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Built into the external wall of a convent or relief institution, the baby hatch made it possible, by way of a rotation system, to pass a child from the outside world to a place of assistance (i.e. an orphanage or home for “foundlings”). In the 19th century, abandonment was a common practice as the means of contraception were less well understood and less accepted than they are today, and the extreme poverty afflicting many women dwelling in towns and cities prevented them from being able to offer their offspring a decent life. The baby hatch was considered a significant step forward in saving these young lives. Teenage mothers, and mothers in general, were afraid of being judged harshly, or that if they turned up at a home to abandon their child in person, efforts would be made to disuade them. Even worse, they were also often resigned to “exposing” their child anonymously by leaving it on the sidewalk, certainly to die. The baby hatch, with its blind revolving door and rotation system, allowed a mother to leave her child with the home at any hour of the day or night (no opening hours, which inevitably exposed the mothers) without meeting anyone and without even having to enter the home or convent. The hatch did nothing to lessen the drama of abandonment, but the intention was to at least save human lives (which it undoubtedly did).

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  • Title: Baby hatch
  • Date Created: 1907
  • Provenance: Inquiry conducted in 1907 on “l’Assistance publique et la protection des enfants trouvés” [Public welfare and the protection of foundlings] by Mrs. Landrin.
  • Medium: Bois et métal

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