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Care and Conflict

The Story of the Jewish Orphanage at Norwood

Lawrence Cohen

Norwood, an Anglo-Jewish childcare institution founded in the late nineteenth century, was one of several hundred such institutions in the UK, but the only Jewish one. Throughout its history, Norwood had the unusual task of adapting its childcare approach to both British and Jewish concerns. This book offers a unique study of one residential child institution within the broader British context, tracing the development of the institution and changing concepts of childcare over nearly one hundred years.
The story of Norwood is told chronologically, beginning with its origins in the early nineteenth century and its growth before the First World War. The inter-war years saw a period of stagnation that paved the way for the post-war revolution in institutional childcare, the demise of the orphanage idea and, with it, the demolition of Norwood. The book provides a narrative of the rise and fall of the childcare institution as much as the story of Norwood.
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Chapter 7 The End of Institutionalism: Revolution at Norwood


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The End of Institutionalism: Revolution at Norwood

Progressive and Functional Theories

At Norwood, the children’s perspective was an institutional imposition – the reality of daily life. The institution’s perspective was based on the rhetoric of intention – the ideal of a substitute home. Between the two poles of rhetoric and reality curved a circle of virtuousness that formed the ideological basis of Norwood institutionalism. The intention was spelt out in 1872 ‘to be a substitute home for the family home, to be a place of Jewish rescue from a gentile pauper school and to be a place for deserving children’. The intention was a positive one and the annual reports frequently testified to it. In the 1933 report it was affirmed that ‘the modern charity must seek to render the child confident and self-reliant’ and a year later added its progressiveness was marked by the endless pursuit of the ideal. The institutional philosophy incorporated a concept of goodness that was axiomatic and self-fulfilling and from these reports highlighted self-reliance and progress. They built up a historical image that fulfilled the good intention. It was an institution where there was little delinquency though certain boys required disciplinary treatment, where there was a general lack of repression and where ‘the absolute naturalness of the children’ generally held sway. Indeed, Norwood was that ideal of ‘a real home’ unlike the ‘barrack-like’ institution.1

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