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Thomas Coram's pocketbook with the signatures of the 21 ladies who signed his petition to establish the Foundling Hospital
Courtesy of the Foundling Museum
Girls & Women

This Museum Wants to Replace Portraits of Men With Women for a Very Good Reason

In 1739, London’s Foundling Hospital — established to care for children “at risk of abandonment” — became the first children’s charity and public art gallery in the UK. Today, the hospital is known as the Foundling Museum and the charity it houses is called Coram, after Thomas Coram, the hospital’s founder.

But Coram would not have been able to create his hospital and charity without the help of several influential women — and it’s these women the Foundling Museum hopes to honor in an exhibition this fall, just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of British women’s suffrage.

Exciting news: we’ve just launched an @ArtFund #ArtHappens crowdfunding campaign! Between now and midnight on 5 March we need to raise £20,000 for our autumn exhibition Ladies of Quality & Distinction. In the centenary of female suffrage, this ambitious show will reveal the 21 extraordinary Georgian ladies whose vital support enabled Thomas Coram to establish the Foundling Hospital, saving the lives of thousands of vulnerable babies. We have tracked down portraits of these brilliant women, whose vision and empathy galvanised Coram’s campaign. They are currently scattered across the UK, but with your help we will be able to bring them to the Museum and replace the portraits of the male governors in the Picture Gallery with the 21 ‘ladies of quality and distinction’ who put their name to Coram’s very first petition to the King. We need to raise £20,000 to make this exhibition happen. Can you help us? If you donate, you will receive a special reward to say thank you. See our biog for the donate link. #vote100 #instawomen #womensrights #equality #rights #donate #causes #fundraising #fundraisingevent #help #thankyou #100years #votes #suffrage #womenshistory #votesforwomen #suffragettes

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Coram campaigned for 17 years to open the hospital and establish his charity, according to the Foundling Museum’s website. During this time he appealed to many wealthy and powerful men for their support but did not succeed.

Take Action: Let’s consider our own biases as we build a world where everyone sees equal #WeSeeEqual

Instead he found sympathy for his cause among a group of forward-thinking women the museum has called “ladies of quality and distinction,” whose instrumental support in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital has gone largely unrecognized for nearly 300 years, according to Caro Howell, the museum’s director.

To honor these women, the Foundling Museum plans to replace paintings of male governors currently in its Picture Gallery with portraits of the 21 women who made both the creation of the hospital and later the museum possible.

By crowdfunding, the museum hopes to raise £20,000 to bring the portraits, which are currently scattered around the country, together as part of its year-long celebration of women’s suffrage.

The Foundling Hospital ultimately cared for and educated about 25,000 children, according to the Foundling Museum — and these women were integral to that effort. 

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“The role of these women has been under-recognised and art lovers have an opportunity to change the way that history is told,” Howell said

By putting these women front and center in the Picture Gallery, the exhibition will help address the unequal representation of women in the historical narrative of the museum.

Global Citizen campaigns on Global Goal 5: gender equality. You can take action here to support a world in which women are free from bias and discrimination.