Street Children and Philanthropy in the second half of the Nineteenth Century

Daniels, Barbara (2008). Street Children and Philanthropy in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. PhD thesis The Open University.



From the middle of the nineteenth century there was a sudden increase of concern over, and care for, children who lived wild on the streets of Victorian Britain. Often described as 'city arabs', the racial rhetoric used in connection with these children portrayed them as belonging to another race. The Victorian public did not understand them because they did not conform to the standards of middle-class society. They were also described as vermin and rubbish that nobody wanted.

Although already a feature of the city streets for many years, from mid-century a significant number of philanthropists set about changing their downward life cycle. Instead of merely being punished for vagrancy or imprisoned for theft, their well being became important. Homes were opened where such children could experience a caring home-life. Education and training was given and help finding employment. Some were taken to the countryside, where they would be away from the temptations of the city. Many were taken to Canada to find homes and work there.

The early chapters of the thesis describe the background of the problem and locate the thesis within the context of recent scholarship. Five specific organisations and their founders are examined in depth, in each case using sources not previously studied. The different systems of care and the motivation of the child savers are compared. The thesis will argue that one of the most important reasons for the changes in attitudes to 'street children' was the increasing influence of evangelicalism - an influence that can be seen clearly in the series of case-studies.

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