In the summer of 2020, the Amsterdam City Archives held a large exhibition about the many thousands of found children who were cared for by the Aalmoezeniers orphanage around 1800. In the wake, it was asked to name nearby bridges after a found child and a nurse. This proposal has been approved by the City Council. Abel Weetnietbrug, bridge 44, spans Leidsegracht near Keizersgracht. Angenietje Swarthofbrug, bridge 67, can also be found at Leidsegracht and is located across Prinsengracht.
Around 1800, Amsterdam experienced a real infant crisis. The economy had collapsed. The French government gave the final blow. The Aalmoezeniers orphanage at Prinsengracht, between Leidsestraat and Leidsegracht, was overrun by foundlings and abandoned children. Parents of newborns left their child. Widows or abandoned mothers were desperate to leave their children on a sidewalk near the orphanage’s orphanages. Parents hoped that their child would soon be found and brought to the orphanage. Between 1780 and 1828, 20,000 found children were admitted to Aalmoezenier’s orphanage. They came from all over the country.
Abel does not know
One of these children was Abel Weetniet (1791-1859). His name is chosen as the source name, because no other infant name better expresses what it is to be an infant. He got his name from a regent from Almoezenier’s orphanage. Abel had been left without a note, on the Keizersgracht near Runstraat, near the bridge that now bears his name. He was one of the few foundlings to reach adulthood – only one in five survived. Little Abel lived with the nurse Anna Sulkens for the first five years, and then went to Aalmoezenier’s orphanage. In 1809, like other foundling boys, he was forced to enlist in the French army. He survived, managed to start a family and earn a decent living. For the exhibition, an animation was made about him.
The other bridge is named after the nurse Angenietje Swarthof (1738-1812). Young foundlings were first placed with a nurse until they were old enough for the Almoezenier orphanage. Swarthof stands for the many minuses that tried to save the weakest in society at the time. As a widow, Angenietje Swarthof cared for no less than 126 foundlings. She did so until two weeks before her death, assisted by her eldest daughter Grietje Slootman. Grietje would continue to care for Almoezenier’s orphanages after her mother’s death. Incidentally, Minns did not only do this work of charity. They often desperately needed the income from this work in order not to starve themselves and to feed their own children. Newborn infants were placed with a nurse who had just given birth and who could breastfeed. Older children were taken in by widows or abandoned women. That way, they could earn a small income.
The building of the Almoezeniers orphanage later became the residence of the Palace of Justice and has now been converted into a five-star hotel. Aalmoezeniersbrug near Leidsestraat and Prinsengracht is reminiscent of the institute. Beudekerbrug near Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht is named after a director of the Department of Urban Citizens, the successor to Aalmoezenier’s orphanage. Frans Beudeker (1815-1897) has many good things for the foundlings of his time. With the Angenietje Swarthof Bridge and the Abel Weetniet Bridge, a new part of this special story has now become visible in the city.
Unveiling and lecture
The bridge names will be unveiled on October 1 by descendants of Abel Weetniet and by former lovers of the Aalmoezeniers orphanage. The same afternoon at 2 pm, Nanda Geuzebroek will give a lecture in the City Archives. She is the author of the book Foundlings. Almoezenier’s orphanage in Amsterdam 1780-1830, which was published on the occasion of the exhibition. Keep an eye on the City Archives’ website for more information.