"Dear Little Living Arguments": Orphans and Other Poor Children, Their Families and Orphanages, Baltimore and Liverpool, 1840-1910
Wilson, Marcy Kay
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Orphanages in the United States and England cared for thousands of children between the early decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. These institutions were central to local provisions for the poor during a time period in which state and government poor relief remained limited. Though a small group of studies have focused on American orphan asylums and even fewer works have evaluated English orphanages, no effort has of yet been made to engage in a comparative analysis of the institutions that cared for so many children in both countries. Through analysis of Protestant orphan asylum registers, correspondence, committee minutes, and annual reports, this dissertation investigates the local provisions made for poor children in Baltimore, Maryland and Liverpool, England, between 1840 and 1910, examines the socio-economic realities of the families these children came from, the ways in which poor children in both cities were affected by the needs of their families and the aid available to them, and the similarities and differences that existed between these orphanages and their residents. This dissertation argues that there were significant differences between orphanage inhabitants in both cities when it came to parental survival and to who children ended up with after their residence in these institutions, but that the orphanages were remarkably alike, providing the poor children in their care with similar educational, religious and vocational training that the middle-class reformers who ran these institutions understood as gender and class appropriate. This study reveals a prolonged commitment on the part of orphanage administrators in both cities to the use of indenture as a dismissal method, and suggests as well the existence of a shared trans-Atlantic understanding of poor children and their labor when it came to these asylum officials.