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Adult-Led Conversations Between Adult Narrators and Child Readers

Conversing with Readers in Aunt Judy’s Magazine: Building a Community of Young Middle-Class Philanthropists to Fight the ‘Grim Nurses’

Converser avec les lecteurs et lectrices du Aunt Judy’s Magazine, ou construire une communauté de jeunes philanthropes de classe moyenne pour combattre les « sinistres infirmières »
Matthew Dunleavy


Under the editorship of Margaret Gatty (1809-1873)—an amateur naturalist and the author of several didactic fairy-stories—a new monthly, six-penny magazine was launched in 1866: Aunt Judy’s Magazine. By the time of its first issue, the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street (GOSH) had already been serving impoverished children for fourteen years. Dr Charles West founded the hospital in 1852 and it quickly became popular with philanthropists, most notably, in the early years, Charles Dickens who described the hospital as counteracting the destructive effects of the ‘Grim Nurses: Poverty and Sickness’. Shortly after the founding of the magazine, in 1868, ‘Aunt Judy,’ the editorial persona used in the magazine, used the rapport she had built up with her child readers to encourage them to donate to GOSH. The magazine and its readers would go on to raise thousands of pounds in individual donations and monthly, quarterly, and annual subscriptions to establish several ‘Aunt Judy’s Cots’ for poor, sick children, in addition to helping with the construction of a new wing of the hospital. This essay does not analyze how Aunt Judy’s Magazine helped the hospital but investigates the ways the ‘Correspondence’ pages were used for the ideological work of creating a new generation of middle-class philanthropists. The analysis of the correspondence pages of Aunt Judy’s Magazine reveals how the conversational tone of the fictional persona of ‘Aunt Judy’ helped build a trusting relationship with the child readers which was instrumental in recruiting them to fight the ‘Grim Nurses’.

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‘the two grim nurses, Poverty and Sickness, who bring these children before you, preside over their births, rock their wretched cradles, nail down their little coffins, pile up the earth above their graves’.
Jones [Gwynfryn], ‘The Hospital for Sick Children’, Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXI (1868): 171.

1Aunt Judy’s Magazine (1866-1885) used this extract from a speech Dickens gave in 1858 on behalf of the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to open its first article about the hospital. The two grim nurses haunt the nine pages dedicated to the hospital in the January 1868 edition of the magazine and its many references to GOSH into the mid-1880s. These metaphorical nurses help the magazine reinforce the line that demarcates their working-class and impoverished subjects—those susceptible to poverty and sickness and in need of the assistance of GOSH—from the middle-class readership of the newly established monthly six-penny magazine. Dr Charles West had founded the hospital in 1852 and immediately utilized a variety of fundraising schemes to support its operation. The hospital ‘quickly became popular with subscribers’, most notably, in the early years, Charles Dickens (Waddington 11). It is somewhat unsurprising then that, after the Dickensian epigraph, Aunt Judy’s Magazine asked its readers for donations towards GOSH.

  • 1 A taxonomy that was popularized and dispersed most notably in Henry Mayhew’s profiles and ‘intervie (...)

2Throughout its run, starting under the editorship of Margaret Gatty (1809–1873)—who, by this time, was an amateur naturalist and the author of a number of didactic fairy-stories—and continuing, after her death, under the editorship of her daughters Juliana Ewing (1841–1885) and Horatia Eden (1846–1945), Aunt Judy’s Magazine attempted to use its pages and relationship with GOSH to create a new generation of middle-class philanthropists and reinforce the taxonomy of a deserving and undeserving poor (Drain).1 The magazine and its readers raised thousands of pounds in individual donations; collected monthly, quarterly, and annual subscriptions to establish a number of ‘Aunt Judy’s Cots’ for impoverished, sick children; and helped with the construction of a new wing of the hospital. Kristine Moruzi has recently outlined how Aunt Judy’s Magazine helped promote a Christian middle-class ideal for philanthropy and used the ‘Aunt Judy’s Cots’ campaign to ‘help maintain reader enthusiasm’ for charitable giving (Moruzi 197). Moruzi’s article ‘“Donations need not be large to be acceptable”: Children, Charity, and the Great Ormond Street Hospital in Aunt Judy’s Magazine, 1868–1885’ is a necessary precursor for my engagement with Aunt Judy’s Magazine as she provides a succinct reading of over twenty years of the magazine to illustrate how the cot campaign ‘promoted a valuable charitable cause while also defining and reinforcing a charitable ideal for children’ (207). Moruzi reveals that the middle-class readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine were encouraged to sympathize with the patients of GOSH and direct that sympathy towards being part of a philanthropic mission to assist a ‘deserving’ poor. This article examines how the healthy, middle-class readership of Aunt Judy’s Magazine is invited to sympathize with the sickly, underprivileged children of GOSH: my analysis of the correspondence pages of Aunt Judy’s Magazine sheds light on how the conversational tone of the fictional persona of ‘Aunt Judy’ helps build a trusting relationship with the child readers, which is instrumental in turning them into a new generation of miniature philanthropists able to judge who deserves sympathy and their philanthropic help.

3Throughout the nearly twenty-year-run of Aunt Judy’s Magazine, the editors of the magazine took on the persona of ‘Aunt Judy’ to talk directly to their readers. In this article, editorials by Margaret Gatty and Horatia Eden will then only be attributed to ‘Aunt Judy’ in order to underline the particular way the public persona of the fictional ‘Aunt Judy’ was used to communicate and resonate with readers, thereby resulting in the creation of a large community of ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’.

‘Every little maks a mickle’: Aunt Judy’s Nieces and Nephews, the Little Philanthropists

4In the first issue of Aunt Judy’s Magazine, Margaret Gatty ‘promised stories as a “staple commodity”’, in addition to natural history, indoor amusements, high quality scientific articles, and ‘allegorical pictures illustrating “some moral truth”’ (Onslow 249). It is clear that this new magazine was intended to educate as well as amuse its audience. The readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine were first introduced to GOSH less than two years later, on January 1st, 1868 in a nine-page article simply, and aptly, titled ‘The Hospital for Sick Children’. This article, attributed to ‘Gwynfryn’ (Dorothea Jones (1828–1885)), opens with a short epigraph taken from a ten-year-old speech given by Dickens on behalf of the Hospital for Sick Children, the very same quote that appears in the epigraph to this article. The quote suggests ‘Poverty’ and ‘Sickness’ are a deadly combination and work together to make the impoverished children of London and Britain suffer. Gwynfryn picks up on Dickens’s personification and asserts that these ‘nurses’ are unknown to her readers: ‘In those happy homes, the first of the two grim nurses is more phantom-like and unreal than a ghost; she never comes, or if her shadow is felt sometimes, it is not the dark thing told of here. The second comes sometimes, but she cannot do her worst without her sister’s aid’ (Jones 171). Gwynfryn wishes to bring to the attention of her child readers the intersection of health and class, thus inviting them to reflect upon their fortunate position, one they share with the rest of the Aunt Judy community. As members of the middle class, they have likely never experienced poverty—its life-and-death realities are probably unfathomable to them. The readers of Aunt Judy are incited to understand that GOSH is not just battling sickness but also helping redress the unjust pain brought about by destitution. ‘Sickness’ is indeed only successful in destroying poor children because ‘Poverty’ paves the way:

The grim nurses entered, Poverty first, making the way easy for Sickness. Poverty stripped them (the mother and her children) of their clothes, till the winter wind made them shiver in their rags. Poverty left them little to eat, and less to wear. Cold and hungry, they were ready for that other evil sister, Sickness . . . They die, those poor little children, in London, and all the great towns of England and Ireland and Scotland, by thousands every year. (171)

5As Gwynfryn has already established that the readers are lucky enough to be protected from the first nurse, they can see how their position in society protects them from an early passing. Although GOSH is situated in London, Gwynfryn stresses that this is an issue across the British Isles; the repetition of ‘and’ signals the seriousness of the problem while also emphasizing just how widespread the reach of the ‘grim nurses’ is. This allows Gwynfryn to break down the geographic barriers between her readers too, encouraging them to think of GOSH as not merely a potential solution for a London-only problem, but also for a larger British problem, a problem the readers will be encouraged to assist in tackling by the end of the article.

6Gwynfryn spends the bulk of the article describing the great work completed by the hospital each and every day, ensuring that nurse Poverty is vanquished there: ‘there is nothing melancholy about [the hospital]’, ‘glad childish laughter may be heard’ from ‘many little creatures from two to five years old (many of them), amusing themselves so quietly, sitting up in their cribs playing with their toys’, as ‘every child had numbers of playthings, for people are constantly sending them some’ (173‒74). Gwynfryn utilizes a number of plural forms for the items the children now find themselves inundated with—there are ‘toys’ and ‘numbers of playthings’, and if they should run out a never-ending supply is ‘constantly’ being sent to the hospital—this is in stark contrast with the scarcity in the earlier description where the nurses ‘strip’ the children of everything they have. The nurses and doctors at GOSH are presented as warriors fighting off Poverty and Sickness for the ‘ten thousand’ ‘poor little puny’ patients they help each year (173).

7After establishing the reader’s position (of wealth), the patient’s position (of poverty), and the hospital’s position (of assistance), the article ends with a call-to-action for the readers, asking each household to save even the smallest amount of superfluous money:

What if, in every one of those many happy homes of England, there was a box kept on behalf of the Hospital for Sick Children? The result would be that more than ten times as many poor little creatures could be saved. Though only a few shillings, or even less, came from the children in each house at the year’s end, it would be a wonderful help; for as they say far north, you know, ‘every little maks a mickle.’ So all these pence, or sixpences, which would probably have melted into barley-sugar and bonbons (individually), accumulated into a great sum, would save hundreds of children from suffering and early death. (179)

8Gwynfryn’s direct address to the child readers (‘you know’) suggests a shared knowledge and intimacy and encourages them to see themselves as part of a conversation between members of a community of knowledgeable, privileged readers with the ability to make a large difference. She does not ask them to tell parents or family members to support GOSH, but tries to persuade them to actively become guardians of the poor so that they can later say ‘To-day I have done something to drive away the “Grim Nurses”’ (179). Gwynfryn speaks for the reader, constructing their words in an imagined future when they are able to take pride in waging battle against poverty and sickness. The request is presented as incredibly reasonable and the result extremely fruitful; if the readers are able to stop their own indulgences and sacrifice ‘barley-sugar’ and ‘bonbons’, they will actively help the hospital assist ‘ten times’ the ten thousand already benefitting from GOSH when the grim nurses come calling. The parenthetical ‘individually’ acknowledges that each reader may feel they have very little to offer, but together as a larger community their impact can be ‘great’. This comparison of middle-class treats to the lives of the poor allows Gwynfryn to insinuate that only the most selfish, un-Christian reader would be unwilling to give up their bonbons to help the unfortunate.

9With the exception of this initial article and a handful of others, updates on GOSH were confined to the pages devoted to ‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. In these correspondence pages an effort is made to give the impression that Aunt Judy converses with her readers; Aunt Judy is portrayed as reading the letters sent by her readers and relating anything pertinent in the correspondence pages with her replies. Moving updates on GOSH to these correspondence pages created an equalizing effect amongst the readers and Aunt Judy: each reader was in effect talked to as an equal member of a philanthropic movement, regardless of what they suggested or what they donated. The conversational tone in these correspondence pages was central to establishing and maintaining the type of relationship with its readers that the magazine needed in order to persuade them to be part of the Aunt Judy Magazine philanthropic campaigns.

  • 2 For future citations for the ‘Aunt Judy Correspondence’ pages, the in-text citation will simply ind (...)

10In the first ‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’ with space allotted to GOSH, equal space is given to ‘the children at a Country Parsonage’ who have ‘set up a box, with a hole in the lid, and put in what [they] can [them]selves’ to donate towards the hospital as to a clergyman who ‘is thinking of putting up a Contribution Box in the porch of his church for the benefit of the Hospital’ (‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’, Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXII, 256).2 All the efforts made to raise money for GOSH are then presented as equally worthy—and Aunt Judy’s role in persuading her readers to take an active part in the GOSH campaign is made apparent. The children at the unnamed parsonage are said to emphatically justify their action: ‘we do like your magazine so much’, which shows that they had already been drawn into the rhetoric employed by the magazine, their appreciation of the periodical being transformed into a desire to help; the clergyman organizing donations in his parish is said to have been propelled by the ‘touching account of the charity’ given in Aunt Judy’s Magazine (AJM IV.XXII, 256).

11Ten months after the start of the fundraising for the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot,’ Aunt Judy’s Magazine uses the religious holiday of Christmas to further persuade middle-class children to offer charitable support to the poor. Aunt Judy acknowledges that during that time, some of her ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews’ may wish to indulge in their own happiness and ignore the realities of those still succumbing to Dickens’s grim nurses: ‘Even the kindest of happy and well children—those most ready to give of their pocket-money to help the sad sick ones—would like to forget, for Christmas time at any rate, that there are those others going through pain and suffering’ (‘Christmas in a Hospital’, AJM VI.XXXII, 101). Aunt Judy assures her readers that these children should not feel guilty: they are not selfish (in fact, they are, in all likelihood, on the subscription list for the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’) but succumbing to ‘a natural feeling [that] grown-up people share’ (AJM VI.XXXII, 101). Aunt Judy adopts her reader’s perspective here, referring to adults as ‘grown-up people’, and assures them that she appreciates their concerns. Aunt Judy is not promoting a martyr-like model of middle-class philanthropy, whereby all earthly possessions are handed over to the charity and bodily indulgences are denied, but rather persuading the children that they have a duty to always be mindful of the working-class other: ‘it is quite another thing to inquire how far the sick and sad little-ones may be comforted and have their trails alleviated, and into this no one need be afraid to look. For surely even the happiest of the well children will be made additionally happy by finding that the ill ones can have a share in happiness and enjoyment’ (AJM VI.XXXII, 101). Aunt Judy frames philanthropy as a source of happiness and not as a sacrifice, appealing to the readers’ feelings, highlighting the joy that will come from sharing their treats. Replying to an inquiry from a young reader from Kidderminster, who asks if ‘fruit, jelly, sweets, and that kind of thing’ are given to the children at the hospital, Aunt Judy informs the young reader and all the readers that ‘on the 11th of this month [November] the hospital received from an unknown friend so bountiful a supply of magnificent grapes, that there was abundance for every child and nurse in the wards, leaving a store for a week or two besides’ and then claims that the readers should share in the pleasure of this donation: ‘“How jolly for the children and nurses!” we hear our young readers exclaim. Yea, verily! But rely upon it, it must be jollier still for the sender’ (AJM VI.XXXII, 104). Aunt Judy creates an imaginary conversation with her readers, implying that she can ‘hear’ them responding to the news about the grapes. The conversational tone conceals the author’s intention of influencing her readers, as she stresses the way they ‘must’ feel after sending such a gift. While the correspondence pages give the impression of a two-way conversation between Aunt Judy and her readers, she actually utilizes the conversational tone to persuade her readers of the value of becoming ideal middle-class philanthropists, encouraging them to see the value of directing their energy towards helping an impoverished other. Peter Shapely rightly points out that voluntary charities, like the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’ fund had a ‘subscriber-recipient relationship at the centre of their structure and activities’, which created a ‘dominant power relationship between those who provided the benefits and those who received aid’ (Shapely 226). Aunt Judy encourages her readers to ignore the bodily enjoyment brought about by treats and take pleasure in being at the top of the subscriber-recipient relationship and their ability, brought about by their privileged position in society, to give aid to those who need assistance.

  • 3 Looking at the late-Victorian professional psychological and philosophical journal Mind, Susan Lanz (...)

12Aunt Judy consistently presents philanthropic giving as tied to sympathy, feeling, and deep emotion: ‘Very affecting circumstances are connected with some of the donations. Whole histories of tender feelings might be read in them—from the gentle and almost wondering sympathy of children who have never known illness, to the deeper emotions of mothers whose dear ones have been either taken to Paradise or spared them after much tribulation’ (AJM VI.XXXIII, 188). In Scenes of Sympathy, Audrey Jaffe argues that Victorian sympathy, a descendant of Adam Smith’s sympathetic identification, allowed the agent (in this case, the subscribers to ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’) to create their own object of sympathy rather than directly address the actual subjects: ‘The act of looking at a sympathetic object provokes a narrative in which that object is by definition—the term “object” says it all—displaced into representation. The tendency to ward off actual bodies in the sympathetic encounter, replacing them with cultural fictions and self-projections’ (Jaffe 7). The readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine do not need to face the ‘actual bodies’ at GOSH, but simply read and consume the sympathetic objects presented to them by Aunt Judy, thereby allowing them to create for themselves a narrative to drive their charity. The subscriber lists published each month in the correspondence pages offer an insight into how subscribers represented themselves and their relationship to philanthropy through self-given titles that act like mini-histories of their sympathy, ranging from memories to religious identifications: ‘Fifteen troublesome Children, Brighton’, ‘in the beloved name and memory of A. C. A. M.’, ‘a Scrap Book (made by themselves) from two little sisters who sympathise with the sick children’, ‘the contents of Percy Maxwell Haworth’s money box and toy cupboard, sent by a sorrowful mother’, ‘three sisters who admire Aunt Judy’s Magazine, and wish to help the poor sick children’, ‘an Easter offering from well-wishers in Jersey’, ‘in memory of my dear little boys, Jack and Edgar’, and ‘four Little Ladybirds in remembrance of Aunt Emmie’s Birthday’ (AJM IV.XXIV, 380; AJM VIII.L, 510-11; AJM VI.XXXIII, 191; AJM VIII.XLIX, 448). While some subscribers playfully signed their messages (as is the case for instance in the following examples: the ‘proceeds of a Fancy Bazaar conducted by a Squirrel’, or ‘the School-room fine box of two Tigers’), the short selection above illustrates that many identified themselves and their donation in relation to someone lost: ‘Percy Maxwell Haworth’, or the ‘dear little boys, Jack and Edgar’, or wished to spell out their feelings and moral values: ‘two little sisters who sympathise with the sick children’ and ‘well-wishers in Jersey’ (AJM VIII.XLIX, 448; AJM VI.XXXII, 126). Regardless of the professional debates during the period regarding the definition of sympathy,3 the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’ subscription lists reveal that it was important for these readers to frame their sympathy within narratives that encapsulated their personal history or identity. While some subscribers simply provided their name, many wished to ensure that their donation was presented within a particular context in an attempt to establish a sympathetic bridge between themselves as subjects and the object of their sympathy. Part of Aunt Judy’s conversation with her readers and efforts to persuade them to join the magazine’s philanthropic movement centered around displaying these objects of sympathy—the poor children at GOSH—offering them up for inspection in a light that inspired sympathy and garnered support.

‘Bear[ing] fruit’: The Bodily, Moral, and Spiritual Cleansing of the Poor

13Throughout the years of the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’ program—a program that would grow to contain multiple cots, a building fund, and a ‘Work Society’ that would expand the focus of the philanthropic efforts and create clothes for ‘all the Children’s Hospitals in London’—readers were introduced to the numerous children that found themselves in one of the cots sponsored by readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine (‘Aunt Judy’s Work Society’, AJM [n.s.] II.III, 189). These updates were part of the conversations with subscribers in the ‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’ pages and provided details about each patient to keep readers informed of how these impoverished, sick children were, or were not, recovering. These monthly check-ins, however, were not confined only to apprising readers of the health benefits of GOSH, but to provide a sketch of the patients and fitting them, as Moruzi explains, into the character of the ‘deserving’ poor (199‒200). Andrea Tanner claims that ‘children’s hospitals in the United Kingdom in part developed from [a] growing concern for the child as a worthy recipient of attention in his or her own right, and from the attendant sentimentalization of children, whether sick or well’ (136‒37). Aunt Judy’s Magazine latches on to this growing concern and romanticizes the children entering GOSH by focusing on their innocence and a seemingly inherent goodness that has not been degraded by poverty or sickness. When describing a new patient, some time after the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’ program expanded to sponsor cots in multiple wards, Aunt Judy focuses on the patient’s religious convictions, patience, and appreciation for education:

There is a very patient older child in the Louise Ward now, named Ethel. At first she had always to lie perfectly still on her back; now she is on her face, and looks very uncomfortable; but she is always cheerful and uncomplaining, whatever treatment is thought good for her. She loves to talk of her country home, of her kind clergyman and his wife, and of the school she attends. A wonderful school it must be for getting children on, for Ethel tells of a boy she knows who ‘isn’t quite four, and he’s passed one examination, and got a stiffercate’. (AJM XVIII.CLXIV, 127)

  • 4 According to the records of the Historic Hospital Admission Records Project (HHARP).

14Aunt Judy focuses on the merits of Ethel in an attempt to answer the following questions: why does she deserve this cot? Why does she deserve the reader’s sympathy? Does she fit the mould of the ‘deserving’ poor? Ethel ‘uncomplaining[ly]’ allows the doctors and nurses to treat her hip disease; she does not fight their assistance but is ‘cheerful’ and appreciative as the lucky recipient of philanthropic help from the readers. By the time of this report of November 12th, 1879, Ethel would have been in the hospital for a number of months (she was admitted on July 25th, 1879),4 which gave her ample time to talk of many different things with her nurses and bedmates, but the only topics that Aunt Judy’s Magazine reports she ‘loves to talk of’ constitute the foundations of middle-class citizenship: family (‘her country home’), religion (‘her kind clergyman’), and education (‘the school she attends’). The last topic forms the source of an anecdote focusing on Ethel’s mispronunciation of certificate (‘stiffercate’)—Aunt Judy employing italics to ensure this quaint blunder is not missed and Ethel’s innocence is successfully established. The use of ‘stiffercate’ highlights the orality of the passage, as readers are turned into listeners, who presumably have to repeat the word out loud to understand that Ethel is attempting to say certificate. The malapropism also acts as a demarcation of her class and her position in relation to Aunt Judy’s Magazine readers; the employment of class-based humour at the expense of Ethel is a subtle reminder that although she is deserving of sympathy, she is still coded as lesser than the readers.

  • 5 Special thanks to the Archive Services at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation (...)
  • 6 John Tagg claims that ‘the portrait is [. . .] a sign whose purpose is both the description of an i (...)

15While Aunt Judy’s conversational tone encourages the readers to identify with the patients of GOSH in an attempt to create a sympathetic link with the ‘deserving’ poor, there is always a tension with the implicit belief that the readers are superior to these objects of sympathy and are playing an important role, like GOSH, in guiding these impoverished children towards an imitation of middle-class values and conventions. Presenting the patients as adhering to middle-class respectability is not unique to Aunt Judy’s Magazine. The hospital itself expected a high level of cleanliness even before children entered the hospital: ‘children were given a robe and slippers when they were admitted, but parents were expected to present children in unragged and clean clothing’ (Tanner 140). Cartes de visite used by the hospital for fundraising at the time show clean children, comfortable and warm as they are bundled in large robes and blankets. Donations are evident in the images, for example a doll that accompanies a young boy (Fig. 1) and flowers strewn across a girl’s bed (Fig. 2).5 These little figures inhabiting the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot’ conform to middle-class cleanliness rather than present an image of the usual ragged, poor ‘ragamuffin’ typical in popular depictions of poverty during the period. The individual identities of the children portrayed in these photographs are removed and they are inscribed with the identity most pertinent to Aunt Judy’s fundraising efforts: the deserving poor.6 Their cleanliness, combined with being situated within the confines of a charity cot, creates a narrative about the value of GOSH and those who reap the benefits of its healthcare services. They simultaneously elicit identification in the readers—these children are clean and tidy, like the readers of the magazine—but also invoke object-based sympathy—they are also poor, sickly children that can be pitied and deserve help.

Fig. 1. ‘The “Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot”, at the Children’s Hospital Ormond Street’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Fig. 1. ‘The “Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot”, at the Children’s Hospital Ormond Street’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Fig. 2. ‘One of the Little Patients at the Hospital for Sick Children’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Fig. 2. ‘One of the Little Patients at the Hospital for Sick Children’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.
  • 7 For a detailed overview of the history and legacy of The Child-Savers, see Miroslava Chavez-Garcia, (...)

16Katharina Boehm’s analysis of a Daily Telegraph article about GOSH at the time corroborates this push for an ‘astonishing correlation between physical recovery and moral betterment which the children experience’ (Boehm 99). While a moral betterment is not evident in these images—although the glow of the faces of the children (particularly in Fig. 1) could hint at their almost religious transformation after they left the grime of their impoverished homes—we see middle-class conventions being applauded in a report from the Prince of Wales’ wedding day: ‘the little patients in the girls’ ward drank tea from the tiny tea-service given by our gracious Queen, and Margaret, as the elder girl, poured out for the rest. This, she remarked, “was much better than anything; she enjoyed it more than drinking her own”’ (AJM IV.XXIV, 379). Here we see the children performing middle-class domesticity and Margaret is portrayed as a member of the deserving poor as she derives more pleasure from sharing the tea than indulging in the treat, just as Aunt Judy had previously argued to her readers that they would reap more enjoyment giving to the ‘Aunt Judy Magazine Cot’ fund than buying more bonbons. The inclusion of anecdotes like these shows that the readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine are not only being shown the healthcare benefits of GOSH, but are also seeing the opportunities for education in manners and respectability. Anthony Platt’s The Child Savers (1969) is still considered a foundational text in analyzing juvenile reformation projects in the nineteenth century and is helpful in understanding how the rhetorical strategies of Aunt Judy’s Magazine—when discussing the characters of, and potential development in, the patients of GOSH—fit within a larger trend of late-Victorian reformers. 7As Robert Van Krieken expertly summarizes, Platt suggests that reformation work and philanthropy were mostly viewed in ‘political economic terms of producing better disciplined workers’, rather than driven by purely ‘benevolence and humanitarian concerns’ (Van Krieken 402). Aunt Judy’s Magazine may present their project as stemming from Christian charity and an obligation for middle-class citizens, but the stress on the patient’s character and adherence to middle-class respectability lines up with the preoccupation with control outlined in Platt’s book. This is not to say that the child subscribers saw their charity in political economic terms, but Aunt Judy’s direct addresses coaxed them into becoming a new generation of philanthropists able to judge the patients as ‘deserving’ and, thus, able to continue the implicit civilizing mission of Victorian philanthropy. As Moruzi argues, social exchange theory can help us understand how the readers derived self-interest from their donations (though, as she puts it, the reasons for their donations were ultimately more complex than just self-interest): they thrived on the feeling that they were part of the Aunt Judy’s Magazine community (Moruzi 200). Being given the impression they were involved in conversations with Aunt Judy, they understood themselves as being integral part of the philanthropic mission of GOSH and, more generally, middle-class philanthropy. A report from the Annual General Meeting confirms this view of the ‘civilizing role’ of GOSH:

No doubt it may be said that those children found in the Hospital a vast improvement on their own poor squalid homes of dirt and disorder; but I believe that when they leave the Hospital, they go away not only with their diseases cured, but with the moral frame of their minds improved and invigorated, and there is no telling how far the discipline to which they have been subjected in the Hospital, the kindly gentle influences to which they have been exposed bear fruit in the comfort and happiness of those squalid homes to which they often return. (‘Report of the Anniversary Festival February 21st, 1877’, Rt. Hon. The Earl of Carnarvon quoted in Tanner 141)

17Although GOSH is portrayed as having a ‘gentle influence’ upon the ‘moral frame’ of the young patients, the gentleness of that influence is undermined by the employment of the word ‘discipline’. While the rhetorical strategy in this passage suggests a parallel between bodily improvement and moral improvement, the subtext is that GOSH is a fertile ground for the reeducation of working-class children to recreate them into images of middle-class respectability. Regardless of any altruistic intentions, Aunt Judy’s Magazine and its readers supported and approved of the socio-political benefits that came of reforming these young children while they were patients of GOSH.

18If we return to Margaret, the little girl who enjoyed pouring tea for her fellow patients in March 1868, we can see how Aunt Judy presented the civilizing effects of the hospital on its patients—only made possible thanks to their charitable giving. In June, Aunt Judy provided a follow-up report on Margaret who had recently been released. Readers were invited to imagine themselves following the author through the dreary streets of London: ‘follow me down a street, into which you turn from Drury Lane; a very narrow, very dirty, very gloomy one, where many groups of bare-footed, begrimed, and puny children are playing’ (AJM IV.XXV, 126). Readers are turned into witnesses as they are directed to ‘follow’ Aunt Judy and are imagined to be walking the streets as Aunt Judy directly addresses the children—‘you turn.’ It is not just Aunt Judy walking these streets, but all of the community of child philanthropists. This journey sets the scene for Margaret’s home life; she is no longer enjoying tea in the comfort of the hospital but living in a home surrounded by squalid streets. However, encouraging the readers to look upon this section of Drury Lane—the repetition of ‘very’ asking them to bring forth images of the worst parts of the city they have seen or read about, but likely never experienced—is part of Aunt Judy’s attempt to juxtapose the grimy streets with the positive influence of Margaret upon her home:

As we ascended, the narrow staircase showed signs of recent scrubbing; at the top it was nearly dark, but after a little groping and knocking, the right door was opened, and there lay—on the floor, looking very bright—‘our Margaret’ . . . the small room, ten or twelve feet long, and about eight high, with one poor article of furniture . . . but all was wonderfully clean in spite of the small space. (AJM IV.XXV, 126)

19Although Margaret is still unable to walk, her influence is already visible. The streets are dirty and gloomy but the small space of the home is ‘wonderfully clean,’ from a cleanliness that seems to literally radiate from Margaret, who is described as ‘looking very bright’. Margaret’s influence is already spreading out of the room and into the world via the narrow staircase; the signs of cleaning are described as ‘recent’ to suggest that the scrubbing is correlated with Margaret’s return. We do not know when this cleaning occurred; perhaps Margaret’s mother wanted to please the representatives of Aunt Judy’s Magazine in hopes of further assistance—she actually asks for their assistance in getting Margaret into an orphanage as Margaret’s mother must ‘seek work in the country’ and cannot bring Margaret in her condition (AJM IV.XXV, 126)—or maybe the small room has always been kept so clean and tidy. However, for the sake of the readers, it is suggested that the influence of GOSH is the real reason for the attempt at cleanliness and civility in this Drury Lane room, and they are now witnesses to the power of the hospital.

20As is inevitable when dealing with healthcare institutions, not all inhabitants of the ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cots’ happily returned to their impoverished homes to spread cleanliness, morality, and respectability. In some cases Aunt Judy reported that patients—patients whom readers had learned to love through the regular updates via ‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’—had passed away. However, these deaths would always be framed within a Christian understanding of death as peace and rest being offered to the spirits of these cleansed, innocent children. For example, following numerous updates on ‘Herbert P—’, Aunt Judy explains that ‘all the young subscribers who have manifested so much interest in him will learn with great regret, that while [the last] report was still in the publishers’ hands, the gentle spirit of the sweet and patient little boy passed away, and, at length, his sufferings are over and he is at rest’ (AJM XI.LXXIX, 446). Herbert is characterized as fitting within the confines of middle-class virtues—he is ‘gentle’, ‘sweet’, and ‘patient’—and death is a well-deserved ‘rest’ from earthly pain, rather than a source of sadness, although Aunt Judy acknowledges the reader’s natural claim to feel ‘regret’. Readers are further offered a brief anecdote of Herbert’s final words:

Herbert then spoke to a little boy to whom he was much attached (in an adjoining cot), who was awake at the time, and with whom he had often talked about the ‘better land’. ‘Jemmie’, he said, ‘I’m really going to Heaven now’. These were his last words, and he became unconscious very soon afterwards. He had no fear, no dread of the unknown land—why should he have fear? It was the home of which he had so often heard, and talked, and now longed for. (AJM XI.LXXIX, 446)

21Aunt Judy is the omniscient presence in this scene, being able to eavesdrop on the private conversation between Herbert and ‘Jemmie’, and even know how the former was feeling—‘he had no fear, no dread of the unknown land’. Again, she directly addresses her readers, raising the rhetorical question ‘why should he have fear?’, thereby implying that all the readers would respond that there was nothing to fear for Herbert. The passage would easily fit in the fictional stories with Christian lessons that fill the rest of Aunt Judy’s Magazine, but it effectively illustrates for the readers the important work, beyond bodily care, produced by GOSH.


22The readers of Aunt Judy’s Magazine continued to support The Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street Hospital after Margaret Gatty’s death in 1873 until her daughter, Horatia Eden, closed the magazine in 1885. In the final edition, Eden asks for the work to continue in the ‘memory of Mother and Daughter [Juliana Ewing], both of whom were true lovers of children, and both of whom learned by their own sufferings the great value of such alleviations of pain as skillful and tender care can supply’ (‘Report of Aunt Judy’s Work Society’, AJM [n.s.] IV.XII, vii). Aunt Judy’s Magazine was not the only tie to literature that helped support GOSH; as mentioned above, Dickens, the well-known critic of misguided philanthropy, supported the hospital and used it as a setting in Our Mutual Friend (1864‒65); Punch collected subscriptions for cots from readers and attendees at charitable galas; Lewis Carroll, who published in Aunt Judy’s Magazine, also donated to the hospital; and, most notably, J. M. Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to the hospital which benefits it to this day. The magazine successfully raised enough money to support a number of cots and re-building projects, and garnered enough donations to feed, clothe, educate, and entertain many children from 1868–1885. By utilizing a conversational tone, taking on the voice of their readers, appealing to their emotions, and listing all the contributors to give the impression of a large family and community of budding philanthropists in the correspondence pages of Aunt Judy’s Magazine, the editors under the persona of ‘Aunt Judy’ were able to persuade readers to join their philanthropic campaigns to support GOSH. The direct effect of these philanthropic efforts by a middle-class magazine was the creation of a new generation of middle-class philanthropists, able to continue their charitable mission into the future while maintaining the implicit control of the poor through the reforming of impoverished, young patients in order to spread the ‘fruit’ of respectability beyond the walls of GOSH, and into the homes of the poor.

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‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXII (Feb 1868): 253‒56.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXIV (Apr 1868): 377‒80.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXV (Jun 1868): 126‒28.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine VI.XXXII (Dec 1868): 125‒28.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine VI.XXXIII (Jan 1869): 188‒92.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine VIII.XLIX (May 1870): 445‒48.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine VIII.L (Jun 1870): 508‒11.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine XI.LXXIX (n.d.): 445‒48.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine XV.CLXXVII (n.d.): 637‒40.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine XVIII.CLXIV (n.d.): 125‒28.

‘Aunt Judy’s Correspondence’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine XIX.CLXXX (n.d.): 381‒84.

‘Aunt Judy’s Work Society’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine [n.s.] II. III (n.d.): 189‒92.

‘Report of Aunt Judy’s Work Society’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine [n.s.] IV.XII (n.d.): v‒vii.

Boehm, Katharina. Charles Dickens and the Sciences of Childhood: Popular Medicine, Child Health and Victorian Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Chavez-Garcia, Miroslava. ‘In Retrospect: Anthony M. Platt’s The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency’. Reviews in American History 35.3 (2007): 464‒81. Project MUSE. 4 May 2017.

‘Christmas in a Hospital’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine VI.XXXII (Dec. 1868): 101‒04.

Drain, Susan. ‘Gatty, Margaret (1809–1873)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 

HHARP: The Historic Hospital Admission Records Project. London: Kingston U. 3 May 2017.

Jaffe, Audrey. Scenes of Sympathy: Identity and Representation in Victorian Fiction. New York: Cornell UP, 2000.

Jones, Dorothea [Gwynfryn]. ‘The Hospital for Sick Children’. Aunt Judy’s Magazine IV.XXI (Jan. 1868): 171‒79.

Lanzoni, Susan. ‘Sympathy in Mind (1876–1900)’. Journal of the History of Ideas 70.2 (Apr. 2009): 265‒87.

Lister, Jennifer H. ‘“One Wing Clipped”: The Imaginative Flights of Juliana Horatia Ewing’. Popular Victorian Women Writers. Ed. Kay Boardman and Shirley Jones. Vancouver: Manchester UP, 2004, 135‒64.

Moruzi, Kristine. ‘“Donations Need not be Large to be Acceptable”: Children, Charity, and the Great Ormond Street Hospital in Aunt Judy’s Magazine, 1868-1885’. Victorian Periodicals Review 50.1 (Spring 2017): 190‒213. 5 May 2017.

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1 A taxonomy that was popularized and dispersed most notably in Henry Mayhew’s profiles and ‘interviews’ of the poor in the Morning Chronicle throughout the 1840s, that would go on to be collected and expanded in the three-volume and then the four-volume London Labour and the London Poor (1851/1861).

2 For future citations for the ‘Aunt Judy Correspondence’ pages, the in-text citation will simply indicate AJM and the volume and number for the issue.

3 Looking at the late-Victorian professional psychological and philosophical journal Mind, Susan Lanzoni observes that philosophers and psychologists did not agree on a definition of sympathy during the period: what caused it; where it came from; what it meant; how it did, or did not, relate to evolution. See ‘Sympathy in Mind’, Journal of the History of Ideas 70.2 (Apr. 2009): 274.

4 According to the records of the Historic Hospital Admission Records Project (HHARP).

5 Special thanks to the Archive Services at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, for permission to reprint these images.

6 John Tagg claims that ‘the portrait is [. . .] a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of a social identity’ (37).

7 For a detailed overview of the history and legacy of The Child-Savers, see Miroslava Chavez-Garcia, ‘In Retrospect: Anthony M. Platt's The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency’. Reviews in American History 35.3 (2007): 464‒81.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1. ‘The “Aunt Judy’s Magazine Cot”, at the Children’s Hospital Ormond Street’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.
File image/png, 1.6M
Title Fig. 2. ‘One of the Little Patients at the Hospital for Sick Children’. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust Archive. London: Great Ormond Street Hospital.
File image/jpeg, 552k
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Electronic reference

Matthew Dunleavy, Conversing with Readers in Aunt Judy’s Magazine: Building a Community of Young Middle-Class Philanthropists to Fight the ‘Grim Nurses’Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 92 Automme | 2020, Online since 01 December 2020, connection on 25 July 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Matthew Dunleavy

Matthew Dunleavy is a PhD candidate at York University. His work examines the gender politics among the inhabitants, philanthropists, and journalists navigating the slums of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian East-End London, with a specific focus on Clementina Black and Margaret Harkness and their use of popular genres to articulate new messages about women’s relationship with poverty. His work has been supported by the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS, the St George Society of Toronto Endowment, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, among other awards.
Matthew Dunleavy est doctorant à l’université de York (Ontario, Canada). Son travail porte sur la politique de genre des habitants, philanthropes et journalistes fréquentant les quartiers pauvres de l’East End londonien de la fin de la période victorienne/du début de la période édouardienne, en particulier la façon dont Clementina Black et Margaret Harkness utilisent les genres populaires pour véhiculer de nouveaux messages à propos de la relation des femmes avec la pauvreté. Son travail a été rendu possible grâce aux bourses et récompenses suivantes : SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS, St. George Society of Toronto Endowment, Ontario Graduate Scholarship, et SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship.

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Licence Creative Commons
Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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