Foundling Hospital Established

In 1739, Thomas Coram, a sea captain turned philanthropist, received a royal charter to establish London’s Foundling Hospital addressing the desperate need of housing London’s abandoned infants. Two years later, on March 25, 1741, the hospital received its first children and it soon found its permanent home in modern-day Bloomsbury. At the grand opening alone, “as many Children were already taken in as Cou’d be made room for in the House,” according to the Daily Committee’s minutes. Except during a Parliament-sponsored period of general admission from 1756-1760, the hospital imposed strict criteria about the age and health of each baby. Jonas Hanway, famous for his subsequent reform of the relief system for poor children, served as governor of the Foundling Hospital during this general admission period.

Catholic countries on the continent already had similar institutions, but eighteenth-century England was mostly reliant on parish poor relief. The Foundling Hospital may have increased the practice of abandonment or served an already growing population of illegitimate and poor children. Regardless, it allowed mothers to leave children to an institution rather than abandoning them publicly or resorting to infanticide. As Britain industrialized and underwent a massive demographic transition during the late 18th century, the Foundling Hospital only became more necessary as a source of relief for childhood poverty.

Composer George Friedrich Handel and visual artist William Hogarth helped Coram establish and fundraise for the Foundling Hospital, linking philanthropy with the arts. Handel’s organ and benefit concerts and Hogarth’s public art gallery at the Foundling Hospital disrupt the notion that eighteenth-century institutions were all bleak places with no room for the arts.

The Foundling Hospital released its last child to the foster care system in 1954 but has continued operating as a charitable organization for vulnerable children. The site of the original building now hosts the Foundling Museum.


Levene, Alysa, “Introduction.” In Childcare, health and mortality in the London Foundling Hospital, 1741–1800: Left to the mercy of the world’, 1-15.
 New York: Manchester University Press, 2007. .

McClure, Ruth K. Coram’s Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

“Our History.” The Foundling Museuem. 2017. Accessed 21 January 2018.

Taylor, James Stephen. “Hanway, Jonas (bap. 1712, d. 1786), merchant and philanthropist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed January 21, 2018.

“What is a Foundling?” The Foundling Museuem. 2017. Accessed 21 January 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *