(1994) says: "Exposure was well integrated into the Roman economy, for
it contributed on a substantial scale to the supply of slaves ... the
exposed were a common source of slave prostitutes."
Christians organized watches at exposure walls and placed rescued
babies with Christian families. Exposure of babies was finally
made illegal by Emperor Valentinian in 374 CE.
The New Bible Dictionary (1982) concisely summarizes biblical concern for orphans:
care of the fatherless was from earliest times a concern of the
Israelites, as of the surrounding nations. The Covenant Code (Ex.
22:22), and the Deuteronomic Code particularly, were most solicitous
for the welfare of such (Dt. 16:11, 14; 24:17), protecting their rights
of inheritance and enabling them to share in the great annual feasts
and to have a portion of the tithe crops (Dt. 26:12). It is
specifically stated, moreover, that God works on their behalf (Dt.
10:18), and that condemnation awaits those who oppress them (Dt. 27:19;
cf. Mal. 3.5)
Israelites, during periods of apostasy and idol-worship, ignored their
Scriptures and targeted orphans and widows for exploitation:
and mother are treated with contempt in you [Jerusalem]; the alien
residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are
wronged in you. (Ezekiel 22:6-7)
you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn
aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their
right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans
What will you do on the day of punishment...? (Isaiah 10:1-3)
day one Christianity considered the poor and vulnerable. Acts 6:1
mentions a "daily distribution of food" to widows. This would have
included their fatherless children.
(2016) discusses the third century Christian book Didascalia
Apostolorum which deals with Christian ethics and duties:
bishop is instructed to take pains over the upbringing of orphans,
thereby assuring that they lack nothing. In regard to orphaned girls,
he should assume the role of a father and give her in marriage to a
Christian. If the orphan is a boy, he is to ensure that he learns a
useful trade and is able to earn a living so that he is no longer
dependent on the Church's benevolence (17.4.2). But perhaps its most
striking ordinance reads as follows:
The Catholic Encyclopedia says:
anyone of the children of Christians be an orphan, whether boy or girl,
it is well that, if there be one of the brethren who has no children,
he should adopt the child in the place of children. And whoever has a
son, let him adopt a girl; and when her time is come, let him give her
to him to wife, that his work may be completed in the ministry of God...
Christianity began to affect Roman life, the best fruit of the new
order was charity, and special solicitude was manifested towards the
orphan. Antoninus Pius had established relief agencies for children.
The Christians founded hospitals, and children’s asylums were
established in the East. St. Ephraem, St. Basil, and St. John
Chrysostom built a great number of hospitals... Justinian released from
other civic duties those who undertook the care of orphans. In the
Apostolic Constitutions, "Orphans as well as widows are always
commended to Christian love. The bishop is to have them brought up at
the expense of the Church and to take care that the girls be given,
when of marriageable age, to Christian husbands, and that the boys
should learn some art or handicraft and then be provided with tools and
placed in a condition to earn their own living, so that they may be no
longer than necessary a burden to the Church" (Apost. Const., IV, ii,
tr. Uhlhorn, p. 185). St. Augustine says: “The bishop protects the
orphans that they may not be oppressed by strangers after the death of
Fitzgerald (2016) writes:
allocated food supplies to churches for the support of orphan children
(Eusebius, Vit. Const.4.28.1). The first known orphanage, the Orphanage
of Constantinople during the reign of Constantine's son, Constantius II
became a centre of educational and philanthropic activities...
the 7th century, according to tradition, a teenage girl in Belgium who
later became "Saint Dymphna" advocated protection for the mentally ill
by placement in private homes. Her stance inspired the founding of an
orphanage in Gheel still functioning.
the Middle Ages foundling homes and monasteries cared for abandoned
children. The external wall often had an opening into which infants
could be deposited. When old enough, the kids became apprentices.
In England the Elizabethan Poor Law (1601) made individual parishes responsible to care for the poor.
the 18th & early 19th centuries child abandonment in Britain
remained rampant and orphanages were few and overcrowded. Many orphans
were put in prisons or the poorhouse or fended for themselves. However,
philanthropists increasingly established institutions for orphans.
1741 Thomas Coram (1668-1751) founded the London Foundling Home for
the, "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young
children." At age 14 boys were apprenticed into various occupations,
girls at 16 as servants.
• Bristol Asylum for Poor Orphan Girls (1795);
The Encyclopedia Britannica under CHRISTIANITY suggests that Christian care for orphans contributed to the development of modern welfare:
• St Elizabeth's Orphanage of Mercy (1800);
Infant Orphan Asylum (1827) and Asylum for Orphans (1846) established
by Congregational minister Andrew Reed (1787-1862);
• Female Orphan Asylum (1822) by Francois de Rosaz (1799-1876) in Brighton;
• Ashley Down Orphanage (1836) by George Müller;
• An orphanage established in 1867 by Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892).
church had founded orphanages during the 4th century, and the
monasteries took over this task during the Middle Ages. They also
fought against the practice of abandoning unwanted children and
established foundling hospitals. In this area, as in others, a
secularization of church institutions took place in connection with the
spreading autonomy of the cities. In Protestant churches the
establishment of orphanages was furthered systematically. In Holland
almost every congregation had its own orphanage, which was sustained
through the gifts of the members.
the wars of religion of the 17th century, the orphanages were
reorganized pedagogically, notably by August Hermann Francke, who
connected the orphanage in Glaucha, Germany, which he had founded, with
a modern system of secondary schools. Francke's orphanage became a
model that was frequently imitated in England and also in North
America. Another innovator was the Alsatian Lutheran pastor Johann
Friedrich Oberlin (1740–1826), an exemplary proponent of comprehensive
Christian caring and curing for the whole person and community.
Responsible for a remote and barren area in the Vosges Mountains,
Oberlin transformed the impoverished villages into prosperous
communities. He led in establishing schools, roads, bridges, banks,
stores, agricultural societies (with the introduction of potato
cultivation), and industries. His nursery schools were imitated in many
areas through "Oberlin Societies." These efforts provided a significant
contribution to the development of modern welfare, which in the 20th
century was mainly the responsibility of state, communal, or
humanitarian organizations but was still characterized strongly by its
EDUCATION and ORPHANAGES
concept of "Ragged Schools" began with John Pounds (1766-1839) who
invited homeless children into his shoe-repair workshop and taught them
reading, writing, arithmetic and skills such as carpentry and shoe
repair. The idea went nation-wide with Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873),
philanthropist and Free-Church-of-Scotland minister, whose "ragged
schools" supplied meals and education for disadvantaged children with
the policy to win them over by "the power of Christian kindness".
1834 the workhouse system was instituted where orphans and other
vulnerable people lived in exchange for work. But conditions were often
so abusive as to cause public outcry and increase the support for
Germany A.H. Francke (1663-1727), professor of theology and
philanthropist, instituted charity-supported "Francke Foundations"
where orphans and other children were clothed, fed and educated. He
added an orphan asylum, a Latin school, a German school, a seminary,
and courses teaching natural science and manual trades. Francke
Foundations became a prototype for German education after the King of
Prussia visited in 1713 and initiated legislation for similar
de Paul (1576-1660), French priest and philanthropist, founded the
"Sisters of Charity". These spread over the world and were looked to
for the protection of orphans. France alone, around1800 CE, had 426
houses of benevolence managed by the "Sisters".
the USA the first private orphanage (the Orphan Asylum) was co-founded
in 1806 in New York City by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854) of
the Dutch Reformed Church.
Religious people continued to establish orphanages, a few of whom were:
Ratisbonne, M.A. (1814-1884) Jewish "infidel" of Strasbourge who became
an ordained priest. Assisted by his brother he founded the Sisterhood
of Our Lady of Sion which transferred to Jerusalem in 1855 where
Ratisbonne built two convents which included orphanages for girls, plus
an orphanage for boys which included a school.
Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-1917) Italian-born founder of the
"Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart" who "founded several schools,
hospitals, and orphanages."
Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915) A former slave who became a missionary
in West Africa. Returning to America she founded the Amanda Smith
Orphanage and Industrial Home (1899) for abandoned African-American
• Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852) French-born Catholic missionary who founded orphanages in the USA.
George Ferdinand Müller (1805-1898), a founding member of the
Plymouth Brethren movement, cared for 10,000 orphans in England. He
established five orphanages and 117 schools which offered Christian
education to 120,000 children. (Wikipedia) Müller received no
government support and never solicited, but accepted unsolicited food,
money and labour.
ORPHANAGES AROUND THE WORLD
As Christianity spread worldwide, schools, hospitals and orphanages followed. Some recent statistics are:
Many Christian organizations still manage or sponsor orphanages or otherwise assist orphans. Some of these are:
Nigeria: 17 million orphans; number of orphanages
Rwanda: 400,000 orphans, only 5000 in orphanages;
Zimbabwe: 47 orphanages;
Nepal: 602 child care homes;
Afghanistan: 19 orphanages in Kabul;
India: "Thousands" of orphanages;
Cambodia: Number of orphanages unknown but one group, "World Orphans",
constructed 47 orphanages in a three-year period;
Egypt: 185; Russia: 1344 in 2011;
government orphanages and 100 run by Christian organizations and
Haiti: Total number unknown but Catholic Relief Services
assist 120 orphanages. (Wikipedia)
• Christian Alliance for Orphans (1954)
Pakistan, "Barnabas Fund is ... supporting a locally-run church project
providing crucial help to 300 destitute widows... The widows receive
monthly food parcels from Barnabas Fund, costing just $36."
• Focus on the Family (1977)
• Hope for Orphans (2001)
• Spurgeons Children's Charity (1867)
• Tim Tebow Foundation (2010)
• World Orphans (1993)
the mid 19th century the alternative of foster care was popularized by
American philanthropist, abolitionist and Protestant minister Charles
Loring Brace (1826-1890), regarded as "father of the modern foster care
influential philanthropist Thomas Barnardo (1845 -1905), a Christian
Protestant from Ireland, opened 112 "Dr Barnardo's Homes" for the
destitute and homeless in England. Personnel actively searched for
"waifs and strays, to feed, clothe and educate them." Infants were
"boarded out"; older girls sent to the industrial training homes; and
boys aged 13-17 trained in the various trades.
Emily Clark (1825–1911), Unitarian social reformer in Adelaide,
introduced the "boarding-out system" in Australia to accommodate
orphans and abandoned children with foster families. She believed
"boarding out" is less expensive than State-run institutions and
resulted in better-educated, more-productive adults.
founded the "Boarding-out Society" about which another Australian
social reformer, Catherine Spence (1907 & 1910), wrote:
other English speaking countries boarding-out in families is sometimes
permitted, but here, under the Southern Cross, it is the law of the
land that children shall not be brought up in institutions but in
homes... This movement originated in South Australia, and with all its
far-reaching developments and expansion it is due to the initiative of
one woman, of whom the State and the Commonwealth are justly proud –
Miss C. E. Clark.
The boarding-out idea probably came from early Christianity. The Catholic Encyclopedia says:
was the practice in early Christian days. The widows and deaconesses of
the early church took orphans into their homes as Fabiola did in
Rome... It was the general practice at the time of the first
persecutions. Uhlhorn (Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, p. 185)
says: "It would also often happen that individual members of the Church
would receive orphans, especially those whose parents had perished in a
persecution." Thus was Origen adopted, after Leonidas, his father, had
suffered martyrdom, by a pious woman in Alexandria (Eusebius, "Hist.
Eccl.", VI, ii). Again the child of the female martyr, Felicitas, found
a mother; and Eusebius tells us of Severus, a Palestinian composer, who
especially interested himself in the orphans and widows of those who
in wealthier countries which have the infrastructure and trained
personnel such as Western Europe, North America and Australia, most
orphanages have closed, replaced with government-arranged foster care.
century psychological studies have supported the importance of
stability and family environment for children. In orphanages,
especially large ones babies may receive little physical contact or
affection. Abandoned children in socially and emotionally deprived
environments lag behind children with parents or foster parents in
physical growth, IQ and social development. In the worst cases,
orphanages are dangerous, unregulated places of child abuse and child
In December 2019 the UN recognized that institutions harm children and called for their progressive elimination.
Bible often mentions orphans and widows in the same sentence, sometimes
also the "alien" [resident foreigners], the "needy", the "oppressed"
and the poor. (Psalm 10:18; 146:8) The implication is that God cares
about all sorts of vulnerable people, and Christians in the "image of
God" should also.
throughout history suffered greater neglect than other citizens. When
for example the Communist regime in Rumania economically ruined
Rumania, orphans were not spared. The world learned of 170,000 orphans
in state orphanages — emaciated, isolated, emotionally deprived,
stunted in growth, and sick.
the treatment of orphans the world for thousands of years was
negligent, exploitative and wrong. But the Bible, consistent with its
identification as the "Word of God", inspired change. Its followers
were instrumental in the introduction of better ethics, and in
practical help including education for orphans worldwide.
Barnabas Fund, New hope for destitute Christian widows in Pakistan, Eternity, Issue 100, March 2019, p. 4
Christianity 2009 Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Deluxe Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica
Davis, W.S. 1963 (Fourth printing) A Day in Old Rome A Picture of Roman Life, Biblos Tannen, p. 184
Douglas, J.D. (Organizing Editor) 1982 New Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 863
Garton, N. 1992 George Müller and his Orphans, Chivers Press
Fitzgerald, J.T. Orphans in Mediterranean antiquity and Early Christianity, Acta theol. vol.36 suppl. 23, 2016
Harris, W.V. Child Exposure in the Roman Empire, The Journal of Roman Studies, Volume 84, 1994, pp 1-22
King, P.L. 2004 Moving Mountains, Chosen Books, pp 15-34
Raftery, M. & O'Sullivan, E. 2001 Suffer The Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools
Spence, C.H. 1907 State Children in Australia, Vardon & Sons
Spence, C.H. 1910 An Autobiography
"Anonymous" has for decades defended the Bible as accurate in science and advanced in ethics, on this website: