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Orphans & Orphanages of the Victorian Era
Colleen Plesacon 9 December 2012
Transcript of Orphans & Orphanages of the Victorian Era
Orphans, also known as children who had fatefully lost either one or both parents to most likely typhus or tuberculosis, were often adopted by neighbors or second-family relatives. Prior to 1920, there were no regulations concerning the adoption process; thus, the rules were flimsy and easy manipulated, which often led to mistreatment of children. In certain instances, the children were adopted and treated as a respected member of the new family should she family be of the same social class the child came from. However, if the child was placed under the care of a family belonging to a higher social / economic class, the child was nearly always neglected and cut off from the other children of the household. This was clearly depicted in Jane Eyre, when Jane was taken in by the Reid family and confined to a room by herself, left out of the family portrait, and forbidden to speak to any of the Reid children, for fear she would corrupt them with her poor attitude. Architecture of Victorian Orphanages
Depicted above, the Osborne House was one of the many orphanages built during the Victorian Era to house a small group of impoverished orphan children (or in this case, only boys). This orphanage was built “Renaissance-style,” that is: two stories tall and including a tall, central overlook tower hovering above the rest of the building. The artfulness of the archways and windows becomes strikingly more complex and detailed with each ascending level of the house, a representation of the grandeur of the building. Each orphanage contains an iron gate, a metal fence, or an otherwise solid railing structure to hold the children in. The elaborate designs appear daunting, yet elegant with several waves, harpoons, and anchors present. Connections Between Texts: Dickens Approach to the Era and Orphan’s Experiences at Workhouse Institutions
Published in 1839, Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, depicts much of the same story as Jane Eyre, in the sense that the protagonist is a destitute orphan fighting for survival in the merciless Victorian era of prestige and esteem. His story mimics the same hardships as Jane’s; that being, Oliver is sent away to a workhouse and subjected to malnutrition and unsanitary conditions at a very young age. He is sent to a workhouse, however, where all children (regardless of age) were forced to work long hours with minimal wages and almost no sleep or comfort. The most common tasks that children were required to perform involved working on the textile mills, making silk, lace, wool, and cotton. Children often developed medical conditions from such arduous working conditions, but they could rarely if ever take medical leave, as they would surely be fired and easily replaced in their absence. Children were also subjected to physical abuse, often by the supervisors of the factory, but they clenched their jaws and bore the pain because they were grateful to have a shelter over the head and they feared what they would do if they lost that privilege. Orphan Education
Orphans were often poor, meaning they could not afford a proper education. Sometimes, work houses or orphanages would offer basic education classes as a means of teaching children a few simple principles, often based on religion or employment skills they would need to know in the future. In Jane Eyre, Jane managed to succeed rather well at the Lowood school, though the classes were neither personalized nor pleasing. Before the 1870 “Education Act” which awarded funding to religions organizations in order to develop boarding schools for middle class children, there were essentially no laws to either support or refute the poor education system that was previously in place. A child’s education was basically at the discretion of the institution they resided at. Even after some education reform laws were passed, however, orphans still were lucky to receive an education, as their futures as governesses, prostitutes, or mill laborers required no formal academic instruction. Overcrowding at orphanages: How Orphans Outnumbered Institutions
While orphanages were the only option for thousands of orphans throughout England during the Victorian Era, they were often hard to get into. Despite the horrendous conditions at these facilities, some institutions such as Coram’s Founding Hospital in London reported having to turn away nearly five out of every six orphans that showed up at its door because there was just not enough space to accommodate them. Waiting lists for orphanages were not uncommon, though they provided little hope for the names at het bottom of the list. Disease and death were the two leading causes of spaces opening up in the orphanages for new children to move in. Strictness at Orphanages
For all-female orphanages in Victorian England, the rules imposed on the young girls were often strict and unyielding, with conditions similar to those shown at the Lowood School in Jane Eyre. Although the girls started out as living there for short periods of time for intermittent period while traveling between their homes, they often found themselves remaining there permanently or for a great deal of time. The children were employed while there and were trained for domestic housework starting Day 1 (the older girls were responsible for washing clothes while the younger girls went through manners classes). All the girls also were forced to wear their hair parted simply down the middle with no frivolous accessories and tightly wrapped in a braid, just as Jane was forced to do while at Lowood. Orphans Often Turned to Crime as Means of Survival
The image above shows mug shots of street gang members active during the Victorian Era. Orphans, not surprisingly, were said to have been responsible for being nearly 60% of the entire criminal population during this era. While this may seem shocking, it’s important to understand that Victorian children who were orphaned were often either forced into harsh child labor conditions with terrible pay and dangerous working conditions, or they were taught how to “cheat the system.” The most common crimes of the time were stealing and prostitution, as these were two quick and easy ways to get quick money or the necessary supplies for survival, such as food and clothing. Works Cited
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