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Mobilising Mothers: The 1917 National Baby Week

  • Linda Bryder (a1)

Abstract

This article focuses on Britain’s 1917 National Baby Week and specifically how it played out in London. Pageantry and celebration were an important part of the event, and possibly a welcome distraction from the trials and horrors of war, and they were embraced by women of all social classes. But there was much more to it, as women who led the event seized the opportunity for political purposes, in what appeared to be an unthreatening environment of celebrating motherhood. Their goal was to promote the material wellbeing of, and state support for, women and children, and in this they were remarkably successful. Baby Week was also seized upon as an opportunity to showcase other welfare systems as a model for Britain, focusing in particular on New Zealand, with its free and comprehensive health service for infants. Rather than reflecting the eugenic and pronatalist concerns of the establishment, the event should be seen as a moment of politicisation of women arguing for cross-class social reform targeted at mothers.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

*Email address for correspondence: l.bryder@auckland.ac.nz

Footnotes

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I wish to thank the organisers of, and participants in, seminars I gave during my Research and Study Leave in Britain in 2017 for their kind invitations to talk about this research and for their constructive feedback. These include the Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter; the Centre for Health and Healthcare History, Glasgow Caledonian University and University of Strathclyde; and University College Dublin Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland. Thanks, too, to the University of Auckland for granting the leave during which I undertook this research, and to the Wellcome Library, London, for its wonderful resources. Finally, thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their sound advice.

Footnotes

References

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1. Report of the National Baby Week Council (London: National Baby Week Council, 1917), 29, SA/HVA/F.3/3; Wellcome Library, London.

2. ‘Baby Week’, The Times (London, England), 3 July 1917, 6.

3. Report of the National Baby Week Council (note 1), Leaflet 4, 100.

4. ‘Editorial’, British Journal of Nursing, 30 June 1917, n.p.

5. Sladen, Douglas, ‘The National Baby Week’, Contemporary Review (London), 112 (1 July 1917), 98 (Sladen was a British writer who had been the first Professor of History at the University of Sydney, Australia).

6. Marks’ source for her cover illustration was a pamphlet organised by Woolwich Borough Council in 1928, but this poster had originally appeared in Punch, 4 July 1917, and was reprinted in the Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 25. It was also subsequently used in America: see Richard A. Meckel, Save the Babies: American Public Health Reform and the Prevention of Infant Mortality, 1850–1929 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), illustration 16, 158–9.

7. Marks, Lara, Metropolitan Maternity (Amsterdam, Atlanta, 1996), 132.

8. Dwork, Deborah, War is Good for Babies and Other Young Children: A History of the Infant and Child Welfare Movement in England 1898–1918 (London and New York: Tavistock, 1987), 211; J.M. Winter, ‘The Impact of the First World War on Civilian Health in Britain’, Economic History Review, 30 (1977), 498.

9. Grayzel, Susan R., Women and the First World War (Harlow: Longman, 2002), 26.

10. Grayzel, Susan R., Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

11. Davin, Anna, ‘Imperialism and Motherhood’, History Workshop, 5 (Spring 1978), 43.

12. Tate, Trudi, ‘King baby: infant care into the peace’, in Tate, Trudi and Kennedy, Kate (eds), The Silent Morning: Culture and Memory after the Armistice (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 115.

13. Ross, Ellen, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London 1870–1918 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 220.

14. Thane, Pat, ‘Women in the British Labour Party and the construction of state welfare, 1906–39’, in Koven, Seth and Michel, Sonya (eds), Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 343.

15. Ibid., 362.

16. Walsh, Fionnuala, ‘‘Every human life is a national importance’: the impact of the First World War on attitudes to maternal and infant health’, in Durnin, David and Miller, Ian (eds), Medicine, Health and Irish Experiences of Conflict 1914–45 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), 19.

17. See, for example, Koven and Michel, op. cit. (note 14); Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Bellknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1992); Molly Ladd-Taylor, Mother-work: Women, Child Welfare and the State, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); L. Bryder, A Voice for Mothers: The Plunket Society and Infant Welfare, 1907–2000 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003).

18. Macnamara, Thomas J., ‘In Corpore Sano’, Contemporary Review (February 1905), 248.

19. Klaus, Alisa, Every Child a Lion: The Origins of Maternal and Infant Health Policy in the United States and France, 1890–1920 (Ithaca: Cornell University Pres, 1993), 5, 31.

20. Waddington, Keir, The Bovine Scourge: Meat, Tuberculosis and Public Health, 1850–1914 (Wookbridge: Boydell Press, 2006), 154156.

21. E.W. Hope, MOH Liverpool, Report of the Inter-departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, vol. 1. Cd 2175 (London: HMSO, 1904), 50.

22. Koven and Michel, op. cit. (note 14), 1–42.

23. Davin, op. cit. (note 11), 39.

24. McCleary, George F., The Early History of the Infant Welfare Movement (London: H.K. Lewis & Co Ltd, 1933), 131.

25. Bryder, Linda, Below the Magic Mountain: A Social History of Tuberculosis in Twentieth-century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 19.

26. Meckel, op. cit. (note 6), 146–8.

27. McCleary, George F., The Maternity and Child Welfare Movement (London: P.S. King & Son, 1935), 216.

28. ‘Baby Week’ Plans’, The Times, 6 February 1917, 5.

29. ‘Saving of the Race’, The Times, 11 May 1917, 9.

30. ‘A Ministry Of Health’, The Times, 31 July 1917, 3; Lord Rhondda, ‘Introduction’, op. cit. (note 1), 7.

31. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 58, 60.

32. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 1 June 1917, 9.

33. These were Claude (Stella Tighe) Gotto, Evelyn Wrench and Jeanette Halford: Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 13.

34. Ibid., 9.

35. Ibid., 17.

36. ‘Future of the Midwife’, The Times, 7 July 1917, 3.

37. ‘Court Circular’, The Times, 26 June 1917, 9.

38. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 1 June 1917, 9.

39. ‘News in Brief’, The Times, 21 June 1917, 3.

40. ‘Objects Of Baby Week’, The Times, 31 May 1917, 9.

41. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 2 July 1917, 5; J.M. Winter cited this speech when he summarised Baby Week, 1977: op. cit. (note 8).

42. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 26 June 1917, 3.

43. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 58–9.

44. ‘Welfare and Economy’, The Times, 30 June 1917, 3.

45. ‘Court Circular’, The Times, 9 July 1917, 11.

46. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 40–1.

47. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 31.

48. ‘The Queen at the Exhibition’, The Times, 3 July 1917, 6.

49. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 31.

50. Ibid., 34.

51. ‘The Queen at the Exhibition’, The Times, 3 July 1917, 6.

52. Lady Plunket, Letter to Secretary Plunket Society, 28 November 1917, Plunket Society Archives, AG7 1-2-1 Central Council Minute Book, Hocken Library, Dunedin, New Zealand.

53. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 40.

54. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 4 July 1917, 3.

55. Ross, op. cit. (note 13), 196.

56. Meckel, op. cit. (note 6), 148, 154.

57. ‘The Queen at the Exhibition’, The Times, 3 July 1917, 6.

58. Joseph McBrinn, ‘The Work of Masculine Fingers’: The Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry, 1918–55’, Journal of Design History, 31, 1 (27 February 2018), 1–23, doi:10.1093/jdh/epw043.

59. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 38.

60. Ibid., 32, 39.

61. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 4 July 1917, 3.

62. See Jones, Greta, Social Hygiene in Twentieth-century Britain (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

63. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 33.

64. Ibid., 33–4.

65. Ibid., 33.

66. Ibid., 37.

67. Ibid., 33.

68. ‘National Baby Week’, The Times, 28 June 1917, 9.

69. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 36.

70. See also Rogers, Naomi, ‘Germs with Legs: Flies, Disease, and the New Public Health’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 63 (1989), 59.

71. They were not alone in recruiting children for the anti-fly campaign; see Minnett, Valerie and Poutanen, Mary-Anne, ‘Swatting Flies for Health: Children and Tuberculosis in Early Twentieth-Century Montreal’, Urban History Review, 36, 1 (2007), 3244. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43560211. Accessed: 25 March 2018.

72. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 60, 64.

73. ‘Flies and Babies’, The Times, 12 October 1917, 9.

74. ‘Pictures for Baby Week’, The Times, 1 May 1917, 3.

75. ‘Obituary’, September 1933, simply referred to her acting career: Evening Post, 26 September 1933.

76. Auckland Star (New Zealand), 25 April 1911.

77. ‘Future of the Midwife’, The Times, 7 July 1917, 3.

78. ‘A Motherhood Film’, The Times, 2 June 1917, 3.

79. Ibid.

80. ‘The New Motherhood’, The Times, 19 May 1917, 3.

81. Sladen, op. cit. (note 5), 99.

82. Tate, op. cit. (note 12), 115–6.

83. ‘Our Babies by Hygeia’, Star (Christchurch, New Zealand), reprint from Pall Mall Gazette, 29 June 1917.

84. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 6.

85. Ross, op. cit. (note 13), 203.

86. ‘National Baby Week’, The Times, 15 November 1917, 5.

87. ‘Actress Guardian/ Dorothea Baird Leaves the Stage’, New Zealand Herald, 24 May 1913.

88. ‘National Baby Week’, The Times, 8 March 1917, 3.

89. Women’s Film Pioneer Project, https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/dorothea-baird. Accessed: 28 March 2018.

90. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 3 July 1917: 6; Op. cit. (note 1), 20.

91. ‘Baby Week Plans’, The Times, 6 February 1917, 5.

92. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 22.

93. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 26 June 1917, 3.

94. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 22.

95. Honigsbaum, Frank, The Struggle for the Ministry of Health 1914–19. Occasional Papers on Social Administration, no. 37 (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1970), 52.

96. Reeves, Maud Pember, Round about a Pound a Week (London: Bell, 1913), 3, 19; Dwork, op. cit. (note 8), 118–9.

97. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 4 July 1917, 3.

98. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 22, 24.

99. New Zealand Herald, 13 September 1915.

100. ‘National Baby Week’, The Times, 8 March 1917, 3.

101. Thane, Pat and Evans, Tanya, Sinners? Scrounger? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth-century England (Oxford: Oxford, 2012), 15.

102. ‘The Queen at the Exhibition’, The Times, 3 July 1917, 6.

103. Thane and Evans, op. cit. (note 98), 20.

104. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 8.

105. Ibid., 52–3.

106. Thane and Evans, op. cit. (note 98), 22.

107. Auckland Star (New Zealand), 25 April 1911.

108. ‘Woman’s World’, Dominion (New Zealand), 27 January 1912.

109. Sun (New Zealand), 22 March 1915.

110. Taranaki Herald (New Zealand), 22 March 1915.

111. Wairarapa Daily Times (New Zealand), 6 October 1917.

112. Hawera and Normanby Star (New Zealand), 1 November 1917; King Country Chronicle (New Zealand), 31 October 1917.

113. ‘National Baby Week’, The Times, 8 March 1917, 3; Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 13. (The other speakers were Stella Tighe Gotto, and Ernest Williams.)

114. Transcript of the record kept by Marian Isabel Massey of her ‘Visit to England’, August 1916 to June 1917, prepared by, and in the possession of, Christina Jeffery, 2007, 49.

115. Lady Plunket, op. cit. (note 51).

116. Golden, Janet, Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America into the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 51.

117. Ibid., 50; Bryder, op. cit. (note 17), 36.

118. Lane-Claypon, Janet, The Child Welfare Movement (London: G. Bell, 1920), 7.

119. ‘Editorial’, Mother and Child, (September 1964), 3.

120. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 26 June 1917, 3.

121. ‘Editorial’, Mother and Child, 8, 12 (March 1938), 453; the poster was reproduced in the Report of the National Baby Week Councilstating: ‘Poster designed by Mrs H.B. Irving’, op. cit. (note 1), 29.

122. ‘Baby Week’, The Times, 2 July 1917, 5.

123. Cited in Bruce Herald (New Zealand), 19 November 1917.

124. Sladen, op. cit. (note 5), 99–100.

125. New Zealand Herald, 21 November 1917; New Zealand Herald, 22 November 1917; Bryder, op. cit. (note 17), 30–1. For Australia, see Philippa Mein Smith, Mothers and King Baby: Infant Survival and Welfare in an Imperial World, Australia, 1880–1950 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), 80–1.

126. Walsh, op. cit. (note 16), 18–21.

127. Grayzel, op. cit. (note 9), 107.

128. Meckel, op. cit. (note 6), 157.

129. ‘A Ministry Of Health’, The Times, 31 July 1917, 3.

130. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 13; ‘A Ministry of Health’, The Times, 31 July 1917, 3.

131. Honigsbaum, op. cit. (note 95), 52.

132. Dwork op. cit. (note 8), 214; McCleary, op. cit. (note 26), 20–1.

133. Report of the National Baby Week Council, op. cit. (note 1), 41–51.

134. Lord Rhondda, ‘Introduction’, op. cit. (note 1), 8.

135. Walsh, op. cit. (note 16), 19.

136. Bryder, Linda, ‘‘Babies of the Empire’: the evolution of infant welfare services in New Zealand and Britain in the first half of the twentieth century’, in Pelling, Margaret and Mandelbrote, Scott (eds), The Practice of Reform in Health, Medicine, and Science, 1500–2000 (London: Ashgate, 2005), 247262.

137. McCleary, op. cit. (note 26), 214.

I wish to thank the organisers of, and participants in, seminars I gave during my Research and Study Leave in Britain in 2017 for their kind invitations to talk about this research and for their constructive feedback. These include the Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter; the Centre for Health and Healthcare History, Glasgow Caledonian University and University of Strathclyde; and University College Dublin Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland. Thanks, too, to the University of Auckland for granting the leave during which I undertook this research, and to the Wellcome Library, London, for its wonderful resources. Finally, thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their sound advice.

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