Allmänna Barnhus in Stockholm Sweden

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Sweden > Orphanages in Sweden > Allmänna Barnhus in Stockholm Sweden

In 1785 it was decided to combine the Stora Barnhus and the Politibarnhus and call it the Allmänna Barnhus. This change also brought a new focus. Instead of raising the children, the orphanage would try to place the children in foster homes as quickly as possible. At this time the orphanage also began to require admittance fees, and maintenance fees depending on circumstances. The orphanage also received funding through charitable donations from wills or organizations. Admittance fees or maintenance fees were often paid annually, or in a “one time” lump sum. It cases where a mother could not pay the admittance fee, she might work at the orphanage. The orphanage took responsibility for custody and development (both in teaching and practical matters) to prepare the children to join mainstream society. They also changed the age of admittance. The orphanage became a place for all children from infant up to about 14 years old. Ideally the children would be placed into rural society as it offered more physical freedom, activity, cleaner air, and the hope of happier children. It also strengthened the agricultural workforce for the kingdom. This change also decreased operational costs with the hope of lowering the rate of child mortality.

After the 1790’s the rate of illegitimate children brought to the orphanage increased, as did the death rate especially among infants. Even then, it is believed that motivation to take an older child to the orphanage varied. Boys might be taken to the orphanage because they were viewed as troubled or bad, while girls might be taken because they were at risk without support. An orphanage would work with the Parish Poor Authority (Fattigvården) to find homes for placement. By the early 1800’s many newborn children were brought in from 1 of 2 maternity hospitals the Allmänna Barnbördshus or the ProPatria Barnbördshus, where in many cases the unwed mother died shortly after birth. As the mortality rate after giving birth in the maternity hospitals was high, many mothers chose to write their name and home residence on a piece of paper that would be sealed before the birth. If the mother died, then the sealed paper was turned in, with the infant at the time of admittance to the orphanage. There were also many private midwives available in the city who offered a room, and their services for hire.

Norrtulls sjukhus 2009.jpg

Sick or disabled children were not admitted, and many children became sick while at the orphanage due to poor hygiene and diet. One study showed, that 58 % of infants brought to the orphanage in 1825 did not survive the first year (52 % died in the orphanage, and 6% in their foster home.)[1] Further studies showed that only 1 of 3 children who passed through the orphanage made it to 14 years old. One reason for the high mortality rate was the living conditions that were cramped, barracks type living, with many people in each room. The orphanage doctor wrote in 1841, that the building was not well suited to the number of people in it, lacking light and clean air, along with a constant shortage of clean bedding.[2]

According to the government regulation for the Allmänna Barnhus in 1825, children were admitted under the following conditions:

Free Admittance if:

  • The child was a Värnlöst barn, meaning a child’s parents are deceased with no other support from family. The child must have been born in Stockholm City to parents who belonged to a city parish. If the child was not born in the city, then he (or she) must have come to the city through legal channels. Otherwise the child would be referred back to the Parish Poor Authority of their home parish (or the parish of their birth place) in a rural area.
  • The child was a Hittebarn, meaning a foundling (for example, abandoned on the steps of the orphanage.) In this case, there must be documentation from the city that describes where, and when, the child was found. The police and parish authorities would try to find the responsible party. If found, they were obligated to take the child back.
  • The child was a Remissbarn, meaning the parents belong to a parish in Stockholm city and had become very sick, in the poor house, or arrested. Once a parent recovered, re-established work, or was free from prison, they were expected to get the child from the orphanage.
  • The child was an Ambarn, meaning the admittance fee for a child was paid by work instead of cash. This was done by the child’s mother who worked as a wet-nurse among other jobs, usually for one year of acceptable service.

Fee Required if:

  • A single woman (who was not from Stockholm) came to the city to give birth and then brought the child to the orphanage. The required admittance was 66 riksdaler and 32 skilling banco.
  • The child was simply unwanted, even though the parents or family were able to provide support. These circumstances required an understanding and agreement with the orphanage director.[3]

Among the orphanage records, you will find references that show where a child was placed and how much financial assistance the foster parents received. The financial assistance to a foster family was often based on the age and gender of the child (relative to their work abilities.) This meant higher financial assistance for younger children, and lower for older children. Children placed in foster care would often move around between foster homes. Older children would work off the amount of financial assistance. The process and amount of financial assistance varied over time. By the late 1800’s the amount of financial assistance was used to facilitate schooling. At that time, the assistance was at its highest.

The Allmänna barnhus sent out notifications to parishes all over the kingdom, seeking families that would be interested in providing foster care in exchange for financial assistance. Sometimes this meant a child would be placed to a home that requested the least amount of support from the orphanage. Infants were easier to place in foster care. One reason was, the rate of compensation from the orphanage was highest for infants at 52 riksdaler banco per year. Then the amount decreased year by year until the child reached 7 when the amount was 12 riksdaler banco. This amount remained the same until the child reached 14 years old.[4]

Agreements were made between the orphanage and the foster parents by contract. Payments from the orphanage were made quarterly or every 6 months. Orphans were sent all over the kingdom for foster home placement. The child was expected to bring their clothing, an obedient and grateful attitude, and be willing to do the work that would be expected of a child. In some accounts the child even had a couple books to continue their schooling. Once they arrived in a parish, a local person would meet them, leading them to their new homes. The foster parent was expected to provide kindness, food, clothing, and Christian teaching.

By the second half of the 1800’s, the number of institutions for children increased. It was during this time period that Barnhems began to be created.

In December of 1885 the Allmänna Barnhus moved from the old location (by Drottniningatan 73) to a new and better location (by Norrtullsgatan 14) and the old stone building from the 1600’s was torn down.


See the Records of the Allmänna Barnhus in Stockholm, Sweden page.


  1. Historisk statistik för Sverige, del 1, 1720 – 1967, Stockholm 1969, s. 115
  2. Berg, Fr. Th., Förhandlingar rörande reoranisationen af Stockholms allmänna barnhus och clinicum i barnsjukdomar, Stockholm 1847, s. 7 och 12 f. (as referenced in ”Att forska om barn på Allmänna barnhuset” by Torsten Berglund.)
  3. Berglund, Torsten. ”Att forska om barn på Allmänna Barnhuset”, Släktforskarnas Års bok 1997.
  4. Berglund, Torsten. ”Att forska om barn på Allmänna Barnhuset”, Släktforskarnas Års bok 1997.


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Hedenborg, Susanna and Kvarnström, Lars. Det svenska samhället 1720 – 2006: Böndernas och arbetarnas tid. Studentlitteratur AB, Lund 2009.

Nordisk familjebok. Uggleupplagen 2, ”Barnhus”, Stockholm 1904, page 914

Clemmensson, Per and Andersson, Kjell. Släktforskaa vidare. Natur och Kultur, Falköping: 2003

Clemmensson, Per & Andersson, Kjell. Släktforska Steg för Steg. Natur och Kultur, Falköping 2005

Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, ”Barnhusbarn spreds över hela Sverige”. Släkthistorisk Forum 1983, no. 2

Reuterswärd, Elisabeth. ”Oäktingen” Fader Okänd. Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, Falköping 2011

Swedish Wikipedia Community. Allmänna Barnhuset. Wikipedia 2013