2001: ISBN 0-374-31544-2