Pre-20th Century European literature is full of orphans. For good reason. Consider these statistics from the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society.
- In 17th & 18th C western European, 1 out of 3 children had lost at least one parent.
- 1 out of 2 children in 19th C Milan had lost a parent by age 20.
- 1/3 of all boys in 19th C China had lost a parent by age 15.
- In 19th C Sweden, 60% of children who lost their mothers before their first birthday died before age 15; while “only” 30% of those who lost their father that early were dead by age 15.
- In 1915 Baltimore, nearly half the children whose mother died before they were two months old swiftly followed their mothers to the grave.
Do you know about “orphan trains” in 19th and early 20th Century America, carrying unwanted children from east coast cities to servitude in the needy Midwest? Christina Kline Baker’s Orphan Train is a fascinating and engrossing read.
FYI: all this orphan research came about in research for my upcoming historical novel, due out Spring, 2015: World War I, magic realism, shell-shock, a Prussian orphan and a castle in New Jersey.
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