ColeValleyGirl wonders how the placement of a "nurse child" would have been arranged in the 1860s (UK).
I was not familiar with the term "nurse-child"/"nurse child" (as opposed to terms like "nursemaid," or even "wet nurse"), but the term seems well established. In use, I found its meaning could vary; good chance the term was more prevalent in the UK.
Hall Genealogy Website: Old Occupation Names, entry for "Nurse
Child." "A child being looked after by another family for payment."
There seem to be a wide range of genealogy-centric opinion on how the term was applied/used in the 19th century--from the temporary care circumstance this hypothesis suggests, to extended foster care-like practices and to those more extreme/more nefarious. See references to informal arrangements (including "no payment") in "Lyn S, 04 May 05")* and to extended services (akin to foster care) [StoryTeller, "Who do you think you are Magazine (forum)," 2009]. 1
"Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England"
Dorothy L. Haller's article (1989), "Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England," won an award from Department of History at Loyola University (New Orleans). I found the article exceptionally well referenced.
In Haller's article, the term "Baby Farming" was closely associated with term, "Nurse Child."
Haller cites news items of the relevant time (1860s). One such reference was "Baby Farming," from "Pall Mall Gazette, January 31, 1868, p. 5.x." It was least Haller's finding that most of the advertisements were "aimed at the mothers of illegitimate babies." A short clip follows from Haller's work. Please see the article for more details and specifics of her other references.
Baby farmers, the majority of whom were women, ran ads in newspapers
which catered to working class girls. On any given day a young mother
could find at least a dozen ads in the Daily Telegraph, and in the
Christian Times, soliciting for the weekly, monthly, or yearly care of
infants. .... A typical ad might read:
NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT -- The Advertiser, a Widow with a
little family of her own, and moderate allowance from her late
husband's friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young
child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent's care. Terms,
Fifteen Shillings a month; or would adopt entirely if under two months
for the small sum of Twelve pounds.
One comment on RootsChat, "Nurse Child" by peterarkell* related the circumstance to the 19th century English Poor Laws. peterarkell writes
Before the Elizabethan poorlaw was changed ... [the] care of
illegitimate children and their mothers was haphazard. The ... poor law changed this and placed the responsibility on
the mother [who may have been] unable to hold a job and to feed the
One solution ... was the baby farmer [who] would for a small fee,
offer to take care of the infant. As soon as the money stopped coming
(or before), the infant would be starved to death or just dumped in a
This procedure continued until the end of the century when horror
stories in the newspapers, compelled the government to act.
Relative to ColeValleyGirl's case
The research I did suggested a wide opinion about the circumstance of "nurse child," including that it frequently referred to situations that do not seem related to ColeValleyGirl's case.
Without other information, this would probably remain a noteworthy hypothesis for me. There seem quite a few moving parts with the hypothesis:
- We aren't sure of where or when the parents married.
- Are there hospital archives that explain more about the woman's hospital stay? The "insanity" question on Genealogy.SE some time back gave some information about women being admitted to hospitals for pregnancy or childbirth related conditions--but there wasn't great frequency. If the stay were to have extended through the birth of the child, it would have been pretty long (from likely before but at least by the date of the census though maybe the birth of a child; say 2 months).
- Lack of other options--would there have been no family or friends who could care for this daughter if her mother had taken ill?
1 For a collection of links on RootsChat, see its Lexicon entry, "Nurse Child." You'll need to scroll to the entry. The second of those links is to topic "Nurse Child" (by peterarkell, mentioned above). The last link mentioned includes a number of folks inquiring, many seem in the same time period as this challenge. ("What does 'Nurse Child' mean?)