JF Ptak Science Books Post 2039
In the history of raffles and lotteries, tontines and lottos, few would rank so high in the Department of Forbidden Weirdness as this 1912 Parisian lottery of babies.
This image is a detail from the following photograph that appeared in Popular Mechanics for January 1912, and in spite of how this reads and in spite of it being a real-and-true story, it is still difficult for readers in the 21st century to appreciate as a news article rather than a piece of dark fiction:
Now the story of the deep history of child abuse and abandonment and infanticide is thousands of years old, and the issue of the rightness of abandoning newborns to the street as a condoned and necessary social activity to ensure the plasticity and survival of a society has been argued by Aristotle and Quintilian and Pliny the Elder. The movements to provide public institutions to help save the exposed and deserted children really didn't begin in earnest until the 17th and 18th centuries--that is with Louis XIII and Louis XIV in France and with the creation of the Foundling Hospital in London in 1741. It is with the creation of these early orphanages that abandoned babies are saved as babies, and although these children would be trained early on to be mechanics'-helpers and domestics at relatively young ages (early 'teens), they were not subjected to being sent to workhouses as very young children as in the older practices--or being left to die lying in the streets by exposure to the cold or hunger or being trampled underfoot.
So. In comparison with some bitter early histories of the want of tenderness int he care of children, and keeping in mind the great leap forward in the creation of the foundling hospitals and what they represented in the face of not having anywhere for unwanted and impossible babies to go, the idea of the lottery for cute babies in 1912 doesn't look so bad when placed in its historical context.
It is still a very uncomfortable idea and idea, this sort of placement of babies--but with the terrible history of infanticide and exposure not too dimly removed from this time, the lottery seems far less horrible than its antiquarian components.