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

Frances Miley, Andrew READ

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


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, known as foundlings, to the hospital which cared for and educated them until they could be placed into employment. Since eighteenth-century Britain stigmatized and marginalized the poor, viewing them as immoral and indigent. An important aspect of the charity’s function was (re)creating stigmatized 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 stigmatized 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 and audited before being made available to selected members of the public. We contrast the public availability of these records, which evidenced hospital (re)created identities, with the hospital’s secrecy surrounding tokens, small items given by a parent when hospitalizing a child. We contend that the tokens were a form of accounting record that represented stigmatized 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 stigmatized groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-184
Number of pages18
JournalAccounting History
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


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