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Imagined Orphans

Imagined Orphans: Poor Families, Child Welfare, and Contested Citizenship in London

Lydia Murdoch
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj169
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  • Book Info
    Imagined Orphans
    Book Description:

    With his dirty, tattered clothes and hollowed-out face, the image of Oliver Twist is the enduring symbol of the young indigent spilling out of the orphanages and haunting the streets of late-nineteenth-century London. He is the victim of two evils: an aristocratic ruling class and, more directly, neglectful parents. Although poor children were often portrayed as real-life Oliver Twists-either orphaned or abandoned by unworthy parents-they, in fact, frequently maintained contact and were eventually reunited with their families.In Imagined Orphans, Lydia Murdoch focuses on this discrepancy between the representation and the reality of children's experiences within welfare institutions-a discrepancy that she argues stems from conflicts over middle- and working-class notions of citizenship. Reformers' efforts to depict poor children as either orphaned or endangered by abusive or "no-good" parents fed upon the poor's increasing exclusion from the Victorian social body. Reformers used the public's growing distrust and pitiless attitude toward poor adults to increase charity and state aid to the children.With a critical eye to social issues of the period, Murdoch urges readers to reconsider the stereotypically dire situation of families living in poverty. While reformers' motivations seem well-intentioned, she shows how their methods solidified the public's anti-poor sentiment and justified a minimalist welfare state that engendered a cycle of poverty. As they worked to fashion model citizens, reformers' efforts to protect and care for children took on an increasingly imperial cast that would continue into the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4102-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    With the publication ofOliver Twist(1837–39), Charles Dickens created a portrait of the workhouse child that remained the standard image for the Victorian age. Born in an institution, Oliver was “a parish child-the orphan of a workhouse-the humble, half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none.” The workhouse officials knew little about his parents. His father remained entirely unknown, his mother concealed in mystery. She “was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or...

  6. Chapter 1 “A Little Waif of London, Rescued from the Streets”: Melodrama and Popular Representations of Poor Children
    (pp. 12-42)

    In the summer of 1874 a child named Florence Holder posed for a series of photographs arranged by the Victorian philanthropist Thomas Barnardo in his newly established East London photographic studio. Barnardo mass-produced one of these photographs and distributed it throughout the United Kingdom to advertise his homes for “Orphan and Destitute Children.” Portrayed as a newspaper seller in the streets, Florence wore a tattered dress, provocatively raised in the back to expose more of her bare legs and feet (figure 2). Her tangled hair, unkempt dress, and forlorn expression clearly marked her as an abandoned child. Barnardo used similar...

  7. Chapter 2 From Barrack Schools to Family Cottages: Creating Domestic Space and Civic Identity for Poor Children
    (pp. 43-66)

    In the opening article for the June 9, 1877, issue ofChambers’s Journal, journalist William Chambers declared: “The family system is the foundation of everything that is valued in our institutions. Our whole structure of society rests on it. Any attempt to rear children artificially on a wholesale principle, is necessarily defective, will prove abortive, and be attended, one way or another, with bad effects.”¹ His comments heralded a momentous change in public opinion about how government and philanthropic organizations should treat the children in their care. Chambers condemned as artificial the grouping of orphaned, deserted, and pauper children in...

  8. Chapter 3 The Parents of “Nobody’s Children”: Family Backgrounds and the Causes of Poverty
    (pp. 67-91)

    In 1896, the journalist William T. Stead wrote a biographical sketch of Barnardo in which he extolled the child philanthropist as “the father of ‘Nobody’s Children,’” the head of “the largest family in the world.”¹ Stead’s title and article implied that the children’s parents played no role in Barnardo’s work. The representative child in Stead’s sketch was the homeless and orphaned (and Roman Catholic) Jim Jarvis, Barnardo’s “first arab.”² In the place of parents, public and private institutions took on the role of teaching children their familial identities and civil duties. Yet there was an important contradiction in Victorian philanthropic...

  9. Chapter 4 “That Most Delicate of All Questions in an Englishman’s Mind”: The Rights of Parents and Their Continued Contact with Institutionalized Children
    (pp. 92-119)

    On New Year’s Eve 1889, a tragic disaster occurred at Forest Gate District School, one of London’s largest poor law boarding schools for children. During the night, a fire erupted in a ground floor storage room located below two of the boys’ dormitories. The official in charge of one of the boys’ dormitories was away on leave for the night, and the remaining supervisor, the yardman, George Hare—“a heavy sleeper, and hard to rouse”—slept deeply as two female officers pounded on his locked bedroom door after they detected the fire.¹ Once awake, Hare, who kept the only key...

  10. Chapter 5 Training “Street Arabs” into British Citizens: Making Artisans and Members of Empire
    (pp. 120-141)

    In 1870 the Forest Gate School District purchased a broken-down ship, theGoliath, to serve as a training vessel for boys. TheGoliathwas built as a man-of-war around 1835, converted to a steamer during the Crimean War, and then outfitted as the first ship of a new program to train poor law children for careers in the Royal Navy and mercantile marine.¹ In 1871 a writer for the LondonTimesvividly recounted the physical and moral transformation of youths on board theGoliath:

    We are told, and we can well believe, that the training supplied on board the “Goliath,”—...

  11. Chapter 6 “Their Charge and Ours”: Changing Notions of Child Welfare and Citizenship
    (pp. 142-161)

    In its annual report for 1917, Barnardo’s homes published an illustration, “Their Charge and Ours,” that illuminates the profound effects of the First World War on British understandings of citizenship.¹ Within the outline of a flying Union Jack, hundreds of children’s faces peer out at the viewer (figure 22). In its depiction of the core of the British nation, the future to be protected and nurtured, this photographic collage emphasizes the vast the number of children saved in wartime. Even though the features of individual children are discernible, it is the mass that matters here. Superimposed on the left side...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 162-166)

    On the Day of His Admission,” a fund-raising photograph for Barnardo’s charity dating from after the First World War, graphically illustrates the remarkable shift in Britons’ understanding of poverty that had occurred since images of street waifs like Florence Holder and her sisters dominated child welfare literature (see chapter 1). Printed on the back covers of Barnardo’s annual report for 1920 and inNight and Day, the photograph shows a young boy holding the hand of an adult woman, who was likely a relative (figure 24). They stand on the steps of the “city slums” against a bleak background of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 167-226)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-252)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-254)