Thursday, September 26, 2013

Threads of Feeling

Recently my family traveled back in time to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. My daughter is studying that time period this year in history and we thought it would be fun to build a vacation around some history.

I can remember going there as a child and how other-worldly I remember it being. The costumed townspeople are all very well read as to their roles and the specifics of that time period. I learned so much!

Anyway, my daughter took a couple of classes at the Art Museum so one day we were in there and I was wandering around. I came across an exhibit entitled Threads of Feeling and, having no idea what I was in for, started looking around.

Inside the glass cases I found books full of scraps of fabric left as tokens and identifiers when moms left their children at this hospital or orphanage. In the 19 years the Foundling Hospital was up and running, it took in some 17,000 babies. About 11,000 of them died and 152 of them were eventually collected by their mothers.

The hospital got so busy at one point that when mothers came to the door with their babies, they had to reach their hand into a bag full of balls and draw out either a white or a black one to see if the baby would be allowed to stay. What about the babies that didn't get admitted? If the circumstances were so dire that the mother would take them to that place to begin with, how desperate were they? And what happened to them after being denied safe harbor?

This was a different time and while perhaps births to young women not yet married may have been low, there were obvious issues in caring for children. I wish I had been able to go on a tour and hear more of the backstory. Emotionally, this exhibit slapped me in the face. I was not prepared for what the exhibit was about or what I was going to see.

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