Historical Timeline of Orphanages in Sweden

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Sweden > Orphanages in Sweden > Historical Timeline of Orphanages in Sweden

Here is a timeline of major events regarding the orphanages in Sweden.

Medieval The monasteries, abbeys, and sanctuaries provided care for orphans.
1619 The 1619 Law prescribed that city administrators throughout the kingdom should have an orphanage to reduce begging.
1624 The 1624 Law stated an orphanage should be created in every province and city in the kingdom. The Joachim Firbrandts correctional facility/orphanage was created on Gråmunkholmen.
1633 Stora Barnhuset founded in Stockholm. This was the 1st and largest institution for children in Sweden. It was built upon land that was donated by the Crown. It took in children whose parents died, or by parents who could no longer provide for the children.
1638 Stora Barnhuset (1638 - 1785) accepted children aged 5 to 14 years old that needed care.
1642 The 1642 welfare ordinance stated that children who do not have children to take care of them are to be taken to an orphanage which is supported by the government.
1700’s The rate of illegitimacy increased. In consequence more children are taken to the orphanages.
1753 Frimurarbarnhus established in Stockholm
1754 The Politiekollegiums Barnhus (for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years) was established.
1757 Frimurarbarnhus established in Göteborg
1750’s Two orphanages established for younger children, Frimurarbarnhus in Stockholm and Politibarnhus in Danviken. When the children were old enough at the Politibarnhus they were often sent to the Stora Barnhus. Prior to the 1750’s the number of children in the Stora Barnhus varied between 100 and 200 children. After the 1750’s the numbers increased towards 300 to 350 children. The mortality rate was high. Private orphanages were established in other Swedish cities.
1750’s It’s estimated that the birth rate of illegitimate births was no more than about 2 %
1775 The Public Maternity Hospital in Stockholm (Allmänna Barnbördshus) was established.
1778 Gusatv III passed the Barnamordsplakatet giving women the right to leave a child at the orphanage anonymously (providing neither the father’s name nor the mother’s name.) This legally provided a way to leave a child brought in by an “unknown mother”. In 1778 there were 2,487 children that the Allmänna barnhus had responsibility for.
1785 The Stora Barnhus was combined with the Politiekollegiums Barnhus and was called the Allmänna Barnhus. The orphanage changed its purpose from admitting children to raise, to receiving children and the placement to foster homes all over the country. The children were brought as orphans, foundlings, and by referral. This included a fee (depending on the circumstances) or in exchange for work such as wet-nurse by the mother. Then it was the goal of the barnhus to place the child in foster care as quickly as possible. Most children at this time were only at the orphanage for 1 or a few months.
1791 The Serafimerordensgillet (the Order of the Serafim) was instructed to supervise the funds for the housekeeping of all hospitals and orphanages that received government funds. The order created a fund to assist unwed mothers all over the kingdom.
Mid 1820’s Allmänna Barnhuset placed about 2,400 children to foster homes (1,500 in rural areas and 900 in Stockholm.) Two thirds of children brought to Allmänna barnhuset were unwanted illegitimate children (which required an admittance fee.) About one third of infants did not survive the first year. At this time the Allmänna Barnhus was providing for orphans at the orphanage, children in foster care, and children (underhållsbarn) whose parents needed extra support that lived in Stockholm city.
1833 Legostadga law (a law that regulated the agreement of employment between the employer and the employee.) At this time it meant that a foster child could not work for someone else before they were 21 years old, unless they got permission.
1840’s Over half of the birth’s in Stockholm city were out of wedlock, with a rate of 5 % in rural areas. One reason for this was the amount of single women who went to Stockholm to give birth secretly.
1850’s It’s estimated that the birth rate of illegitimate births was about 10 %. During the 2nd half of the 1800’s the number of barnhems and barnhus increased around the country.
1856 According to the mid-wife ordinance of 1856, the mid-wife should counsel the mother to write her name and place of residence on a piece of paper that would be sealed. Then it was up to the woman to have the priest place his seal upon it, and then finds a secure place for storage. Many of these sealed papers are among the parish collections. The purpose of this was to provide a way for the mother to get her child back if she desired. The sealed name papers could also be opened at the request of the child later in life.
1863 With the municipal reform of 1862, the responsibility for the poor in a local parish was turned over to the municipalities (Kommun).
1886 The Allmänna barnhus in Stockholm on Drottningatan was torn down. The orphanage moved to where Norrtulls Hospital is today.
1901 The Småbarns – eller Spädbarnshem in Stockholm was established for mothers that were still nursing their infant children.
1903 The Barnavårdsnämnden existed as an entity within the Church structure along with the School Board.
1917 The Barnamordplakatet was abolished. No more anonymous birth.
1918 Legal adoption was introduced.
After 1917 The Barnavårdsnämnden assisted with foster home placement.
1922 The Poor Assistance Society (Fattigvårdsförbundet ) published a directory listing 265 barnhems (of different kinds) around Sweden.
1924 The entire barnhus and barnhem system was reorganized.
1926 The Barnavårdsnämden was a function within all Municipalities
1945 Barnavården (within the Municipalities and Courts) took over Allmänna Barnhuset.


Sveriges Släktforskarbörbund, “Att forska om barn på Allmänna barnhuset” Släktforskarnas årsbok ´97. City Tryck Karlstad AB, Karlstad 1997.

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

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

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