Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adoption

Portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour


Rousseau's mother died a few days after he was born (in Switzerland) and he was then raised by an aunt and uncle. Another version of his life says his father raised him until he was 10, and then gave him to the custody of his aunt and uncle, who sent him to boarding school.

Another version states that he and a cousin lived with an unrelated family from 1722 and only briefly, later, lived with his aunt and uncle. He ran away from his apprenticeship to an engraver after three years and became secretary and companion to a wealthy and sympathetic woman. In 1742 he went to Paris and became a music teacher, copyist and secretary, and a friend of Diderot, who commissioned him to write the music articles for the famous Encyclopédie. He first became known as a philosopher in the 1750s, and his influence on modern political and educational philosophy has been profound. His views antagonized the authorities in both France and Switzerland and in 1762 he went into exile in Prussia and then England, returning to France under an assumed name in 1768. His most influential works are probably the philosophical novel Émile (1762) and his autobiographical Confessions (1782).


Dever, Maria, and Dever, Aileen. Relative Origins: Famous Foster and Adopted People. (Portland: National Book Company, 1992) Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97 Kolak, Daniel. "Rousseau Biography." (Extract from his Lovers of Wisdom. [Belmont: Wadsworth, 1997]). Available at: "Jean-Jacques Rousseau." Available at: The History Guide. "Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778." [Includes portrait]. Available at: