The Augustinian Theoretical Model
During the late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries, children were considered to be "small
imbecilic" creatures who need to be amused with frivolous
pastimes."1 This belief was based on the Augustinian theoretical
model, predominant at the time.
This perception of children was based on the Christian concept of the
postlapsarian man: man was conceived and born in sin. Thus, children
were seen as beings who were innately evil, not instilled with
Christian morals yet.
children were seen as bestial, savage, and completely lacking in
intelligence. The medical literature of that time particularly
reflected this way of thinking. For instance, swaddling infants and corsetting young children were prescribed to constrain and
control the "puny and disturbingly animal-like body of the infant and
the clumsy and uncoordinated figure of the
child."2 Throughout the eighteenth century, the medical texts
widely applied this perception of children. Indeed, there were
circulating manuals that denied the autonomy of the developing body
and emphasized control of the corporal form, especially in children.
This attempt to rigidly control the infant's posture and constrict
his form into that of a miniature man or woman, implies that the
infant was valued as an object. As part of his upbringing, he was
handled and manipulated with an abruptness and lack of subtlety.
Swaddling and the child's corset were used until the middle to the
late eighteenth century.
Within other fields of literature, the Augustinian view
was popular too. For example, authors such as F. Mauriceau claimed
that all infants regardless of gender should be corseted in order to
give "him an upright figure and prevent him for crawling on all fours
like an animal."3 Additional texts of Mauriceau reveal a general
horror and repulsion to the weak physical state and dependent status
of the infant. Society did not view childhood as a separate stage of
development from adulthood. For example in the introduction of this
site, several paintings depict the view that children were seen as little
adults; consequently, they were
often forced by society to act like adults.
At the beginning of the eighteenth
century, less of the pedagogical literature began to reflect this
view of children as "inherently evil." Instead, the developing view
was that the environment and education affects the character of
children. Practices such as swaddling and corsetting were seen as
cruel confinement , restricting the child's ability to grow and
thrive. For instance, Rousseau claims in Emile,
"The child has hardly left the mother's
womb, it has hardly begun to move and stretch its limbs, when it is
given new bonds. It is wrapped in swaddling bands, laid down with its
head fixed, its legs stretched out, and its arms by its sides; it is
wound round with linen and bandages of all sorts so that it cannot
move. The child is fortunate if it has room to breathe and if it is
laid on its side so that any water which should flow from its mouth
can escape; for it is not free to turn its head on one side for this
purpose. The new-born child needs to stir and stretch his limbs to
free them from the stiffness resulting from being curled up so long.
His limbs are stretched indeed, but he is not allowed to move them.
Even the head is confined by a cap. One would think they were afraid
the child should look as if he were alive. As a result the internal
impulses which should lead to growth find an insurmountable obstacle
in the way of the necessary movements. The child exhausts his
strength in vain struggles, or he gains strength very slowly. He was
freer and less constrained in the womb; he has gained nothing by
The early eighteenth century marked a
state of transition between the conflicting attitudes of the
physicians and enlightened educators.