Childcare has come a long way
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Here's another little snippet of the rough cut of "The Connie Maxwell Story" documentary I am working on. This segment is from early in the documentary and briefly discusses the history of orphanages to help establish context for the beginning of Connie Maxwell and similar orphanages in the 19th century.
By the time the Connie Maxwell Orphanage began in 1892, the care of dependent children had already come a long way. There have always been children who have needed cared from outside their birth families and as early as the 14th century, various religious orders and European cites had established foundling hospitals and orphanages to care for children in response to plagues and increasing poverty. Read more about these early facilities in the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society.
But few orphanages existed in colonial America and the early United States before the 19th century. A massacre of settlers by native Americans at Natchez (now Mississippi), led the Ursuline Sisters, a French Catholic order, to turn their school in New Orleans into an orphanage in 1734. Two other orphanages opened in what is now Georgia a few years later.
By and large, orphaned or abandoned children who could not find shelter with relatives became indentured to foster families. Their physical support was tied directly to their ability to work.
It was the industrial revolution that sparked the real growth in child-caring institutions, The problem of orphaned and homeless children became too large to be solved by indentured service. Poor, immigrant workers often died from illness or accidents or were forced to abandon children during periods of unemployment. By the early 19th century, just over two dozen orphanages were open, mostly in large cities. But this number began to grow steadily from the 1830s on.