Go gentle babe: accounting and the London Foundling Hospital 1757–97

Miley, Frances and Read, Andrew (2016) Go gentle babe: accounting and the London Foundling Hospital 1757–97. Accounting History, 21 (2-3). pp. 167-184. ISSN 1032-3732

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The London Foundling Hospital was a charitable institution established to turn children of the poor into virtuous and industrious members of society. Poverty-stricken parents gave their children to the hospital which cared for and educated the children, known as foundlings, until they could be placed by the hospital into employment. Since eighteenth century Britain stigmatised and marginalised the poor, viewing them as immoral and indigent, an important aspect of the charity’s function was (re)creating stigmatised foundling identities so they could leave the hospital as accepted members of mainstream society. This research examines the role of accounting in supporting the hospital’s efforts to (re)create stigmatised identities. We examine the plethora of records the hospital maintained about every aspect of the children’s lives, which were both mechanisms of surveillance and control and evidence of the hospital’s successful efforts in moulding the foundlings into virtuous and industrious members of society. The hospital did not distinguish between financial and non-financial records, ensuring both were regularly reviewed audited before being made available to selected members of the public. We contrast the public availability of these records, which evidenced (re)created identities the hospital created, with the hospital’s secrecy concerning tokens, which were small items brought by a parent hospitalising a child. We contend that the tokens were a form of accounting record that represented stigmatised identities of the poor and had to be hidden so they could be replaced with (re)created acceptable identities. We conclude that examining accounting records maintained by the hospital provides insights into the role accounting can play in supporting the work of charitable institutions seeking to create social acceptability for stigmatised groups.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Accounting history, charitable institutions, Foundling Hospital, identity, stigma, tokens.
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > Business and Management
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5001 Business > HF5601 Accounting. Bookkeeping
Depositing User: Frances Miley
Date Deposited: 08 May 2017 09:57
Last Modified: 08 May 2017 10:06
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/67724

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