Orphans in Nineteenth-Century England

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Orphans in Nineteenth-Century England

There is no denying that the nineteenth century in England was a time of tremendous changes throughout the social and economical spectrums. As the adults adjusted to these changes prompted by the Industrial Revolution as best they could, many children, in particular orphans, were faced with poor living conditions that limited their successes later in life. Although most orphaned children were fortunate enough to be placed into sufficient living circumstances, many of them were not as privileged. By discussing the various living conditions of orphans in nineteenth-century England, one can better understand their position in the English society and realize why their later successes were so limited.

As is true today, the majority of children lived with their parents in the nineteenth century. Many, however, were unable to do so for any number of reasons. These reasons ranged from overcrowding in the home to extended relatives needing aid from a young individual to children being orphaned. Although orphaned children were definitely an exception to the norm at that time in England, the number of children who had lost one or both of their parents was quite high in comparison to today’s standards. One estimate states that in 1861, 11 percent of Victorian children had lost a father by the age of ten, 11 percent had lost a mother, and 1 percent had lost both parents (Horn 63). A major contributor to this number was the prevalence of diseases, such as typhus and tuberculosis, which greatly affected the poor and working classes in the busy factory towns.

The most common fate of orphaned children was to be "adopted" by another family. This allowed for the orphans to remain a part of a fami...

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...fortunate. Although orphans could go on to earn adequate livings as adults, becoming an orphan in nineteenth-century England was all too often a sentence for failure. The English government and citizen volunteers attempted to aid the growing number of orphans as the nineteenth century progressed; however, the attempts to improve their unsatisfactory conditions were seldom enough.

Works Cited

Horn, Pamela. The Victorian Town Child. Thrupp, UK: Sutton, 1997.

Jordan, Thomas E. Victorian Childhood. Albany: State U of New York P, 1987.

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

Nord, Deborah Epstein. "‘Orphans and Republicans’: Social Policy and Morality in Victorian Britain." Dissent 42 (1995): 167-8.

Peters, Laura. Orphan Texts: Victorian Orphans, Culture and Empire. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.
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