On 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day.
History in schools, and as depicted on television and film, is frequently condensed to a list of “important people, events and dates”. During the past centuries, women had few rights and fewer opportunities, so they are omitted from these lists (with a few notable exceptions – usually monarchs). Even when women overcame the odds and achieved spectacular things, their stories have been side-lined by those writing the history books. Every March, people around the world come together to throw light on these ‘hidden histories’, celebrating and commemorating women from the past.
Most of the names people associate with the Foundling Hospital are male, but the organisation relied on philanthropic ladies who gave their support, female members of staff, and the wet-nurses who fostered infants until they were old enough to move in to the school. This March, we are sharing the stories of some of the many women who have been involved with the charity since the 1700s.
When Thomas Coram began raising funds and support for the Foundling Hospital, most of the male members of the aristocracy turned him down. Coram shrewdly called on the support of their spouses, who risked their reputations by publically supporting their scheme. Read more about the twenty-one ‘Ladies of Distinction and Quality’ who supported the campaign.
Between the 1740s and 1760s, mothers entrusting their baby to the Foundling Hospital were encouraged to leave a “token” such as a note, small object or scrap of material, which would be kept as an identifier should she ever be in a position to reclaim their child. See a selection of the tokens and read about the women who left them.
We will also be sharing some of the stories of girls who grew up in the Foundling Hospital on social media. Read them over on the #RealStoriesOfCare hashtag.
As our Voices Through Time: The Story of Care project continues, we hope to uncover and share more stories of Foundling Hospital pupils, staff and supporters, so please do keep an eye on our website and social media. If you are interested in helping us transcribe the Foundling Hospital archive, get involved now!
Join us for our online event to celebrate International Women’s Day and discuss the origins of women’s rights and its relation to children’s rights, with Professor Dame Carolyn Hamilton and social historian Carol Harris.