* French orphanages

French Orphanages

Figure 1.--These orphans at a French or Belgian orphanage in a photograph taken arounf World War I mosrly wear short pants with long black stockings. Interestingly the older boys appear to be wearing smocks.

We do not yet have historical information on the development of orphanages in France. We have been unable to find much information. A French reader has provided some information sbout the 20th century, especially after World War I. Large numbers of fathers were killed or crippled in the War which affected their ability to upport a family. Few French women worked at the time or had the ability to support a family on their own.


We do not yet have historical information on the development of orphanages in France. We believe that the first French orphanages were Catholic charity instituions. We have no information on the first orphanages. Most orphans were taken in by other family mmbers. The Church especially monastaries took in orphnas. he first orphanages were probably operated by the Church. We are not sure when the French state began to open orphanages. The secular orientation of the Third Republic probably affected the development of state orphanages. Surely World War I resulted in need to open many new prohanages. The carnage on the Western Front was unprecesented. It was not that French children lost both parents. The caranage was mostly the fathers at the front. Thevfathers were the family breadwinners. Which meant that large numbers of French families had no means of support. As a result many orphanages were opened to care for these children. The children were seen as pupilles de l'état/pupilles de la nation. This was not an entirely new concept. Napoleon had ordered the children of the men who died at the blody Battle of Austerlitz to be adopted by the nation. This was, hperver, a single act and not a continuous policy. It was adopted as a national policy during World War I because of the huge losses (1917). It was not just creating orphanages. There were programs to assist children being cared for at home by injured fathers and widowed mothers. This included paying school fees, ummer camos, and other assutance efforts. The sitution was different in World War II. The Germans defeated and occupied France in the first year of the Wae (June 1940). Casualties were his a fraction of World War I, although large numbers of French soldiers were interned in POW campswithin the Reich and used in slave labor for 4 years. Thus again there were prphanages duringband after the War, but not as mamy. Many were operated by the Church as Vichy had very limited resources given the massive German exploitatiin of the economy.


The French orphanage system is a bit complicated, and has had experienced important changes during the20th century. along the 20th. There are several type of orphans: 1) those of the war consequence, the father was killed, 2) those coming from very poor familly, which were unable to care for all of their children, 3) those coming from parents who died, and 4) those abandonned as infants. The children were cared for in both Government and charitable organizations.

War orphans

The children orphaned because their fathers were soldiers killed during the War are called 'Pupil de la Nation' and were the best cared for. Of course they were not orphans in thge sense that they blost both parents. Many families had the capability of caring for them. But many mothers from humble families did not have the means to care for some or all of their children. The Government set up Orphanages for them and they were supported with state funds. The children did not wear uniforms, but Until 1930 they wore a military-styled peak cap " casquette galon doré ". After World War II the situation was different. French caualties were only a fraction of those suffered during World War I. There was a difficult period during the German occupation. German plundering of the economy during the Vichy era created many shortages, The French Army after the French surrender (June 1940) was interred in the Reich and not liberated untill Aliied armies invaded Germany.

Other orphans

Many orphans were cared for by the " Petites soeurs de la Charité " These were mostly Catholic charities run by religious orders and staffed by nuns. There were a few Jewish charities as well. After World war I and World War II, religious orders played a major role in efforts to improve children's health and welfare. Some of their work was done in the schools. Almost all French children before 1970 today recalls being looked after by the nuns. The Petites soeurs de la Charité also operted orphanages. Here the nuns developed their own rules as to how the children were dressed so there were differences from orphanage to orphanage. Some had uniforms or smocks while others wire regular clothes. Often they wore donated garments. The nuns were rather conservative and the children were often dressed in a juvenile manner. Our reader writes, "Inside the Catholic orphanages, the nuns were struict, but children were generaly well fed and happy. The nuns were very cariung and provided some of the tender affection that is essential for young children.


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Created: July 25, 1998
Last update: 2:13 AM 2/7/2020