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.

In addition, 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, Book 1:

"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 birth."4

The early eighteenth century marked a state of transition between the conflicting attitudes of the physicians and enlightened educators.