The Vienna Foundling Home between welfare and population policy
After 1784 unwanted children could find a home in the Vienna Foundling Home. Welfare and political calculation embraced even the smallest members of society.
The Vienna Foundling Home was founded in 1784, together with the Maternity Home, as part of the General Hospital, and was intended to contribute to the prevention of infanticide. In the eighteenth century this had become a central topic for writers and doctors. In accordance with the spirit of the age Joseph II attempted to take preventive measures and simultaneously pursue a population policy. He viewed illegitimate children as a particularly endangered group. With improvement in maternity care he hoped to put an end to infanticide, abandonment of newborn children and infant mortality. In the Maternity Home women of all stations could give birth anonymously and, if they so desired, give up their children to the adjacent Foundling Home. With its free childbirth facilities, the Maternity Home was used by a considerable proportion of the Viennese lower classes. Some 97% of the population took advantage of being able to give birth free of charge, even though a non-monetary contribution was expected in return, usually in the form of service or labour. Up to one third of children born in Vienna were given to the Foundling Home and subsequently passed on to foster parents. The small allowance paid by the state motivated women from the lower classes, in particular, to take on foster children. In the eighteenth century foster parents were mostly from the suburbs of Vienna. In 1786 Joseph II passed a law granting equal status to legitimate and illegitimate children (which was subsequently repealed); with this he sought to make all people available as useful state subjects. The poor conditions that prevailed in the Foundling Home and in the foster families led to high death rates among these children. At 95% it was far in excess of those for legitimate children. From this point of view the intentions of Joseph II’s population policy failed absolutely.