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Seminar 2: Infant Welfare, Infant Survival

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Week 2’s seminar explores the survival and welfare of babies and infants in modern Britain, particularly around the turn of the twentieth century, a period of great concern in the light of anxieties about the decline of race and population during that period, which were exacerbated by the carnage of and poor physical status of recruits during the First World War. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked by increased involvement on the part of the voluntary sector and state in promoting the wellbeing of infants and education of mothers.


1. Why did infant welfare become a key aspect of the national agenda around the turn of the twentieth century?
2. What steps were taken to combat the deaths of infants in the early twentieth century?
3. Why were mothers blamed for the poor health and deaths of their infants?


Seminar Reading:

Anna Davin, ‘Imperialism and Motherhood’, History Workshop Journal, 5 (1978), 9-66. e-resource JISC

Angela Davis, ‘A Revolution in Maternity Care? Women and the Maternity Services, Oxfordshire c. 1948-1974’, Social History of Medicine, 24 (2011), 389-406. e-resource Oxford Journals

Lara Marks, ‘Mothers, Babies and Hospitals: “The London” and the Provision of Maternity Care in East London, 1870-1939’, in Valerie Fildes, Lara Marks and Hilary Marland (eds), Women and Children First: International Maternal and Infant Welfare, 1870-1945 (London: Routledge, 1992), 48-73. e-book/scanned article

Primary Source

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Maternity: Letters from Working Women (1st published 1915, Virago edition 1978).


Additional Reading:

Meg Arnot, ‘Infant Death, Child Care and the State: The Baby-Farming Scandal and the First Infant Life Protection Legislation of 1872’, Continuity and Change, 9 (1994), 271-311. e-resource JISC/Cambridge Journals

P.J. Atkins, 'White Poison?: The Social Conseqences of Milk Consumption in London, 1850-1939', Social History of Medicine, 5 (1992), 207-27. e-resource Oxford journals

G.K. Behlmer, ‘Deadly Motherhood: Infanticide and Medical Opinion in Mid-Victorian England’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 34 (1979), 403-27.

Lucinda McCray Beier, ‘Expertise and Control: Childbearing in Three Twentieth-Century Working-Class Lancashire Communities’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 78 (2004), 379-409. e-resource Project MUSE

Virginia Berridge, Opium and the People: Opiate Use and Policy in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century England (London: Free Association, 1999), ch. 9.

Angela Davis, Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000 (Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 2012), ch. 5. e-book

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

Deborah Dwork, War is Good for Babies and Other Young Children: A History of the Infant and Child Welfare Movement in England, 1898-1918 (London: Tavistock, 1987).

A.H. Ferguson, L.T. Weaver and M. Nicolson, ‘The Glasgow Corporation Milk Depot 1904–1910 and its Role in Infant Welfare: An End or a Means?’, Social History of Medicine, 19 (2006), 443-60. e-resource Oxford journals

C.R. Gale and C.N. Martyn, ‘Dummies and the Health of Hertfordshire Infants, 1911–1930’, Social History of Medicine, 8 (1995), 231-55. e-resource Oxford journals

C. Gowdridge, S.A. Williams and M. Wynn (eds), Mother Courage: Letters from Mothers in Poverty at the End of the Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin in Association with The Maternity Alliance, 1997).

Lyubov G. Gurjeva, ‘Child Health, Commerce and Family Values: The Domestic Production of the Middle Class in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Britain’, in 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), 103-25.

P. King and R. O’Brien, ‘“You Didn’t Get Much Help in Them Days, You Just Had to Get On with It”: Parenting in Hertfordshire in the 1920s and 1930s’, Oral History, 23 (1995), 54-62. e-resource JSTOR

Jane Lewis, The Politics of Motherhood: Child and Maternal Welfare in England, 1900-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1980).

Irvine Loudon, ‘Maternal Mortality: 1880–1950. Some Regional and International Comparisons’, Social History of Medicine, 1 (1988), 183-228. e-resource Oxford journals

Irvine Loudon, ‘On Maternal and Infant Mortality 1900–1960’, Social History of Medicine, 4 (1991), 29-73. e-resource Oxford journals

Irvine Loudon, Death in Childbirth: An International Study of Maternal Care and Maternal Mortality 1800-1950 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

Hilary Marland, ‘A Pioneer in Infant Welfare: The Huddersfield Scheme 1903-1920’, Social History of Medicine, 5 (1993), 25-50. e-resource Oxford journals

J. Mechling, ‘Advice to Historians on Advice to Mothers’, Journal of Social History, 9 (1975), 44-63. e-resource JSTOR

Elizabeth Peretz, ‘A Maternity Service for England and Wales: Local Authority Maternity Care in the Inter-War Period in Oxfordshire and Tottenham’, in J. Garcia, R. Fitzpatrick and M. Richards (eds), The Politics of Maternity Care (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 30-46. scanned article

Elizabeth Peretz, ‘The Costs of Modern Motherhood to Low Income Families in Interwar Britain’, in V. Fildes, L.Marks and H. Marland (eds), Women and Children First: International Maternal and Infant Welfare, 1870-1945 (London: Routledge, 1992), 257-80. e-book

John Pickstone, ‘Production, Community and Consumption: The Political Economy of Twentieth-Century Medicine’, in Roger Cooter and John Pickstone (eds), Medicine in the Twentieth Century (Amsterdam, etc.: Harwood, 2000), 1-19.

Melanie Reynolds, Infant Mortality and Working-Class Child Care, 1850-1899 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). e-book

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

Caroline Rowan, ‘For the Duration Only: Motherhood and Nation in the First World War’, in Formations of Nation and People (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 152-70.

G. Smith, ‘Protest is Better for Infants: Motherhood, Health and Welfare in a Woman’s Town, c. 1911-1931’, Oral History, 23 (1995), 63-70. e-resource JSTOR

Lawrence T. Weaver, ‘“Growing Babies”: Defining the Milk Requirements of Infants 1890-1910’, Social History of Medicine, 23 (2010), 320-37. e-resource Oxford journals

Lawrence T. Weaver, ‘In the Balance: Weighing Babies and the Birth of the Infant Welfare Clinic’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 84 (2010), 30-57. e-resource Project MUSE

Mari A. Williams, ‘“The Growing Toll of Motherhood”: Maternal Mortality in Wales, 1918-1939’, in Pamela Michael and Charles Webster (eds), Health and Society in Twentieth-Century Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006), 123-42.

N. Williams, 'Death in its Season: Class, Environment and the Mortality of Infants in Nineteenth-Century Sheffield', Social History of Medicine, 5 (1992), 71-94. e-resource Oxford journals

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

Robert Woods, Death Before Birth: Fetal Health and Mortality in Historical Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Essay Questions

What challenges were faced by working-class mothers in caring for their infants in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain?

Why were mothers blamed for the poor health and deaths of their infants, and what steps were taken to remedy this?

Why did infant mortality become a key aspect of the national agenda around the turn of the twentieth century?