Looked After Children: Fostering and Adopting in Britain, 1700-1839

Kate Gibson (Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, The University of Manchester)

Mary Hamilton Papers
Letter from John Dickenson to Mary Hamilton

This project ‘Looked-After Children: Fostering and Adoption in Britain, 1700-1839’ provides the first sustained study of fostering as a form of childcare in eighteenth-century Britain. The project will reveal the extent to which fostering was widespread across the social scale, and explore issues such as the gendering of care work, its impact on household income, and the inclusion of foster-children in broader concepts of ‘family’ defined by blood, law or emotion. Using correspondence and diaries written by children growing up in Britain and their families, the project analyses the impact of care over a child’s lifetime, comparing access to and the nature of care according to class, race and gender. The project is part of a growing challenge to the marginalisation of care work in historical research, with implications for our understanding of women’s historical workforce participation and current assumptions about “traditional” caring roles as gendered, low paid and low skilled.

Dr Kate Gibson is a social historian of eighteenth-century Britain, with a particular interest in the reproduction of inequality through family relationships. She completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2018, funded by the Wolfson foundation. She has held fellowships at the Huntington Library in California, The John Rylands Research Institute in Manchester, the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Archives at Windsor. In 2019, she joined the University of Manchester as a postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Faith in the Town: Lay Religion, Urbanisation and Industrialisation in England, 1740-1830’, which examines the role of faith in perceptions of work, family life, space and time for ordinary people living in Northern English towns during a period of social and economic change. From 2022, she will be staying at the University of Manchester for a three-year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to work on her project ‘Looked-After Children: Fostering and Adoption in Britain, 1700-1839’. She has published in The Historical Journal, Past & Present, and Cultural and Social History, and her first book,Illegitimacy, Family and Stigma in England, 1660-1834, will be published by OUP in 2022.