Research

Sabrina Sidney is not a name which springs to mind when thinking of the Enlightenment; or the Industrial Revolution; or societies move towards a more child-centred society.

Sabrina was at the bottom of the Eighteenth Century pile; female, abandoned and illegitimate. But then she was chosen from one of the Thomas Coram Foundling Hospitals to become an Apprentice Wife; the subject of a unique experiment in education and matrimony undertaken by a gentleman named Thomas Day.

Friend to some of the men who powered both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Erasmus Darwin, Day believed the answer to society’s ills lay in education. A practical, rational and purposeful education that would breed up a new generation of Enlightenment wives. Sabrina would epitomize this education and in so doing, would become Mrs Thomas Day.

My research aims to tell Sabrina Sidney’s story, from her childhood at the Foundling Hospital through her brief residence in Thomas Day’s eccentric care to her later employment by the Rev Charles Burney.

I aim to consider why she can be described as a product of the early Industrial Revolution; how she symbolised the tentative shift of the figure of the child from the periphery of society to its centre; and the part she played in an unusual Enlightenment experiment.

It will uncover the biography of an unknown girl and explore Eighteenth Century concerns around children, childcare and education; concerns which still have resonances today.