The rich background of The Infants’ Home is recorded in our official history book Betrayed & Forsaken by Susan Lorne Johnson, published in 2001 and reprinted .
Sydney was a harsh city in its early years, especially for unmarried mothers. With nowhere to turn, they often abandoned their babies. Many of these children died, having never been held or loved.
Rejected by everyone, some women were forced into infanticide and suicide. The earliest records of The Infants’ Home reveal a desperate need for women’s rights.
In 1874 a group of courageous women fought against accepted wisdom, the Church, the press and prominent citizens of the day to establish a home for abandoned infants and unmarried mothers with children.
These visionaries recognised the folly of the dominant view that a refuge would condone immoral behavior. They knew that a home for deserted children would save lives.
In the face of vehement protests, the women persevered, driven by the belief that all children deserve the chance to thrive.
On May 15, 1874 they established the Sydney Foundling Institute in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst – the first and only home in Australia to cater for abandoned children and to provide accommodation for unmarried mothers and their babies.
The Infants' Home's first orphan, only three weeks old, was found on the steps of the home at 8pm on June 3, 1874. The baby was christened Sydney Hope to combine the name of the town with the hope carers had for his future.
Hope became a successful businessman, a lifelong supporter of The Infants' Home, and an enduring symbol of our work
After two difficult years at Darlinghurst, philanthropist Thomas Walker, an early supporter, suggested The Infants’ Home move to bigger premises at any suitable place on Sydney’s railway line.
Walker, a successful pastoralist and banker, paid £3,000 in 1876 to buy the current 4.5 acre property in Henry Street Ashfield. He refused to be reimbursed.
The home on the property, Gorton, was a 10-room Gothic house with stables, coach-house, saddle room, and hayloft. Thomas Walker would later be knighted.
The Infants’ Home started to accept gifts in kind – fruit and vegetables from grocers Harrison and Attwood; meat from butchers Buttell & Laws; and goods and clothing from David Jones, Farmer & Co, and Hardy Bros.
By 1889 there were 130 children and 67 mothers residing at The Infants’ Home, even though the property was fitted to accommodate only 65 children and 30 women.
The first kindergarten was opened in 1897 when The Infants’ Home realised that children between the ages of three and five needed stimulation, and the mothers in residence needed help in learning how to care for small children.
One of the early distinguishing features of The Infants’ Home was how mothers were united with their children and trained in housekeeping and cooking as a way to support their futures.
The Infants’ Home was incorporated under an act of parliament in 1924, and established its first long day care centre in 1936.
1937 was a breakthrough year for The Infants’ Home when it recorded nil infant mortality for the first time.
In 1965 the crew of HMAS Sydney adopted The Infants’ Home in memory of the 82 sailors who lost their lives on HMAS Voyager. The Voyager had supported The Infants’ Home before its collision with HMAS Melbourne off Jervis Bay in 1964.
The men of the Sydney wanted to continue the Voyager tradition. This wonderful partnership has included generous financial donations as well as many good-humoured working bees in the buildings and grounds at Ashfield.
Today, the Sydney continues to be one of our greatest supporters.
Through two world wars, the Great Depression, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, Bubonic Plague in 1900, and economic difficulties, The Infants’ Home evolved as the needs of young children and families continued to change.
In 1972, The Infants’ Home was the first organisation in NSW to accept Commonwealth funding and provide long day care for children from single parent families, and later for children where both parents worked or studied.
This was the first step in reducing The Infants’ Home’s intake of children into residential care. Long day care provided a practical alternative, allowing families to stay together.
By 1974 The Infants’ Home started sponsoring pilot schemes for family day care in five municipalities so mothers could care for small groups of other people’s children in private homes.
Family Day Care was a runaway success because it met a longstanding need in the community. After its first year in operation The Infants’ Home was managing a scheme that comprised 46 carers and 111 children.
The Women and Children’s Stress Centre started in 1977 to support children and families at risk. The centre – now called the Sydney Hope Family Cottage – opened in 1984 to support mothers with young babies.
In 2009 The Infants' Home established the SpOT Children's Clinic to offer speech pathology and occupational therapy to children with additional needs.
In 2013 stage one of the new Early Education and Care Centre opened to meet demand and bridge service gaps in the Inner West. The Infants' Home's Family Day Care service was renamed Family Day Care Sydney Wide, servicing the Inner West, Randwick and South Sydney, and Mosman.
In 2014, The Infants' Home partnered with Your Doctors to establish a GP clinic onsite in Ashfield, in the renovated Caretaker's Cottage, to provide a needed and convenient service to the community.
1874 – Orphanage established in Victoria Street Darlinghurst: 240 children and 90 mothers
1875 – Move to Stewart Street Paddington and first government grant of £1,000
1876 – Purchase of Henry Street Ashfield property; loan from Thomas Walker Esq. of Concord
1877 – Name changed to The Infants’ Home
1893 – First Board of Advice
1897 – First kindergarten
1901 – The Louise Taplin Ward built adjacent to the original stone house, followed by several other wards
1924 – Incorporation; The Infants’ Home Act passed by NSW Parliament
1926 – The Rachel Forster Wing opened debt free and occupied after substantial fundraising
1936 – Nursery school opened by Dame Enid Lyons
1937 – Mortality rate nil for the first time
1951 – Sydney Hope (the first baby) aged 78, visits The Infants’ Home; infant feeding and settling clinic established
1959 – Babies annexe opened by the Governor, Sir Eric Woodward
1965 – The Infants’ Home adopted by HMAS Sydney in memory of shipmates lost on the Voyager
1972 – First organisation to move from an institutional care model (orphanage) to child care (LDC, FDC and foster care); day care centre opened by the NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler
1977 – Women and children stress centre established
1984 – Exclusive multi-purpose hub for vulnerable families
2004 – Integrated child and family services
2010 – A fully-integrated child and family-centred hub: a centre of excellence
2011 – The Infants' Home is shortlisted by the Federal Department of Health to provide Medicare GP services under the Primary Care Infrastructure Grants Program
2013 – Opening of the new Early Education and Care Centre
2014 - Opening of a GP clinic onsite in Ashfield, in the renovated Caretaker's Cottage, in partnership with Your Doctors.
2014-2015- The Infants' Home celebrates its 140th anniversary year of providing essential services for children and families (May 2014-May 2015)
With more than 140 years of history, The Infants’ Home has a rich archive. We can help you trace the records of any family members who may have spent time at The Infants’ Home as a child. To find out more, click here.
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