St Joseph's Foundling Hospital was established by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1901 at Broadmeadows.
Abandoned babies and infanticide had long been problems in Victoria, and were the topic of much public discussion throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.
Until the Catholic foundling home was founded in 1901, the Victorian Infant Asylum (founded in 1877) and the Neglected Children's Department were the only institutions to receive babies.
The Sisters of St Joseph opened the Foundling Hospital at the request of Archbishop Carr, in May 1901. The Archbishop set out the purpose of the new institution in a letter to the Age, stating that it was to assist 'erring but often innocent young women', and stressed that women with more than one 'illegitimate' child would only be admitted to the hospital in 'very exceptional cases'.
In the words of Barnard and Twigg, the aims of the Foundling Hospital were to '"save" children from a life of vice and poverty while allowing women to "hide" their shame and then get on with a respectable life'.
The Sisters of St Joseph selected the property known as 'Kerrsland' at Broadmeadows for the new hospital. In the early years, the Sisters struggled to operate the service with very limited funds.
Infant mortality rates in the first three years of the Hospital's operation were at 34%. 61% of these deaths were from 'summer diarrhoea', gastro-enteritis contracted from contaminated bottles. In February 1903, seven babies died within fifteen days. From 1904, the infant mortality rate at St Joseph's dropped, and was reported at being below the rate for Victoria as a whole by 1908.
The St Joseph's Foundling Hospital was home not only to illegitimate babies born at the institution. It had some children living there who were over the age of five, according to records from 1911, a year which saw forty-eight children placed in the home. Barnard and Twigg analysed the records from that year to demonstrate children's journeys after St Joseph's: at least 25% of these children returned to their families; 14% were placed in adoptive or foster homes; 6% went from Broadmeadows into Catholic orphanages.
During the years of World War One, an army training camp was established close to the Foundling Hospital.
By 1922, the Advocate reported that the Foundling Hospital was accommodating children as old as six or seven. St Anthony's Home for Little Children was opened that same year to cater for older children and relieve the overcrowding at Broadmeadows.
In 1931, the Children's Welfare Department asked the Sisters to erect extra accommodation for sixty wards of state, and for nurses to care for the children. In the same year St Joseph's also opened a mothercraft training school.
In 1940 a Children's Welfare Department inspector noted that St Joseph's was accommodating 130 mothers and 260 children, of whom 73 were wards and 17 were Infant Life Protection babies. On top of this, the Home ran a dairy herd of thirty cows, a piggery and a large poultry farm.
By 1956 Departmental inspectors noted that there were only six single mothers and 120 children in the home. Staff recruitment difficulties, the increasing use of foster homes and the fact that parents were being dissuaded from placing their children in institutions were cited as the causes of the downturn in numbers. As a consequence, two of the Home's nurseries were closed.
In September 1956, St Joseph's Foundling Hospital was declared an approved children's home under the Children's Welfare Act 1954.
The Home closed in 1975 and the Sisters subsequently established a foster care service in Glenroy, which was called St Joseph's Babies' Home.
In 1997, records of the Sisters of St Joseph were transferred to MacKillop Family Services. These included records of the various orphanages, homes and other residences run by the Sisters of St Joseph. While custodianship of the records about people in 'care' became the responsibility of MacKillop Family Services at this point, it was formally agreed that the intellectual property in these records would not change hands.
In 2011, the Broadmeadows campus of Penola Catholic College is situated on the grounds of the original Babies Home.
21 July 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000050
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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