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Made possible through our crowdfunding platform, Art Happens, this exhibition explores the devastating repercussions for Victorian women who 'lost their innocence' outside of wedlock.

Often forced out of her home or workplace into destitution, prostitution or suicide, the 'fallen woman' was a popular theme in 19th century art and literature as Victorian moralists warned against the consequences of losing one’s virtue.

As Britain’s first charity for abandoned children, the Foundling Hospital had been taking in infants since the mid-18th century. A century later, in line with the prevailing moral climate, it changed its admissions policy: now first-time mothers of illegitimate babies had to prove they were of previous good character.

The heartbreaking stories of these women’s lives form the basis for the Foundling Museum’s new exhibition. Original testimonies and small tokens left by these desolate mothers are presented alongside the mythologised images found in popular prints and illustrations of the time, as well as works of art from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave and GF Watts.

Added poignancy is given to the dedicated exhibition space, known as the Committee Room, in which interviews were conducted in order to ascertain a woman’s ‘suitability’ to have her child taken in.

The Foundling Museum

40 Brunswick Square, London, Greater London, WC1N 1AZ

020 7841 3600


Opening times

Tues-Sat 10am-5pm.

Sun 11am-5pm.

Closed Monday.

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