Thursday, 11 August 2016

International Children's Day

Children’s lives, and how to protect them.

On this day, International Children’s Day, it seems appropriate to showcase one of the LMI’s books on children.

This book, published in 1879 is in the collection of the LMI. When I came across it I thought how relevant it seemed to concerns we have today. But rather than covering subjects such as abuse, neglect, bullying, access to education, or lack of it, this book deals with one issue that was foremost in the minds of parents in the 19th century: how to prevent their children from dying.
This page from the index shows that the book deals with some general neonatal care issues, but the greatest portion of the book deals with diseases such as consumption, smallpox, whooping cough and others, and their treatment.

A good start in life is seen as the best way to combat these common childhood diseases, and the first part of the book concentrates on nutrition. It is heartening to see that, as well advocating some very doubtful practices …

… there are quite a number of recommendations that we would accept today. Handling the child quickly and quietly after birth so that it can be with its mother as soon as possible, is a practice we follow now. Breastmilk is seen as the best food for a baby.

All the recommendations are based on scientific knowledge and doctors’ observations, which is all that we can still do. In 1879, however, the limits of that knowledge must have put at risk those very lives the doctors were trying to save. The scientific method used to create the recipe for ‘Artificial Mother’s Milk’ is quite impressive, despite the resulting inadequate product.

The application of scientific method, however, leads to other dangerous recommendations, which are advocated with frightening certainty. Up to the age of one children should have solids only in the form of bread, flour mixed with milk, and beef tea, or maybe a little egg white beaten with milk. After one year is reached, babies can cope with more solid food:

It must be remembered that an English meal at this time, for adults too, would have had few, if any, vegetables included.
I can highly recommend this book. It will induce laughter, gasps of horror, and frowns of disbelief, but its redeeming feature is the earnestness with which nineteenth century doctors and families undertook the care of their young charges. 
 Contributed by Sue McClarron