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The Forgotten Children's Revolt of 1911


The Forgotten Children's Revolt of 1911

The Orphanage, our new film set in 1911 France, brings to life the forgotten "Revolt of the Innocents" led by orphaned children against neglect and mistreatment. This is the story behind those momentous protests that changed the course of child welfare in the country.

Over one hundred years ago, the streets of Paris echoed with the sobs and shouts of young children marching together. These were not carefree youth, but hundreds of orphaned and abandoned kids demanding change. In May 1911, they rose up against abuse and neglect in what became known as the “Revolt of the Innocents.”

At the time, life for orphans and abandoned children in France was bleak. Housed in overcrowded and underfunded welfare institutions and orphanages, they endured scarce, poor food, inadequate healthcare, and little education. Physical and emotional abuse ran rampant as the facilities were understaffed. The children slept in cramped, dirty quarters teeming with disease.

Fed up, the youth decided to take action. Organized by a few of the older kids, groups of children ages 4 to 14 began a series of protests. Marching together to the National Assembly, they carried handmade signs and banners reading “We are hungry! We want to eat until we are full!” and “We need care! We demand education!” Sympathetic crowds cheered them on.

The children’s plight gained national attention and press coverage. Famed writer Émile Zola spoke out passionately in their defense, lambasting the government for allowing such conditions. Initially dismissive, politicians were forced to acknowledge the children’s demands as protests grew. By June, the government mandated reforms and increased funding to orphanages.

This youth revolt represented a groundbreaking use of grassroots activism and nonviolent resistance to demand human rights. Although their living conditions improved only moderately at first, the orphans’ call for change inspired progress in child welfare policies. In the same year, new laws established standards for orphanage operation.

Over a century later, the courageous youth revolt remains a poignant example of even the smallest voices speaking truth to power. Though many names have been lost to history, we remember the children who refused to accept injustice, lighting the way for youth activists and child welfare reformers around the globe.

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