Attitudes to female sexuality in the 19th century were rigid and unflinching and those who failed to conform were ostracised and persecuted. Victoria Leslie compares how fallen women were portrayed in the arts with the real stories of those who ‘fell’.
The Foundling Hospital (which continues today as the children’s charity Coram) had a long history of improving the lives of children. Established by the philanthropist Thomas Coram in 1739 in response to the number of abandoned children left to die on London’s streets, its purpose was to take in and to provide for children whose mothers were unable to care for them. Originally the hospital accepted any child in danger of being abandoned, but demand was so great that a ballot system had to be introduced. This was to change in the mid-19th century, when the hospital restricted its entry to illegitimate children only, focusing its admissions criteria on the moral integrity of the unmarried mother. In order to secure a place for her child, a woman’s good character had to be established and her respectability judged by the all-male hospital committee.