“Threads of Feeling”.


When mothers left babies at London’s Foundling Hospital in the mid-18th century, the Hospital often retained a small token as a means of identification, usually a piece of fabric. Each scrap of material reflects the life of a single infant and that of its absent parent.

So reads the description of an exhibition of such tokens (lent by the Coram children’s charity in the UK [link]) at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum [link] in Colonial Williamsburg.

I’ll leave this open to any reactions you might have.

6 thoughts on ““Threads of Feeling”.

  1. Reblogged this on Daniel Ibn Zayd and commented:

    At Transracial Eyes I gave this the keyword “resistance”, since it speaks of an action going against the status quo that we rarely hear about. I’m researching now into such acts of resistance if anyone has any leads in this regard.

  2. Having been to the this museum several times I can atest to the high standards of the exhibits that they mount. This is definitely one exhibition I will be going to. The last one that I went to there was an audio-visual account of “orphans” and abandoned children circa 1930 – 1950s it was heart rending to hear the thoughts and emotions of the actual children now senior in their years recalling how they had been left, some literally handed over with a we’ll be back to pick you up on Sunday, sunday comes and goes and their parents never show up and they are left to grow up in an institution.
    In spite of everything these children survived the actual act of growing up becoming adults going onto to have families and productive lives of their own was an act of defiance. These children were written off, by the institution, society and in some cases their immediate and wider family members. But against all odds the majority of these children overcame the obstacles, the challenges and the prejudice that growing up in an institution pinned to their back

  3. When I was doing my Ph.D. research I lived in graduate student housing that stands next to Coram’s Fields, the original site of the Foundling Hospital. I remember learning the story of the orphans (“orphans”?) and feeling sick about them while also feeling some sort of affinity with them in terms of having to live a life severed from themselves, their pasts, their loved ones. I know that the orphans of the 18th century had a different set of battles to fight, and I am very interested to learn of the scraps we have, in words and literal fabric, of their lives.

  4. The first thing I thought of when I read about this was how preposterous the invention of the “red thread of [Chinese adoption] destiny” when impoverished women were literally sewing scraps of cloth onto their children in the hopes of seeing them again. How preposterous, and how offensive.

  5. My first (honest) reaction? A piece of cloth won’t make up for the absence of the parent(s) (or blood relations) as the years go by and the stigma of abandonment/orphanhood becomes more pronounced.

    However, in another, more romanticized, light, the child who became an adult could have treasured this token as tangible evidence that his or her mother truly loved them and the token could have acted as a secure reference point in an ever-shifting identity.

    One thing that caught my attention in the exhibit’s description were the words “as a means of identification”. It made me question, A means of identification to what? The child to the mother or father? The child to some other relative? Or does it mean the child’s own identification, i.e., name, etc.?

    From a historian’s perspective, I would like to learn more about these types of customary, ritual methods of identifying children who are given up.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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