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Seminar 3: Growing up Poor and Hungry


This seminar focuses on the impact of poverty on childhood and health. It explores this against the backdrop of increasing provision of welfare services, and also plays particular attention to the role of food in children’s lives. We will explore Robert Roberts’ valuable testimony to life in a Salford slum and explore a number of social surveys, and I will also ask you to explore the Charles Booth on-line archive. Please dip into this material in preparation for the seminar.

1. How did the lives of children change in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with regard to their health and welfare?
2. What role did food play in the daily lives of children?
3. How did mothers make homes healthy – if indeed they did?
4. What can personal testimonies add to our knowledge of children in poverty?


Seminar Reading:

Jane Lewis, ‘Family Provision of Health and Welfare in the Mixed Economy of Care in the Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, Social History of Medicine, 8 (1995), 1-16. e-resource Oxford Journals

Ellen Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), ch 2 '"There is Meat ye Know Not of": Feeding a Family'. scanned chapter

Primary Source:

Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century (Penguin edn, 1984), ch. 6 ‘Food, Drink and Physic’. scanned chapter.

Social Surveys:

B. Seebohm Rowntree, Poverty: A Study of Town Life (London: Macmillan and Co., 1901/2).

Mary Spring Rice, Working-Class Wives: Their Health and Conditions (1st published 1939, London: Virago, 1981).

Charles Booth, Labour and Life of People in London, 17 vols (London: Williams and Norgate, 1889-1903); see also Charles Booth on-line archive (LSE)

Additional Reading:

Lucinda McCray Beier, ‘Contagion, Policy, Class, Gender, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Lancashire Working Class Health Culture’, Hygiena International, 2 (2001), 7-24. e-journal

Virginia Berridge, Health and Society in Britain since 1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Virginia Berridge, Martin Gorsky and Alex Mold, Public Health in History (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2011).

John Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day (London: Routledge, 1989).

John Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood Education and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Penguin, 1984).

Roger Cooter (ed.), In the Name of the Child: Health and Welfare, 1880-1940 (London: Routledge, 1992).

Frank Crompton, Workhouse Children (Stroud: Sutton, 1997).

C. Davies, ‘The Health Visitor as Mother’s Friend: A Woman’s Place in Public Health, 1900–14’, Social History of Medicine, 1 (1988) 39-59. e-resource Oxford journals

Anna Davin, Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914 (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996).

Anne Digby, ‘Changing Welfare Cultures in Region and State’, Twentieth Century British History, 17 (2006), 297-322. e-resource Oxford journals

Anne Digby and John Stewart, Gender, Health and Welfare (London: Routledge, 1996).

G. Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830-1990 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984).

Derek Fraser, The Evolution of the British Welfare State: A History of Social Policy since the Industrial Revolution (4th edn, Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan 2009).

Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Hilary Marland (eds), Cultures of Child Health in Britain and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century (London and New York: Rodopi, 2003).

Anne Hardy, The Epidemic Streets: Infectious Disease and the Rise of Preventive Medicine 1856-1900 (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1993), esp. chs. 2, 3. e-book

Anne Hardy, 'Rickets and the Rest: Child-care, Diet and the Infectious Children's Disease', Social History of Medicine, 5 (1992), 389-433. e-resource Oxford journals

Harry Hendrick, Children, Childhood, and English Society, 1880-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Harry Hendrick, Child Welfare: Historical Dimensions, Contemporary Debate (revised edn, Bristol: Policy Press, 2003).

Helen Jones, Health and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Longman, 1994).

A. Levene, ‘Childhood and Adolescence’, in Mark Jackson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 321-37. e-resource

Alysa Levene, 'Family Breakdown and the "Welfare Child" in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Britain', History of the Family, 11 (2006), 67-79. e-resource Taylor & Francis

Jane Lewis, 'Providers, "Consumers", the State and the Delivery of Health-Care Services in Twentieth-Century Britain', in Andrew Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society: Historical Essays (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), ch. 12, 317-45. scanned article

Alice Reid, ‘The Effects of the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic on Infant and Child Health in Derbyshire’, Medical History, 49 (2005), 29-54. e-resource Pub Med

E. Ross, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

E. Seidler, ‘An Historical Survey of Children’s Hospitals’, in L. Granshaw and R. Porter (eds), The Hospital in History (London: Routledge, 1989), 181-98.

F.B. Smith, The People's Health 1830-1910 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, republished 1990), ch. 3 'Childhood and Youth'.

Pat Starkey, ‘The Medical Officer of Health, the Social Worker, and the Problem Family, 1943 to 1968: The Case of Family Service Units’, Social History of Medicine, 11 (1998), 421-41. e-resource Oxford journals

Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London (London: Penguin, 1976).

Andrea Tanner, 'Choice and the Children's Hospital: Great Ormond Street Hospital Patients and Their Families 1855-1900', in Anne Borsay and Peter Shapely (eds), Medicine, Charity and Mutual Aid: The Consumption of Health and Welfare in Britain, c. 1550-1950 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 135-61.

Pat Thane, ‘The Working Class and State “Welfare” in Britain, 1890-1914’, The Historical Journal, 27 (1984), 877-900. e-journal JSTOR

David Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography (London: Methuen, 1982).

David Vincent, Poor Citizens: The State and the Poor in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Longman, 1991).

Charles Webster, ‘Health, Welfare and Unemployment during the Depression’, Past and Present, 109 (1985), 204-30. e-journal JISC

Charles Webster (ed.), Caring for Health: History and Diversity (3rd edn, Milton Keynes: Open University, 2001 or earlier edns).

John Welshman, From Transmitted Deprivation to Social Exclusion: Policy, Poverty, and Parenting (Bristol: The Policy Press, 2012).

Perry Williams, ‘The Laws of Health: Women, Medicine and Sanitary Reform, 1850-1890’, in Marina Benjamin (ed.), Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry 1780-1945 (Oxford: Basil Blackwood, 1991), 60-88.

J.M. Winter, ‘Unemployment, Nutrition and Infant Mortality in Britain, 1920-1950’, in J.M. Winter (ed.), The Working Class in Modern British History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 232-56, 303-5. scanned article

J.M. Winter, ‘Infant Mortality, Maternal Mortality, and Public Health in Britain in the 1930s’, Journal of European Economic History, 8 (1979), 439-462.

Essay Questions

How was the relationship between child poverty and health understood in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

How effective were institutional and welfare services in improving children's health around 1900?

Who was considered responsible for the health of children in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain?