Revolving cradles…

24 Jan
I stumbled upon this report while researching Massachutts history as one side of my family settled there in the 1600’s.  There are several different Mass reports available and being intrigued, I started reading and realized that this Mass report in particular talked about what we have today known as Safe Haven.  Stop now if you are not into history as it gets quite long… 
The details below that are italicized are direct quotes from this report.  “…” denotes where I have skipped parts of a statement or paragraph(s).  I found it fascinating to read not only this but the other reports on how society worked back then in what seems to me, the start of foster care.  Some of the reports are from men who really tried to make things better and spoke out about the injustices in the different asylums and poor houses.  Just like today there are those who do speak up in an effort to make things better in the future and those who like the status quo as is. 
Note if you read the actual reports they use language that is not politically correct today but it was the language back then.
The Fifth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities of Massachusetts, to which are added the Reports of the Secretary and the The General Agent of the Board January, 1869.
At the start of this it states “the Secretary begins his Annual Report, [herewith submitted,] with a brief sketch of what has been accomplished directly and indirectly, by the labor of this Board during the five years of its existence.”
Under the subtitle “Foundling and Deserted Children” it delves into the subject of the history of Foundling Hospitals and finally the Revolving Cradle. “the history of Foundling Hospitals – their origin in the earliest times, their wide popularity, rapid extension, abuses, disfavor, and decline, furnish an instructive lesson for the student of sociology.”
Further down in this subtitle on page xlix is:
Government, therefore, by letters patent, directed that foundlings should be left to the care of private charity.” It appears to have been customary, from very early times, to place some of these infants in beds at the entrance of churches; and for those in charge of them to stand and cry to passers, “Help, for these poor innocents.
But the popular sentiment of charity, unguided by wisdom, called for more foundling hospitals; and they were multiplied, and came to be considered as essential features of every Christian and civilized community.
They were encouraged by governments, and by the religious orders; and grew, by endowments, in wealth and size, until there are some which count their children by thousands, and reckon their income by millions of dollars. 
The priests, nurses, officers and employees grew to be an army, with all the vices, peculations, and abuses which such armies engender.
It then goes on to talk about this further and words are not minced…and talks about mortality rates of these infants in other institutions up to 90% and ends with…
Such is the consequence of being led blind-folded by the beautiful sentiment of mercy, into wholesale measures, without the use of reason.
One of the most interesting features of the Foundling Hospitals is the Revolving Cradle, placed in a niche in the street wall of the building. Indeed it is a type of the establishment. Born of the same tender sentiment, it produces, when not regulated by reason, the same evil consequences.
A person could approach this Revolving Cradle, at any time, of day or night, place a child within its warm blankets, pull a bell, and flee away unobserved; or, watching a moment, could see the light stream from the opened wicket, the infant tenderly removed, and the Cradle swung out again for the next comer.”
These Revolving Cradles were multiplied extensively over Europe. In France alone were two hundred and fifty-seven hospitals or asylums for foundlings, of which two hundred and seventeen had the Revolving Cradles. Most of these were so placed that any one could deposit an infant without being seen. in a few cases they were watched; and whoever left a child was obliged to make himself known.
After it became to appear that the multiplication of these establishments increase the number of foundlings, wise men called for their abolition; but, like all rooted institutions, they found ardent defenders. Arguments and even stubborn facts, could not meet sentimental appeals, like that of Lamartine, who said of the Cradles, that “they have no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no tongue to betray the unfortunate mother, but they have welcoming arms for her babe.”
Napoleon (to whom France was as a great nursery for growing soldiers,) declared, with a flourish of humanity, that the State must be the parent to all foundlings, and all abandoned or orphan children; and he encouraged all kinds of establishments for their nurture.
The church, which found in these establishments a source of influence, and an employment for her servants, resisted all attempt to lessen their number and extent.
But the numerous evils and abuses engender in such un-natural families, and their unfavorable influence upon public morality, became so manifest, that great foundling hospices are no longer in favor. Three-quarters of the hospitals of France have been closed; and most of the Revolving Cradles abolished. Their place is being taken, their work is much better done, and their principal evils avoided,
First, by small establishments, calculated to lessen the temptations to abandonment of children, such as the creeches of France and Belgium; establishments which take charge of infants during the day while the mothers are at work.
Secondly, by societies for the care of orphans and abandoned children, the leading principle of which is opposed to the vicious one of aggregation, and favors separation and diffusion by boarding out the children among ordinary families….
Third, by temporary asylums, or transient homes, of which one of the best specimens is the Massachusetts Asylum, established last year at Dorchester, and now located in Brookline.
I then checked to see if Wikipedia had anything on it and found it under the title of Baby Hatch and references the ones talked about above as Foundling Wheels.  There are a couple of pictures of these Foundling Wheels that give you an idea of what they were like.
In France, foundling wheels (tours d’abandon, abandonment towers) were introduced by Saint Vincent de Paul who built the first foundling home in 1638 in Paris. Foundling wheels were legalised in an imperial decree of January 19, 1811, and at their height there were 251 in France, according to Anne Martin-Fugier, a writer on women’s issues. They were in hospitals such as the Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés (Hospital for Foundling Children) in Paris. However, the number of children left there rose into the tens of thousands per year, as a result of the desperate economic situation at the time, and in 1863 they were closed down and replaced by “admissions offices” where mothers could give up their child anonymously but also received advice. The tours d’abandon were officially abolished in a law of June 27, 1904. Today in France, women are allowed to give birth anonymously in hospitals (accouchement sous X) and leave their baby there.

Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Adoption, Ethics


4 responses to “Revolving cradles…

  1. Von

    January 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    There were prevalent in Italy too.The loss of foundlings to death through malnutrition, being unfed and neglect, is and never has been confined to the dying hills and rooms of institutions in China.It has been worldwide and probably accounts for millions of young lives born and taken in the most tragic of circumstances.
    I did a post on it way back somewhere after I’d read a very good book by Kate Addie, herself a foundling.
    Interesting post, tragic history that deserves to be widely known and acknowledged.


  2. Kara

    January 27, 2011 at 8:53 am

    When I was in Rome two years ago, I found one of these revolving cradles on the outside of a convent wall, close to the Vatican. I looked at it, took pictures of it, and cried. It’s not in use anymore, thank goodness, but the awful meaning of it was hugely emotionally charged for me.


  3. Anna

    February 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I live in Italy and women can give birth anonymously in any hospital and relinquish their children into the domestic adoption system. The first mothers have 10-30 days to change their minds, once they sign the adoption papers, the babies are usually placed in an adoptive family immediately. The social workers visit the family for over a year (surprise visits involved at all hours), and usually if no one has come forward to ask that the adoption be reversed (up to 4th grade of separation, which means cousins), the child becomes the AP’s child and his birth records are changed to reflect the new family. The files are sealed until age 25 where, if the adoptee wants to have the files opened, they can request the court to do so. It’s up to the judge presiding the court of minors’ discretion whether to allow the unsealing of the files or not.
    In the case of rare illnesses, it is usually granted.


    • The adopted ones

      February 12, 2011 at 9:34 pm


      Sorry for the late reply.

      So how often will the judge open the records? Is it similar to the states where you have to show good cause, i.e. medical need?

      And if the mothers can relinquish anonymously then what good does getting the records unsealed do?



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