Online | Learning disabilities & the Foundling Hospital

40 Brunswick Square London WC1N 1AZ
24 Mar 2021 — 31 Dec 2021
  • Talks
Hear from volunteer Thomas Aird about children of the Foundling Hospital who were listed as unable to be apprenticed in the eighteenth century.

On 17 November 1770 the Governors of the London Foundling Hospital requested that a list be made of children ‘who by reason of blindness, lameness or other infirmities may not be fit to put out to apprentice’. This request resulted in the first of several lists compiled during this period which identified children with a range of disabilities potentially impacting upon their ability to be apprenticed and consequently released from the care of the Hospital. These documents often use language which would now be considered derogatory, particularly around learning disability or difficulty. Various terms were used by the Hospital to describe these children; these include ‘low capacity, soft, weak understanding; inclining to idiotism’ and even ‘perfect idiot’. On one such list compiled at the branch hospital in Ackworth in 1771 nineteen children are classified as ‘idiots’; 5 boys and 14 girls. The terminology used starts to give an insight into some of the problems experienced by these children. At least three of these children are also listed as suffering from epileptic seizures and number of them remained at the hospital until adulthood.

Thomas Aird volunteers at the Foundling Museum and was part of a volunteer-led exhibition in 2016, So That They May be Usefull to Themselves, exploring the Foundling Hospital’s work with disabled children. Thomas is a retired nurse and holds an MA in History of Education. He has varied historical interests including the history of architecture, the British Civil Wars, the Jacobites, and the concept of National Efficiency and its impact upon early 20th-century general education and nursing.

Please note, Thomas’s research uncovered difficult language historically used to describe people with disabilities. Thomas will make it clear when quoting from historical documents.

Please be aware that there are several small glitches in the audio of this film, due to connection problems. We hope these won’t impact on your overall enjoyment of Thomas’s presentation, even if some sentences are not quite clear.

Can you help?
We hope you enjoy this talk. Covid-19 has devastated our income from admissions, tours, events, retail and venue hire. As an independent charity, we are relying even more heavily on donations to deliver our exhibitions, events and creative work with disadvantaged children. We would be so grateful for any contribution as every donation, no matter what the size, makes a real difference. Thank you.