Page 3, 30th January 1942

30th January 1942
Page 3

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Locations: Paris


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THE Ministry of Labour is urging the municipal authorities in t-.11 the great industrial centres to provide day-nurseries for, the children of munition workers and others, who are engaged directly or indirectly, in war-work. Now day-nurseries must come under the jurisdiction of the health authorities, and they are not allowed to exist except under the best possible conditions for the well-being, from every possible point of view, of the infants and children they cater for. I do not think it can. be an easy task to establish and maintain these conditions in the present days of war-time upheaval.

From this point of vidtv, it is interesting to look back upon the history of child social-welfare, its beginning and its development. Like most of the social work institutions, it commenced as a private charitable endeavour, to relieve the miserable conditaz of the poor and helpless.

The first we hear of any organised help being brought to bear on the miseries of unprotected children is in 1635, when that great man Saint Vincent de Paid became aware of the frightful state of affairs regarding abandoned children in Paris. lie was returning late one evening when he came across a beggar in the act of maiming a baby, in order to make use of its disability for begging purposes. " Monster," said Saint Vincent, " I mistook you for a human being," and snatching the baby from the' beggar. he carried it in his arms to the only place known for the reception of abandoned infants.


This was a kind of hostel, called La Couche, where infants were brought by the police or others, and left to the tender mercies of a woman in charge. As there was no -supervision of any kind, there was really little to choose between her and the beggar in the street. Saint Vincent was aghast. It was too late that night to do anything, but next morning he went to Mademoiselle Le Gras, now known as Saint

Louise de Marillac, his able coadjutor in all his charitable enterprises for social welfare.

At this time, Europe was, as now, in the throes of war. Mademoiselle Le Gras was head of the Ladies of Charity, a confraternity which still exists and which was actually the pioneer of social welfare work She also had a community, small then in numbers, of young working girls whom she was training to nurse the sick-poor in their own homes, and which has developed into the world-wide Order of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Mademoiselle Le Gras and her helpers had their bands more than full of work when Saint Vincent implored her to come to the aid of the hapless infants at La Couche, and difficulties, encountering good works in wartime, were as formidable at that period as they arc now. But when she went that morning and saw for herself the appalling state of affairs, she decided something must be done, no matter the cost.

The excess of criminal pauperism in the seventeenth century had made La Couchc an abode of cruelty and crime. Official reports show that from three to four hundred infants were every year picked up in the streets of Paris by the police and taken to that house of horror. The woman, who had sole charge, could not, even if she had been inclined, give proper care to the multitude of babies that kept pouring in upon her. There were no nurses to feed them, and when their cries became too importunate she finished them off with a drug to keep them quiet. The few survivors were disposed of in other ways. Some were sold for tenpence each to beggars to be used as a means of exciting charity, others for even worse purposes.


It is impossible in this small space to give details of the beginning of this first organised work for child welfare. A house was taken and a good widow was installed in a position which would now be equivalent to matron. Nurses were procured to help her, and Mademoiselle Le Gras herself took up residence in the house for a time to super.

intend the well-being of the precious little souls she had rescued from La Couchc.

At first only twelve could be accommodated, hut the work had to go on and, finally, the Ladies of Charity took over the work, and thus began the Foundling Hospital. Enthusiasm caused funds to pour in but, as is always the case in works depending solely on voluntary support, initial enthusiasm soon died down and a more solid basis had to be found. In spite of all this the work gradually expanded, and the shocking infant mortality, at that time thought inevitable, was copsiderably reduced, so that a large proportionof the foundlings survived. 'It now became necessary to found orphanages for their reception and upbringing, so Mademoiselle Le Gras had to add this to her work of nursing the sick.

Thus it came about that orphanages and schools sprang up in France, and to them were gradually attached other works for the poor people in the towns where they were established. Amongst these works were the crEches, or day nurseries, where little children could be left while their poor mothers were at work, enforced upon them by the extreme poverty to which they and the whole country were reduced by the devastating wad raging for so many years.


Since those days the need for day nurseries in some form or other has never decreased, and the good resulting from them has become apparent everywhere. This led to their establishment in other countries. including England, where they have been carried on more or less precariously. But it was not until recent times that the State became really alive to the national importance of saving the lives of the future

cit'zens of the country and educating them on right lines from the very beginning, and this State recognition and support has given a great impetus to the development of day nurseries.

At the present moment the need is very great, for if we look around us we cannot but be aware of " how sad, how bad, how mad " the world is in many ways, and yet God so loved it, as Saint John tells us. that Ile gave His Only Son to die for it. So whatever is done to improve the state of the world is bound to succeed in the end, because it is on the side of supreme good, and as infant welfare is the first in order, those who take it up as a profession enter a career second to none in national importance

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