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Victorian Children in Victorian Times and How They Lived

A Look into how Victorian Children Lived, Played, Worked and Survived

Life for Victorian Children in Victorian times (1830 to 1900) was nothing like childhood in today’s world. For the wealthy there was an overwhelming sense of boredom and the constant prodding to be proper and polite with very little parent to child communication. For the poor Victorian Children life was much different. The poor children had to work public jobs for their families to survive.  Toys were nothing more than homemade dolls or wooden blocks. On the other hand their family life was tighter knit and more loving.

Wealthy Victorian Children

While the wealthy children may have been spoiled and had a much better life than the poor children, they also had what would seem to be a sad, redundant and affection-less existence.

Children were mostly raised by a nanny who would teach the child what was proper and what was not. Day to day living was nothing more than a lonely monotonous routine and very formal.

Wealthy Victorian Children rarely communicated with their parents except for a specified time each day.

~Winston Churchill once said that he could “count the times he had been hugged by his mother” as a child~

Parents would hire a nanny or nurse to do the brunt of the child rearing. They would instruct the nanny what they wanted to have instilled into their children such as manners, education, propriety, how to dress and so on. The nanny was in effect a substitute parent.

When we think of nannies in Victorian times it is only natural to think of a cheerful loving young lady who went to the local community college and got a degree in child development. For the most part this was not the reality for wealthy Victorian Children.

Nannies were usually older women that had never been married. You can imagine that there might have been a chip on their shoulder towards children since in those days not being married meant no children. Many times nannies were intolerant and very strict and sometimes plain mean.

Albeit, there were some nannies who were kind and caring and supplied the only love a child would experience. They would do the extra things to brighten a child’s life such as playing games with them or fixing special meals on their birthday…etc.

 Poor Victorian Children

The poor Victorian Children lived a very different life than the children of wealthier families. They didn’t have the nice houses to live in or the extravagant toys, clothes or fine foods that the rich kids had. They lived in much smaller houses or even single rooms.

Living in these tight quarters caused the family to be much closer. Without the presence of a nanny the parents raised the children and were the guiding force in their lives. This did not always translate to a more loving atmosphere though. Since a large part of the poor children had to work public jobs to help support their families many parents thought of children as income, and having more children who worked raised the income of the home. Many parents had 10 or 12 or even more children for this reason alone.

How old did children have to be to work in Victorian Times?

Victorian children would be made to go to work at a very young age. As unbelievable as it sounds, sometimes even 4 or 5 years old. Actually this was not unique only to the Victorian age, children had been expected to work for centuries before this.

They worked very hard and for long hours every day. On the job safety was not a major concern and they were expected to work in filthy conditions many times. They really had no choice in the matter. Their parents made them work to help pay the bills at home.

What types of jobs did they do?

Because they were considered cheap labor Victorian children were in high demand for  many types of jobs including mining, factory work, street sweepers, clothing and hat makers, chimney sweeps, farming, textile mills, servants, and sadly, prostitution. As you may have already noticed, the British had very little regard for children.

A further look into child labor and working conditions can be found here.

 ~The Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals was created in 1824. Which was 67 years before the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which was created in 1891~

What conditions did they have to work in?

Working conditions for children of the Victorian age were dreadful. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or anything faintly resembling an organization for safe working conditions did not exist.The Factory Act was established in 1833 disallowing children under the age of nine to work in factories.

5 to 9 year old Chimney sweeps would come out of a chimney covered from head to toe with soot. Their arms, legs, elbows and knees would be bleeding, only to be washed off with salt water and sent up another chimney.

Children working in factories worked in dangerous situations for long hours, 14 to 18 hours a day. Occupational death was not uncommon for working Victorian children. There small size made them ideal for crawling into the tight spaces in, around or under machines, sometimes while the machines were still running since it would hinder production if a machine were turned off.

 Victorian Street Children

Street children in Victorian times were found in abundance living in alleys or side streets. Many were orphans but a large part of the street children were from neglectful, alcoholic families where abuse was the norm. Faced with the choice of living in these conditions or living on the street some children chose the street. Many of these children fell prey to prostitution and thieving to support themselves. Others became street sellers or actually worked public jobs like other children.

Published By Paxton Price on: Dec 11, 2012
The Museum Of London
Mandy Barrow

Historical Essays: The Victorian Child


In 1799, children’s author and educator Hannah More reacted against the revolutions that had recently taken place in America and France in terms that tell us a great deal about the child’s place in British society at that time. Denouncing Thomas Paine’s radical insistence that all men are created equal, More argued that recognizing the “rights of man” was an absurd idea. Next, she scoffed, reformers would begin to discuss the rights of women, and then (even more ridiculously) “our enlighteners […] will illuminate the world with grave descants on the rights of youth, the rights of children, the rights of babies” (Walvin 45).

The idea that children have rights that the state should protect may have seemed silly at dawn of the nineteenth century, but by the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, it had
gained significant support. Beginning in the 1830s, the Victorians passed a variety of laws aimed at protecting the wellbeing of children at work, at school, or in the home. This activism was motivated in part by a growing acceptance of the Romantic idea that children are innocent creatures who should be shielded from the adult world and allowed to enjoy their childhood. As the century wore on, writers and artists began to produce increasingly sentimentalized images of children, emphasizing their angelic, adorable qualities. Yet despite such rhetoric, real reform did not come quickly. High infant mortality rates, inadequate schooling, and child labor persisted right to the end of the century, suggesting that many Victorians remained unconvinced that childhood should be marked off as a protected period of dependence and development.

A Nation of Children

Victoria’s England was a child-dominated society. Throughout her long reign, one out of every three of her subjects was under the age of fifteen. The population explosion that occurred during this period was accompanied by a tremendous amount of industrialization and urbanization; by the end of the century, a vast majority of children lived in towns rather than rural communities. Families tended to be large, although the birth rate declined a bit over the course of the century as more information on contraception became available. The rapid growth of towns quickly outstripped affordable housing, leading to overcrowding and shockingly poor sanitary conditions. Coupled with infectious diseases and impure milk and food, these factors contributed to very high infant and child mortality rates.

Poor children who survived infancy were often put to work at an early age. In the 1830s and 40s, many children labored in textile mills and coal mines, where working conditions often proved deadly. Girls as young as five went into domestic service as nurses or maids to wealthy families. Rural children worked on farms or in cottage industries, while thousands of urban children worked as street hawkers, selling matches or sweeping crossings (see figure 1). Child labor was not new, but as industrialization continued it became more visible, as masses of ragged, stunted children crowded the city streets.

Calls for Reform

Philanthropists, religious leaders, doctors, journalists, and artists all campaigned to improve the lives of poor children. In 1840, Lord Ashley (later the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury) helped set up the Children’s Employment Commission, which published parliamentary reports on conditions in mines and collieries. The shocking testimony contained in these reports inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous protest poem “The Cry of the Children” (1844). Shaftesbury went on to become president of Ragged School Union, an evangelical organization which established hundreds of schools for the poor. Famous child-savers like Mary Carpenter and Dr. Thomas Barnardo taught in Ragged Schools before opening their own institutions for destitute youths. Dr. Barnardo described some of his missionary efforts in the Children’s Treasury (see figure 2), while investigative reporters like Henry Mayhew tirelessly documented the dire conditions endured by many working-class families.

The novels of Charles Dickens, the most popular author of the Victorian era, also reveal an intense concern about the vulnerability of children. When Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned for debt and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, an incident that haunted him his whole life. His novels are full of neglected, exploited, or abused children: the orphaned Oliver Twist, the crippled Tiny Tim, the stunted Smike, and doomed tykes like Paul Dombey and Little Nell. Like Barrett Browning, Dickens was galvanized by revelations of real-life horrors facing the poor. Oliver Twist (1837) was written in response to the draconian New Poor Law of 1834, which had been inspired by the theories of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This law relegated the needy to prison-like institutions called workhouses, splitting up families and subjecting them to repugnant living conditions and hard labor.

Similarly, in creating the pathetic character of Jo the street-sweeper in Bleak House (1852-3), Dickens was inspired by the testimony of a real child laborer interviewed in an 1850 law report. Both boys admit, under questioning, that no one has ever bothered to teach them anything, not even the shortest prayer. Jo’s dramatic death scene enables Dickens to fulminate on the fate of such forlorn waifs:

Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day. (Chapter XLVII)

Baby Steps

It is easy to interpret the outraged activism of writers like Dickens as indicative of a transformation in public sentiment about children. But such protests were fuelled by the fact that many people still believed that children did not need to be shielded by the state from adult responsibilities. Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert spoke for many when he argued that the working man’s children were “part of his productive power,” an indispensable source of family income (Horn, Town Child 100).

Thus, although legislation aimed at regulating and reducing child labor was passed throughout the century, there was no attempt to outlaw it completely. Loopholes in laws like the 1833 Factory Act and the 1867 Workshops Act, coupled with a lack of local enforcement, meant that many children continued to work. As late as 1891, over 100,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were still employed as domestic servants in England and Wales. That same year, the British government dragged its feet at raising the minimum age for part-time factory work from 10 to 11, even though they had promised to extend it to 12 at an 1890 European congress on child labor.

Education reform also proceeded at a slow pace. In the early 1860s, the Royal Commission on Popular Education declared that compulsory schooling for all children was “neither obtainable nor desirable.” If the child’s wages are crucial to the family economy, they wrote, “it is far better that it should go to work at the earliest age at which it can bear the physical exertion than that it should remain at school” (Horn, Town Child 74). Another powerful impediment to the creation of a public school system was religious; dissent between the Church of England and nonconformists over the content and amount of religious instruction stalled legislative efforts until 1870, when the Elementary Education Act finally created a national network of primary schools. A similarly provision for secondary education was not passed until 1902. Middle- and upper-class families could employ tutors, or send their children to private schools, but these were unregulated and varied widely in quality. Girls were worse off than boys, since many people believed that domestic skills and basic literacy were all they needed to learn.

What explains the sluggish pace of reform? The rise of industrial capitalism created a huge demand for cheap labor, which children certainly were. Responding to this boom, Victorian economists and politicians embraced a laissez-faire approach which involved keeping state interference to a minimum. Forced to fend for themselves, many families endured such extreme poverty that their children’s wages were indeed crucial to their survival. And although the Romantic belief in childhood innocence was spreading, many clung to the Calvinist notion of original sin, which held that work was good for children, since “Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do.

The Innocent Ideal

Nevertheless, as the century wore on, more and more people began to accept the idea that childhood should be a protected period of education and enjoyment. However slow education reform was in coming, it did come: in 1851, fully one third of English children received no education at all, whereas by the end of the century, nearly ninety percent went to school for seven to eight years. At the same time, there was an explosion of books, magazines, toys, and games aimed at entertaining children. Indeed, children’s literature blossomed into what critics call its “Golden Age.”

With its rollicking depiction of nursery life, Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (1839) is often regarded as a landmark text that shifted the focus of children’s fiction from instruction to delight. Classics like Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense (1846) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) carried on this tradition. Mixing fantasy and realism, authors like Juliana Ewing, Mary Louisa Molesworth, and E. Nesbit painted a vivid picture of the middle-class nursery as a hotbed of hobbies: private theatricals, elaborate games, gardening, the composition of family magazines, and so on.

Like Dickens, children’s authors often voiced their belief in the perfect purity of the young, as when Carroll enthused, “Their innocent unconsciousness is very beautiful, and gives one a feeling of reverence, as at the presence of something sacred” (Letters 381) Such sentiments became increasingly common in sermons, poetry, and periodicals from this period; the Victorians often quoted Wordsworth’s claim in the Immortality Ode that “Heaven lies about us in our infancy!” Artists like Charles West Cope and John Everett Millais produced dozens of domestic genre paintings with titles like The First Music Lesson (1863) and My First Sermon (1862-3), which portray the child as a bastion of simplicity, innocence, and playfulness. Women were also praised for embodying these qualities, and together with children they were urged to inhabit a separate sphere: to withdraw from the workforce, embrace their status as dependents, and provide the male breadwinner with a refuge from the dog-eat-dog capitalist world outside the family.

Consuming Childhood

Ironically, though, even as the Victorians represented children as opposed by nature to the materialistic world of trade and profit, the figure of the child was commodified and put on display as never before. For example, the Pears Soap Company bought reproduction rights to Millais’ paintings Cherry Ripe (1879) and Bubbles (1886), and placed the images in advertisements and calendars (see figure 3). When Cherry Ripe was featured as a color centerfold in a Christmas annual, the magazine quickly sold 500,000 copies. Kate Greenaway also took advantage of the increased public appetite for images of childhood; her watercolors of children playing appeared not just in her wildly popular books but on tea towels, wallpaper, stationary, soaps, and clothes.

Actual young people were paraded before the public as well. New presentation furniture like the bassinet and the perambulator allowed infants to be displayed to an admiring world. Child actors appeared on stage in record numbers, performing in pantomimes, ballets, operettas, straight dramas, minstrel shows, music halls, and circus acts. By the 1880s, Drury Lane Theatre was hiring 150-200 children per pantomime. Child prodigies like Jean Davenport and Lydia Howard astonished audiences by playing multiple roles in the same evening, while numerous companies routinely ran all-child productions. For example, the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company had a children’s troupe which put on Gilbert and Sullivan operettas without the help of a single adult performer.

The Cult of the Child

As children became more visible on the stage, the question naturally arose: did such work constitute labor? Considerable controversy arose over this issue in the 1880s. Educational activists like Millicent Garrett Fawcett insisted that children under ten should be banned from full-time theatre work as they had been from factories and workshops. Theatre people and other artists, including Carroll and the poet Ernest Dowson, strongly disagreed. Acting was not a labor but an art, they maintained, and children benefited from and enjoyed doing it.

Dowson develops this argument in his 1889 article “The Cult of the Child.” As his title indicates, however, the insistence that children “delight in” performing quickly gives way to the admission that adults delight in watching children perform. “Disillusioned” grown-ups, tired of facing the complexities of contemporary life, find relief by turning their attention to children: “[T]here are an ever increasing number of people who receive from the beauty of childhood, in art as in life, an exquisite pleasure.” Dowson and other members of the “cult” insisted that contemplating the innocent simplicity of children served as a healthy corrective to the tawdriness and skepticism of modern life. Religious doubt was on the rise, particularly after the publication of Charles Darwin’s findings about evolution. Some commentators have suggested that the child gradually replaced God as an object of worship.

But although adherents to the cult of the child described their appreciation in religious and/or aesthetic terms, the art they produced reveals a disturbing tendency to conceive of the child as the ideal romantic partner. In novels like Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird (1902), besotted bachelors pursue children rather than women, while Dowson wrote a sonnet sequence celebrating the charms “Of a Little Girl.” Dowson also fell in love with an eleven-year-old named Adelaide Foltinowicz, proposing to her when she was fourteen. He was not alone; eminent Victorians like John Ruskin and the Archbishop of Canterbury also wooed young girls, and child prostitution was an accepted if deplored fact of London life.

Strange Inconsistencies

To our eyes, the Victorians seem very inconsistent in terms of their attitudes toward children. Child-worshippers who waxed rhapsodic about the perfect purity of children simultaneously eroticized them. Even as sentimentality about childhood reached new heights, the notion that all children are savages likewise gained widespread support; many Victorians accepted the “Law of Recapitulation,” which stipulated that as a child develops, he or she repeats the stages of development of the human race. This belief in “the savagery of all children and the childishness of all savages” served a justification for subjecting children to harsh discipline, and natives of other countries to the rule of the expanding British Empire (Cunningham 98).

These contradictory impulses of cruelty and concern informed the actions of individual Victorians. Journalist W. T. Stead provides a perfect example. In 1885, he launched a campaign to raise awareness about child prostitution and prod the government to raise the age of consent. But his method of pursuing these admirable goals landed him in jail. To prove that virgins were being sold on the street in record numbers, he abducted a thirteen-year-old girl without telling her parents what he planned to do with her. After subjecting the unwitting girl to a medical exam to prove her purity, he drugged her, pretended to accost her, and sent her off to Paris. The lurid account he wrote of these events featured headings like “The Violation of Virgins” and “Strapping Girls Down.” It reads like pornography, yet it helped assure the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen. This bizarre event encapsulates some of the conflicting discourses circulating around the Victorian child.

Recommended reading

Boone, Troy. Youth of Darkest England: Working-Class Children at the Heart of Victorian Empire. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Bristow, Joseph. Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World. London: HarperCollins, 1991.

Coveney, Peter. The Image of Childhood: The Individual and Society: A Study of the Theme in English Literature. Rev. Ed. Baltimore: Penguin books, 1967.

Cunningham, Hugh. The Children of the Poor: Representations of Childhood Since the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991.

Davidoff, Leonore and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1897.

Garlitz, Barbara. “The Immortality Ode: Its Cultural Progeny.” Studies in English Literature 6 (1966): 639-649.

Higonnet, Anne. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Horn, Pamela. The Victorian Country Child. Thrupp, Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1997.

—. The Victorian Town Child. New York: NYUP, 1997.

Kincaid, James. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Robson, Catherine. Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

Steedman, Carolyn. Strange Dislocations: Childhood and the Idea of Human Interiority, 1780-1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995.

Walvin, James. A Child’s World: A Social History of English Childhood 1800-1914. New York: Penguin, 1982.


Pain is inevitable: what Victorian children played

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November 12, 2020

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Pain is inevitable: what children of the Victorian era played

The secrets of education and play that were used in the upper classes of England and America in the 19th century.

Bombora publishing house has published a novelty – “Uncontrollable. Theresa O’Neill’s Guide to Raising Perfect Children from Victorian Parents: Once upon a time, parents weren’t slaves to their children. It was necessary to say once so that the child would silently get up and put the plate in the sink after everything had been eaten. Once! You didn’t have to count to three and threaten to take your iPad away. You said — the child did. Once upon a time, parents were gods, and children were their humble admirers! Great times! And you know, we can bring back those days!”

Why is it harmful for girls to study the exact sciences? How to cure measles with wine and brandy? What to do if a child rejects alcohol? How to punish and what is the pedagogical power of the «fool’s cap»? This book is a treasure trove of parenting advice. It describes only those methods that were actually used in the upper classes of England and America in the 19th century.

We publish excerpts about games.

Here are some of the popular pastimes found in Reverend John George Wood’s The Boy’s Modern Guide: A Book of Sports, Games, and Amusements, written in 1891 year. (And yes, anticipating the questions: as the title of the book suggests, all this entertainment is only for your sons.)


First, take the children to a specially fenced paddock, and then blindfold them all. Except for one boy — tie a bell to him. He will be the leader! His task is to run away from the site, ringing invitingly, without being caught or knocked down by his blind comrades.

Here’s what Wood writes about this: Surely there is no end to the fun that this game brings. A good driver will drag blinded comrades into all sorts of troubles, while, of course, without substituting himself. He will make them collide with each other, hang on the protective ropes, catch instead of himself a more awkward participant in the fun — or he will resort to a hundred other equally effective inventions.

The winner is the one who knocks the driver to the ground. Or the driver himself will become it, if he manages to escape beyond the boundaries of the fence and not get caught.

But if you want to turn the game into real fun, then instead of a driver, it is better to take an angry pig, and give the players a whip. Because, as Wood explains: In some parts of the country, children play a similar, albeit cruder, version of the game. Instead of a driver, the bell is tied to a pig, and blindfolded boys are each given a whip. The one who hits the pig wins.

The games described above are intended for healthy and young boys. And only a mother who raises a capricious whiner can brand them «cruel».

Shoot down the Monkey

First of all, you need a strong tree on which to hang a child. If suddenly right now you are on the high seas, then a ship’s yardarm is also suitable. The child hanging on the tree is the Monkey. Ideally, he should hang so that only his toes barely touch the ground, and he himself dangles freely in the air.

According to the rules of the game, a boy suspended from a tree is «beaten» — beaten with pieces of cloth, on which large knots are tied. Often a large stone was hidden in such knots to give strength to the swing, although I doubt that a real boy would object to saving time and simply not stuff his socks with broken bricks. As the author himself emphasizes: “When players are not afraid to get hit, this game becomes especially exciting. Getting close to an actively moving Monkey is extremely difficult, and this certainly adds to the entertainment of liveliness.

The good news is that Monkey also gets a weapon in the form of a stick, which can hit a crowd of boys who beat him up. In addition, she has a special advantage in the air. Whoever the Monkey hits must take his place, and the beatings resume.

According to the rules of the game, the boy chosen by the Bear gets on all fours in the dust and dirt and is tied with a rope to his Master.

Hunt the Bear

This is another kind of game where everyone beats each other. It has its origins in a medieval sport where a wild bear fought a bloody battle for survival against trained hunting dogs.

According to the rules of the game, the boy chosen by the Bear gets on all fours in the dust and dirt and is tied with a rope to his Master. The rest of the participants act with him in the same way as with the Monkey on the tree: they try to beat the child sitting on the ground and dodge the retaliatory blows of the Master, who tightly holds his ward on a leash and does not allow him to leave the circle. The Bear himself is not given any weapons, but although biting his legs is not the best option, he can still grab the rest of the participants and try to fill them up on the ground.
The Reverend Father warns against the temptation to soften the game for the Bear: «In some areas where children play this game, the Bears ask to be allowed to wrap themselves in an extra layer of clothing or get extra protection from attackers, but this is an excessive display of effeminacy that should not be encouraged. «.

These games instilled in the boy the subconscious idea that pain is unavoidable, no matter if it comes from war, illness, or childish play with sticks and bricks.

– I was hoping to hear something about tennis or croquet. Don’t you find that they look preferable against the backdrop of such cruel games?

No. Real men played these gender-inclusive games solely for social reasons or out of a desire to woo a lady (and where else can you watch her bend over and sweat). The games described above are intended for healthy and young boys. And only a mother who raises a capricious whiner can brand them «cruel». And such an approach to education in the 19th century did not bode well, since the world around the child was still cruel, regardless of his social or financial situation.

Even the highest-ranking priests or crown princes in this world were more loved if they could stand up for themselves and withstand the blow of violence and terror. These games instilled in the boy the subconscious idea that pain is inevitable, no matter if it comes from war, illness, or childish play with sticks and bricks, and it is better to face it right away!

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Why children died in the Victorian era

During the reign of Queen Victoria, England was at the height of its power. Science, literature, economics flourished, moral principles were formed. Along with this, the empire became famous for its unusual traditions and high infant mortality.

A large number of child deaths were observed not only in families of the poor or the working class, but also among representatives of high society.

Unsanitary conditions

In those days, women were allowed to stay at home. It was believed that only poor and morally degraded girls give birth in hospitals. Medical institutions were perceived as hotbeds of infections and contagion. Victorian doctors had no concept of germs, they did not sterilize medical instruments, and they often performed autopsies with the same items and then took delivery. One in 90,109,200, women in labor died due to sepsis during childbirth.

People of that time bathed extremely rarely — at baptism and before the wedding. Everyone bathed in the same water in order of seniority — from the queen to the cooks. Often after such bathing, people became sick and sick. It was rumored that infections and infections penetrated through the water into the pores of the skin, so people tried as little as possible to allow skin contact with water.

High fashion green

During the Victorian era, green came into fashion. It was used in interiors (it was not uncommon for rich families to see green wallpapers), in fabrics for sewing clothes, and even children’s toys. A beautiful shade was obtained through the use of lead and arsenic. No one guessed that a magnificent outfit or a new-fangled piece of home decoration was killing its owner. Wallpaper at high humidity released arsenic and sent all households, and fabrics in contact with the skin caused ulcers and abscesses. What can we say about babies, constantly pulling everything into their mouths.


Not all women managed to breastfeed a child: some did not have enough milk or did not have it at all. Infant formula was not common at that time and only wealthy families could buy it. The poor fed their children with cow’s milk. The cows were not looked after properly, and no one guessed that the milk should be boiled and the bottles sterilized. Any container was used to feed the baby, it was rarely washed due to the lack of running water. There was only one chance to keep the baby healthy by breastfeeding.

When a baby was weaned, food from the table was used. Bread crumbs were wrapped in gauze and allowed to suck on the baby. Toddlers sucked on the same piece of bread for weeks. As a result of such feeding, children often died from intestinal infections — the children’s stomach simply could not cope with such food and the microbes that got into it.

Killer bottle

The rich bought bottles for their children — non-spills. This invention made it possible to simplify the care of the child — the baby could drink on his own and not dirty his clothes. The design was a bottle and a nipple connected by a long tube. Washing the device was extremely problematic. As a result, the bottle turned into a breeding ground for germs. Isabella Beaton, one of the most reputable housewives of the time, recommended changing the spill-proof bottles every two weeks. Newfangled accessory killed children with intestinal infections.


In poor families, the main part of the house was often connected to the porch where livestock lived. When children began to walk, they received burns, injuries and mutilations from pets. Toddlers died from domestic injuries and insufficient care for them.

Baby farms

In poor families, women went to work just like men. Toddlers were left at home with older children, grandparents. If the mother did not have helpers to care for the child, she gave him to the infant farm.

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