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Imperialism and Motherhood

Author(s): Anna Davin

Source: History Workshop, No. 5 (Spring, 1978), pp. 9-65
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Bi ciurje o'! et#Com(umitte.f.;3

Imperialismand Motherhood
by Anna Davin

Around the beginningof this centuryinfant life and child health took on a new
importancein publicdiscussion,reinforcedby emphasison the valueof a healthyand
numerouspopulationas a nationalresource.Duringthe 19thcenturymost political
economistshadtendedto believewithThomasMalthusthat excessivepopulationwas
dangerous,leadingto the exhaustionof resources,andconsequentlyto war,epidemic
disease,and other naturalchecks on growth. This argumentwas strengthenedby

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10 History Workshop

Darwinistnotionsof the strugglefor existenceas an essentialpartof the survivalof

the race.[1]In the last decadesof the centuryit was used both by the radicalneo-
Malthusians,who recommendedcontraceptionas an artificialcheck on population
and thereforea preventiveof poverty(which they attributedto over-population,
arguingfor instancethat wages were kept down by the competitionfor employ-
ment);andalso by the advocatesof whatwas comingto be knownas eugenics,who
wanteda selectivelimitationof populationgrowth,to preventthe 'deteriorationof
the race' and declineas an imperialnation throughthe proliferationof those they
regardedas 'unfit' (to breed).[2] Therewas howeveranotherview, earlyexpressed
by CharlesKingsley(in 1858), that over-populationwas impossible'in a country
that has the greatestcolonialempirethat the worldhas everseen'. He believedthat
'sinceaboutfour-fifthsof the globe cannotbe saidto be as yet in any wise inhabited
or cultivated','it was a duty, one of the noblestof duties,to help the increaseof the
Englishraceas muchas possible',andhe urgedthe membersof the Ladies'Sanitary
Association,whom he was addressing,to fight againstinfant mortality.[3]
Laterenthusiastsfor empirealso tendedto see populationas crucial,especially
after the publicationof an influentialwork by J.R. Seeley, The Expansion of
England,in 1883,andtheyweredisturbedby the fallingbirthratewhicheach census
after 1881confirmed.The maintenanceof empire,arguedthe prominentconserva-
tive journalistJ.L. Garvinin 1905,

would be best based upon the power of a white population, proportionatein

numbers,vigour and cohesion to the vast territorieswhich the British demo-
craciesin the MotherCountryand the Coloniescontrol.

If the Britishpopulationdid not increasefast enoughto fill the emptyspacesof the

empire,otherswould. The threatwas not from the indigenouspopulations,whom
he does not mention,but from rivalmaster-races.The respectivewhite populations
of the United States, Germanyand the BritishIsles, he said, were 73m, 61m, and
54m, and Britain'srate of increasewas the slowest, as well as startingfrom the
lowestbase. And othersprotectedtheirindustryby tariffs, so that they could make
the most of their largerlabourforces:

GermanyandAmericaabsorbinto theirindustrialsystemyearby yeara number

of new workerstwice and threetimes as largeas we can find employmentfor.
Thesestates,therefore,gain upon us in man-powerand money-poweralike; in
fighting-powerand budget-power;and in strict consequencesea-poweritself
must ultimatelybe sharedbetweenthem.[4]

The birthratethen was a matterof nationalimportance:populationwas power.

Children,it was said, belonged'not merelyto the parentsbut to the communityas a
whole'; they were 'a nationalasset', 'the capitalof a country';on them depended
'the futureof the countryand the Empire';they were'the citizensof tomorrow'.[51
This appreciationof their value was certainlystrengthenedby concernas to their
supply.Fromthe mid-seventiesthe birthratehadbeendeclining,andthis trendonce
recognizedcausedmuch anxiety,especiallywhen it was realizedthat a substantial
proportionof those borndid not survive.The infantmortalityratefor Englandand
Walesin 1899was 163- that is, out of every 1,000 childrenborn, 163 died before
reachingtheirfirst birthday.This was higherthanthe averagefor the decade(154),

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ImperialismandMotherhood 11

whichin turnwas higherthan the averagefor the 1880s(142). Rateswerehighestin

the poorest,mostpopulousdistricts.[6]And as AlexanderBlyth, MedicalOfficerof
Health for Marylebone,pointedout in 1907:

Over-production lessens,under-production enhancesthe value of commodities.

Consideringthe life of an infantas a commodityits moneyvaluemustbe greater
than 35 years ago. It is of concernto the nation that a sufficient numberof
childrenshould annuallybe producedto more than make good the losses by
death;hencethe importanceof preservinginfantlife is evengreaternow than it
was before the declineof the birthrate.[7]

andauthoritativetreatiseon infant
Theinfluentialauthorof the firstcomprehensive
mortality(InfantMortality:a SocialProblem, 1906),GeorgeNewman,who at this
pointwas also a LondonMedicalOfficerof Health(for Finsbury),expressedsimilar
concernin its preface:
thereis an annualloss to Englandand Wales of 120,000lives by the death of
infants.In past yearstherehas beena similardrainupon the nationalresources
of life. But it should not be forgottenthat this loss of life is now operatingin
conjunctionwith a diminishedincome.[8]
Similarstatements(and metaphors)aboundedat that time.
Infantmortalitywas not of coursea new problem:Sir John Simonin his reports
as medicalofficerto the PrivyCouncilhadalreadyin mid-centuryidentifiedit as an
indexof the generalsanitarycondition;and in the 1890s,whenunlikeother indices
of healthit seemedto be gettingworse(althoughthe new theoriesof bacteriology
offered fresh hope of solution), Medical Officers of Health were anxiously
observingand analyzingit: as the new local monitorsof publichealththey were in
the best positionto collate statisticalinformationand to comparedifferentfactors
and attempts at prevention.[9]Some municipalitieswere already in the 1890s
distributingleaflets on infant care, and providinginstructionto mothersthrough
visitsto theirhomes.Sucheffortsweregivennew impetusnot only by the epidemics
of infantdiarrhoeaduringthe hot summersof 1898-1900,but also by the climateof
opinionin the 1900s, whenin the wakeof the disastrousBoerWarfearsfor national
standardsof physiquereacheda peak.[[0] Concernfor the healthof older children
(whichagain had begunto preoccupysome doctorsand teachersin the 1880s and
1890s)also greatlyintensified,andthe official investigationswhichresultedbrought
no reassurance.[11]Variousmeasuresfollowed, both at national and local level.
Laws designedto improvethe conditionsof infancy and childbirthwere passed:
midwiveswere requiredto have training(1902 though with delayedexecution),
local authoritieswere empoweredto providemeals for needy children(1906), and
obliged to organizemedicalinspection(though not treatment)in schools (1907),
birthshadto be notifiedwithinsix weeksso that healthvisitorscould be sent round
(1907),whilethe ChildrenAct of 1908madedetailedprovisionacrossthe spectrum
of child welfare. Municipal authorities experimentedwith schemes to supply
hygienic milk cheaply for weaned infants (at risk from the contaminatedand
adulteratedmilk normallyon sale in working-classdistricts),and with prizes for
healthybabiesor for babieswhichsurvivedtheirfirst year;they distributedendless
leaflets and sent out battalionsof health visitors. The Local GovernmentBoard
organizedtwo conferenceson infant mortality,in 1906 and 1908, and conducted

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12 History Workshop

enquiries(throughits medicaldepartmentunderArthurNewsholme)into different

aspectsof infant mortality.[12]
Besidesall this official activity,voluntarysocietiesfor the promotionof public
healthand domestichygienemushroomedin these years:the Instituteof Hygiene
(1903), the Infants' Health Society (1904), the National League for Physical
Education and Improvement(1905), the Food Education Society (1908), the
National League for Health, Maternityand Child Welfare (1905), the Eugenics
EducationSociety(1908),the Women'sLeagueof Servicefor Motherhood(1910),
and so on.[13] The officers and membersof such societies were overwhelmingly
ladiesand gentlemen,sometimesof some prominence,who gave financialsupport,
their names, and often their time and energy. Local brancheswould unite the
sociallyconsciousgentryof a neighbourhood- doctors,clergymen,socialworkers,
medicalofficersof health,councillors,teachers,nursesandhealthvisitors,but most
of all ladies whose work was voluntary and who would have no other job.
Membershipof such societies often overlappedwith local authorities,and they
would be called on to give evidenceto official enquiriesand also advice in the
formationandexecutionof socialpolicy.Theirinfluence,in spiteof theirvoluntary
status,shouldnot be underestimated. Theseneworganizations,along with the older
establishedsocietiesof medical,social, statistical,and sanitarybent, wereall in the
1900seagerlytakingup the issues of child welfareand domestichygiene.
Theirdebates(reportedin the nationalpress,the medicalpress,and the journals
of the societies)presentimmediateclues to all the interestand activity, in their
constantreferencesto nationaland imperialinterest.The crucialfactorsseemto be
that competition(both economic and political) from recentlyindustrializedGer-
many and the United Statesappearedmore and more threatening,and Japan too
loomed as an impendingrival. A poor militaryperformancein the Boer War had
dramatizedfearsof nationalinadequacyandexposedthe poorhealthof the working
class in Britain, from which were drawn both soldiers and sailors to defend the
empire,and workersto producegoods with whichto dominatethe world economi-
cally.At the sametime the findingsof the 1901censusconfirmedthat the birthrate
was still falling, and medicalstatisticssuggestedthat infant mortalitywas actually
rising.Theresultwas a surgeof concernaboutthe bearingandrearingof children
the next generationof soldiersand workers,the Imperialrace.


Middle-classconventionof the time took for grantedthat the proper context of

childhoodwas the family, and the personmost responsiblethe mother. So if the
survivalof infantsandthe healthof childrenwas in question,it mustbe the fault of
the mothers, and if the nation needed healthy future citizens (and soldiers and
workers) then mothers must improve. This emphasis was reinforced by the
influentialideasof eugenists:good motherhoodwas an essentialcomponentin their
ideology of racialhealth and purity. Thus the solution to a national problemof
publichealthand of politicswas looked for in termsof individuals,of a particular
role- the mother,and a social institution- the family.This obscuredto an extent
which now seems astonishingthe effects on child health of povertyand environ-
ment. It also contributedsubstantiallyto a shift in the dominantideology. The
family remained the basic institution of society, and woman's domestic role

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ImperialismandMotherhood 13

remainedsupreme,but graduallyit was her functionas motherthat was beingmost

stressed,ratherthan her function as wife. (Even the recommendedreasons for
marriagechanged:in a manualof the 1860sthe youngwomanwasadvisedto seek as
partnerfor life someoneable to supporther, willingto protecther, readyto help
her, and qualifiedto guideand directher- no mentionof children- while a 1914
book on youngwomenandmarriagegaveas the threemainobjectsfor marriagethe
reproductionof the race, the maintenanceof social purity,and the mutualcomfort
and assistanceof each marriedcouple.)[14]
Moreoverthe relationshipbetweenfamily and state was subtlychanging.Since
parentswerebringingup the next generationof citizensthe state had an interestin
how they did it.[15] Child-rearingwas becominga nationalduty not just a moral
one: if it was done badlythe state could intervene,if parentalintentionsweregood
but thereweredifficultiesthe stateshouldgive help, and if it was done well parents
shouldbe rewardedat least by approvalfor theirpatrioticcontribution.Arguments
of this kind were gainingweight, over-ridingthe old individualistprotests about
parentalrights(alreadyunderminedby compulsoryeducation)and the dangerof
'demoralizing'people by helping them. They were used to justify not only
contemporarymeasuressuch as the powergivento Poor Law Guardiansto remove
childrenfrom unsuitableparents(Poor Law Act 1899) or the provisionof school
meals, but also the campaignsfor maternityinsurance(benefit to help with the
expensesof childbirth,whichwas includedin LloydGeorge's1911HealthInsurance
Act) and for 'theendowmentof motherhood',the forerunnerof familyallowances.
State responsibilitywas however a generalizedsupervision, very much in the
backgroundas a safetynet. Therealeverydayresponsibilities belongedto the mother.
Because of the declining birth rate motherhood had to be made to seem
desirable;becausehigh infant mortalitywas explainedby maternalinadequacythe
standardsof mothers must be improved.A powerful ideology of motherhood
emergedin relationto theseproblemsof the early20th century,thoughit was firmly
rootedof coursein nineteenth-century assumptionsabout women, domesticityand
individualism.Motherhoodwasto be givennew dignity:it was the dutyand destiny
of womento be the 'mothersof the race', but also theirgreatreward.But just as it
wasthe individualmother'sdutyandrewardto rearhealthymembersof an imperial
race, so it was her individualignoranceand neglectwhichmust accountfor infant
deathsor sick children.Thus moral blackmail,exploitingthe real difficultiesand
insecuritiesof many mothers, underpinnedtheir new lofty status. Nor did their
elevationmean an end to subordination.To be good mothersthey now needed
instruction,organizedthroughthe variousagenciesof voluntarysocietiesand local
government,in the skills of what cameto be known as mothercraft,as they were
being defined by the medicalprofession.Doctors, districtnurses, health visitors,
were all asserting their superior knowledge and authority, establishingmoral
sanctionson groundsof healthandthe nationalinterest,and denigratingtraditional
methodsof childcare- in particularcareby anyoneexceptthe mother:neighbours,
grandmothers,and olderchildrenlookingafter babieswere automaticallyassumed
to be dirty,incompetentandirresponsible.Theauthorityof stateover individual,of
professionalover amateur,of scienceover tradition,of male over female,of ruling
class over workingclass, were all involvedin the redefiningof motherhoodin this
period,and in ensuringthat the mothersof the racewouldbe carefullyguided, not
carriedaway by self-importance.
The ideology of motherhoodtranscendedclass, even though its components

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had differentclass origins. Emphasison the importanceof women not 'shirking'

motherhoodrelatedto the belief that middleand upperclasswomenwere pursuing
new opportunitiesin educationand employmentrather than marrying,or were
marryingbut restrictingthe numberof theirchildren,eithertendencybodingill for
the race. Emphasison maternalignorancerelatedmore to working-classwomen,
who must by definitionbe ignorant,or at the very least irresponsible,since it was
takenfor grantedthatif you knewwhatyou shouldbe doingyou woulddo it, and if
in spite of that knowledgeyou didn't, it must be from fecklessness.It is perhaps
significantthat doctorsweresuchprominentexponentsof the ideology.On the one
hand their experienceof normal working-classlife was usually minimal, since
doctors'fees werebeyondthe working-classbudgetexceptin case of emergency.On
the other,as guardiansof healththey appearedto have some responsibilityfor such
problemsas the preservationof infant life, and mothersmade useful scapegoats,
relievingthemof blame.Failureto breastfeed,takingan infantto the minderin the
cold earlymorningbeforeclockingin at the mill, going out to work at all, were all
signs of maternalirresponsibility,and infant sicknessand death could always be
explainedin suchterms.Evenas carefula statisticianas ArthurNewsholme,in his
reporton infant mortalityfor the medical departmentof the Local Government
Board in 1910, ended up ignoringthe evidenceof his own tables as to regional
variationandthe excessiveincidenceof infantmortalitywhereverparticularfeatures
of working-classurbanlife were concentrated(most of all overcrowdingand the
failureof local authoritiesto introducea waterbornesewage system in place of
middensand ash privies),and soundingoff interminablyabout the 'ignoranceand
fecklessnessof mothers'.[16]
This article,then, is an attemptto explorethe contextin whicha new definition
of woman's role developedin Britainin the early years of this century, and to
suggestsome of the pressureswhichcontributedto the formationof an ideology of
motherhoodwhoseinfluencestilltouchesus today. The ramificationsare manyand
complex,andto follow themall is impossiblein this space,but in the final sectionI
do tryto drawsomeof themtogether.I hopereaderswilltakethis as a startingpoint
for furtherdebate, ratherthan any sort of final word.

* * *


For manydoctorsandmedicalofficersin the 1900sthe savingof infantlife seemsto

havebecome'a matterof Imperialimportance'.[17] At the very least, this became
the normal rationalizationfor any discussionor concern in the area of infant
mortality.Perhapssome went along with the rhetoricbecauseit was catching,or
thoughttheir ideas would get more supportif they could say the nationalinterest
was at stake. Some probablyopposedit withoutgettingmuchof a hearing,or kept
quieton any but strictlymedicalquestions.But some wereardentpropagandistsfor
'the futureof the race';and somereallysharedthe fearsof Garvin,quotedabove, as
to depopulationboth at home and in the Dominions,which 'if not .., occupiedby
people of Britishstock would sooner or later be occupiedby other people'. Such

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ImperialismandMotherhood 15

apprehensions,accordingto G.F. McCleary,in a book he wrote in the 1930s,were

an importantconsiderationwith 'those of us who over 36 yearsago beganto work
for the preservationof infant life'.[18] His testimony-on what appearsto have
been a life-long obsession might not carry much weight on its own, but it is
continuallyconfirmedby readingmedicaljournalsand discussionof the 1900s.
Shortsupplyof the commoditywasnot the only problem:therewas the question
of qualityas well as quantity.It was arguedthat the qualityof survivorsof infant
diseasewas likelyto be impaired:that 'the conditionsto whichone in five or six of
the childrenborn are sacrificed,have a maimingeffect upon the other four or
five',[19]andthatthis too shouldbe of nationalconcern.The outbreakof the Boer
Warin 1899was the occasionfor a waveof jingoisticpropagandaand enthusiasm,
whichbroughta greatmanyyoungmento offer themselvesas recruits.(Two further
factors,then as now, affectedtheirchoice:namelyunemploymentand the hope of
traveland adventure-'a man'slife'.) Theireagernesswas not howeverenoughto
qualifythem:a greatmanyof themwerefound to be physicallyunfit for service
too smallfor instance,or too slight, or with hearttroubles,weak lungs, rheumatic
tendencies,flat feet, or bad teeth. In 1899,out of every 1000, 330 wererejectedon
such grounds;in 1900, 280. (The apparentimprovementis probablybecause the
standardwas loweredas the war went on.)[20] But it was later estimated,in an
influentialarticleby MajorGeneralSir FrederickMauriceKCB,[21]that if initial
rejectionsand also subsequentlosses throughfailureof healthwere both counted,
onlytwo out of everyfive volunteersremainedas effectivesoldiers.Consideringthis
'disproportionbetweenthe willing and the physicallycompetent'appalling and
disastrous,he arguedthatthe crucialquestionwas not how to improvethe recruiting
system(a subjectmuch underdebatejust then), for:

Whateverstepsaretaken... to raisethe standardof the Armyeitherin numbers

or physiqueseemto me to be only like morecarefulmethodsof extractingcream
from milk. The more carefullyyou skim the milk the pooreris the residueof
skimmedmilk. I thinkit is safe to say that no nation was ever yet for any long
time greatand free whenthe armyit put into the field no longerrepresentedits
own virilityand manhood.

If, as it seemed,thesepuny young men weretypicalof their class ('the class which
necessarilysuppliesthe ranksof our army'),the problemwas to discoverwhy, and
to changethings.Proceedingto speculateon possibleexplanations,he accountedfor
the prevalenceof bad teeth among recruitsby unsuitablefood in childhood('the
universaltestimonythat I have heardis that the parentsgive the childreneven in
infancythe food from off their own plates'), and decidedat once that 'the great
original cause' (of bad teeth at this point, but subsequently,and with as little
evidence,of all the ill-health)was 'ignoranceon the part of the mothersof the
necessaryconditionsfor the bringingup of healthychildren'.He referredrather
doubtfullyto Rowntree'srecentenquiryinto povertyin York, but shiedaway from
acceptinggeneralvalidityfor its conclusions(though he quoted them), 'that the
wagespaidfor unskilledlabourin Yorkare insufficientto providefood, shelterand
clothingadequateto maintaina family of moderatesize in a state of bare physical
efficiency',and that 'in this land of aboundingwealth, duringa time of perhaps
unexampledprosperity,probablymorethan one-fourthof the populationare living
in poverty'.York, he felt, must be exceptional:

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16 History Workshop

if this be true for the whole country, then the impedimentto the rearingof
healthy childrenis not the ignoranceof the mothersso much as ... that the
conditionsof modern life do not enable them to supply their childrenwith

Thisconclusionwas unacceptable;andhe preferredto plumpfor 'at least attackable

causessuch as the early marriagesand the want of knowledgeof the mothers'. I
quote his conclusionsat length,and in spiteof his repetition,becausethese themes
recurredthroughoutthe 1900sin the continuingand ramifyingdebateon 'physical
deterioration'set off by the unfit recruits.

Whateverthe primarycause .., we are alwaysbroughtback to the fact that ...

the young man of 16 to 18 years of age is what he is becauseof the training
throughwhichhe has passedduringhis infancyand childhood.'Justas the twig
is bent the tree's inclined'.Thereforeit is to the condition,mental,moral, and
physical,of the womenand childrenthat we mustlook if we have regardto the
futureof our land.... Mr. Barnettin Whitechapel... found that the healthand
long life of the Jews, whose women did not go out to work, comparedmost
favourablywith that of the Christianpopulation,the womenof which worked
withoutadequateregardto their functionas mothers.It does not follow that a
stereotypedcopying of the habits of the Jews would be desirable,but it may
explainandjustifythe view of the Emperorof Germanythat for the raisingof a
virilerace,eitherof soldiersor of citizens,it is essentialthat the attentionof the
mothersof a land should be mainlydevotedto the three Ks-Kinder, Kuche,
Kirche.[Children,Kitchenand Church.]

The General'scall to arms found a ready audience.Alarmistcries of urban

degenerationhadbeenheardalready,andinvokedto explaincitypoverty,thoughas
GarethStedmanJones pointsout they are betterseen as 'a mentallandscapewithin
which the middle class could recognizeand articulatetheir own anxieties about
urbanexistence'.[22]And appealsfor working-classgirlsto be taughtthe theoryand
practiceof housekeepingwerenot neweither:indeedby the turnof the centurysuch
lessons were becomingmore and more general.[23] 'Physical Degeneration'(or
'RaceDegeneration'or Deterioration)now becamethe orderof the day, stimulating
muchdebate,someresearch,anda parliamentary enquiryor two, most importantly
the PhysicalDeteriorationCommittee,which reportedin 1904. The problemwas
constantlylinked with the question of child bearing and rearing,and with the
'ignorance'of working-classmothers;andit was invokedto justifya wide varietyof
campaignsand reforms:on physical education, feeding of schoolchildren,pure
food, clean milk, hygiene and cookery classes for schoolgirls, workgirls, and
mothers,temperance,educationfor parenthood,refusalof marriagelicencesto the
'unfit' or 'degenerate'or even their sterilization.(These includedalcoholics, the
tubercular,vagrantsand the chronicallyunemployed-and more or less anyone
who countedas mentallysick or physicallyabnormal.)
In manycasesthe termsin whichreformswereproposedalso involvedreference
to the nation, the empire,or the race, and in this way measuresmight be rendered
acceptablewhichotherwisewouldhave smackedof socialism.So T.J. Macnamara
(ex-schoolmasterand LiberalMP for NorthCamberwell,in London)writingin the
ContemporaryReview in 1905,aftermakinga wholeseriesof proposals,culminating

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ImperialismandMotherhood 17

in school canteensand free transportand baths for school children, concluded


All this soundsterriblylike rankSocialism.I'm afraidit is; but I am not in the

least dismayed.BecauseI know it also to be first rate Imperialism.BecauseI
knowEmpirecannotbe builton ricketyand flat-chestedcitizens.And becauseI
knowthat it is 'not out of the knittedgun or the smoothedrifle, but out of the
mouthsof babesand sucklingsthat the strengthis ordainedwhich shall still the
Enemyand the Avenger'.[24]

Comparisonscould also be madewith imperialrivals, who withoutaccusationsof

socialism had successfullyturned the attention of the state to national and
particularlychildren'shealth. Japan (a very recent newcomer to the club of
imperialistpowers)wasoften quotedin thiscontext,as at the annualcongressof the
SanitaryInstitute in 1904, where memberswere told (apropos of the medical
inspectionof schoolchildren)that in Japan every schoolchildwas under medical
supervision,andthat firstaid and hygieneweretaughtin school. Japanalso was 'in
no dangerof race-suicide',motherstherewere not 'shrinkingfrom maternityas in
other lands'.[25]Germanywas still more often compared,very directly in The
Improvementof the Dwellingsand Surroundingsof the People: the Exampleof
Germany,a book publishedby T.C. Horsfallin 1904.Germanprovisionof bathsat
school, and food and medicalsupervision,stronglyinfluencedEnglishreformers,
sometimessimply as an example, sometimesas one explanationof Germany's
successas the 'countrywhichhas increasedmost rapidlyin wealthand has become
our most formidableindustrialrival'.[26]
Of course socialists were indeed pushing for these reforms, though in the
interestsof the workingclassand the community,ratherthan the Empire.In some
cases,as withschoolmeals,theyhadbeendemandingthemfor 20 yearsalready.[27]
Butthereweremanyviews,evenamongthosewho calledthemselvessocialists,as to
what should be done and how. Some favoured state or municipalaction and
collectivesolutions,somethe one but not the other. Theywerenot likelyto workin
the voluntary societies which were so active, because their tendency was too
individualist.Muchof theireffort wentinto attemptsto improvethe conditionsof
childrenof school age, ratherthan infants, perhapsbecauselocal school boards
(beforetheirabolition)and local councilswerethe pointsat whichthey could most
easilyexertpressure,and weremorereceptiveto projectswhichcould be organized
through the existing institutionsof schools. Work of this kind was especially
successfulin Bradford.The socialistsistersMargaretand RachelMcMillan,both
therein the 1890sand in Londonlater, werevery active in campaigningfor more
municipalandstateconcernfor the healthof children,but interestinglyaccordingto
MargaretMcMillan,they did not alwayshave the supportof their comrades:

Eventhe LabourPartyoutsideBradfordwas cold. It was the old, old storythat

alwaysbringsa feelingof despair.'Mothersand fathers',it is said, 'havea divine
instinctout of whichtheyproduceeverythingthat is needed.'Theyhave no such
instinct.New help does not rise out of these dim underworlds.It comes always
from anothersource. The infant death-ratewas appalling.[28]

In the southboth sistersmadethe healthandhappinessof childrenthe mainfocus of

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18 History Workshop

theiractivity,puttinginto practicenew ideas about nurseryeducation,the benefits

of open-airteaching(and even sleeping,in their Deptford 'camp school'), and of
school clinics. MargaretMcMillan'swritingson children,though suffused with a
slightlycloyingidealism,are notablyfree of referenceto empireor race, or even to
the next generation:childrenwere importantin themselvesand as futurecitizens.
Her main emphasiswas humanist.[29]
But sometimessocialiststoo - or some kinds of socialists- became infected
withthe rhetoricand eventhe assumptionsof the empire-builders and the eugenists.
RamsayMacDonaldin his Socialismand Government(1909)triedto distinguisha
socialistpositionon the problems,withoutabandoningthe rhetoric.'Eugenics... is
a matterof Stateconcern- not the whole field of Eugenics,but part of the field.'
He regardedrace deteriorationas a social phenomenon,the result of general
ill-health,'an organicdiseaseunderminingthe system';but saw a real conflict for
socialistsbetweentheir duty 'to protectthe weak becauseour sentimentswill not
allowus to sacrificethem', andthe risk for society 'of theirdeterioratingthe stock'.
He rejectedthe proposals of 'the individualistand the reformer'for 'changed
systemsof Poor Law administration,segregationof the unfit, the lethal chamber
and similarthings as preventives'without particularlydiscriminatingbetweenthe
first(presumablydismissedas tinkeringwith the systeminsteadof transformingit),
andthe rest. His own rathervaguesolutionlay in 'mutualaid' and also in education
'to securesuchpersonaltastesregardingbeautyandstrengthas to guaranteethat the
race is being propagatedby healthyand comely men and women'.[30]
MacDonaldwas one of thosewho resignedfrom the FabianSocietywhenit split
over the questionof supportfor imperialism,in 1900duringthe Boer War. In this
'socialist'organizationa poll showedthat 259 supportedGeorgeBernardShawand
SidneyWebb'sargumentfor 'a lofty and public-spiritedImperialism',and only 217
voted for the anti-imperialistposition. The majority Fabian line thus became
supportfor imperialismandthe congenialdoctrineof nationalefficiency,in alliance
with the Liberal-Imperialists, Rosebery,Asquith, Grey, Haldane, and so on. [311
Webb quoted Asquith approvinglyin his proclamationof the new position, an
article in The Nineteenth Centuryand After published in September1901. A
programmebasedon NationalEfficiencywas needed:

HereMrAsquithis on the righttrack.Whatis the use of an Empire(he asks)if it

does not breed and maintainin the truest and fullest sense of the word an
Imperialrace?Whatis the use of talkingaboutEmpireif here, at its verycentre,
thereis alwaysto be found a mass of people, stuntedin education,a prey to
intemperance,huddledand congestedbeyondthe possibilityof realizingin any
true sense eithersocial or domesticlife?

And he called for a raising of standardsof wages, education, and sanitation,

becausethe Empirewas 'rootedin the home'.[32]TheFabianimperialists,withtheir
demandsfor greaterstate responsibilityand planning,but their emphasisalso on
Britain'simperialrole (whichtendedto go with ideasabout the 'imperialrace' and
the threat of its diminishingvitality), were easy prey to the racist ideology of

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ImperialismandMotherhood 19


The advocatesof eugenics,whose influencein this period was pervasive,strongly

believed in the importance of the family and especially the mother, because
improvingthe racialstock was partlya questionof breedingand partlyof rearing,
and in both her health and her role were essential.Although there was overlap
betweentheirideas and those of other people concernedwith infant mortalityand
child health, the priority they set on actually improving the race, and their
assumptionsabout the importanceof heredity,involvedcertainimportantdifferen-
ces. Themoreextremeof themarguedthat preventivemedicineand injudiciousstate
aid interferedwith natural selection and would lead to 'retrogression'and the
multiplicationof the unfit.

Of far more importanceto a people than a declininginfantile mortalityis the

preservationof the national stamina. A multitudeof weaklingsis less to be
preferredthan a handful of virile men, and a healthy people pruned of its
decadentsby a high mortalityamongstits childrenis better than a degenerate
race weakenedby the survivalof its effete progeny.[33]

Theymusteredtheirevidencethrougha researchgroupat the Universityof London,

the Galton Laboratory,set up for 'the study of agenciesundersocial control that
mayimproveor impairthe racialqualitiesof futuregenerations,eitherphysicallyor
mentally';they believedthat:

To producea nationhealthyalikein mindand body mustbecomea fixed idea-

one of almostreligiousintensity-. . . in the mindsof the intellectualoligarchy,
whichafter all swaysthe massesand their leaders.

Their commandof genetictheory and the currencythat their catchwordsand

indeedtheirideasobtained,gave thema greatsenseof poweror even mission:they
werepreparingfor the approachingtime when

we must consciouslycarryout that purificationof the state and race whichhas

hithertobeen the work of the unconsciouscosmicprocess.[34]

The Darwinistand utilitarianoriginsof their arguments(and later their claims of

statisticalproofs) gave them an appearanceof scientificand pragmaticauthority.
This no doubt strengthenedtheir influenceamongthose involvedin theoreticalor
practical'socialengineering'- Fabiansof course,socialscientists(theyfoundedthe
SociologicalAssociation),administratorsand social workers,and also doctorsand
MedicalOfficersof Health.Suchinfluencewas reinforcedthroughtheirelitist and
managerialattitude to politics. In their journal, The Eugenics Review, in the
SociologicalSocietyand its journal, throughthe meetingsand publicationsof the
Eugenics Society, and whereverelse they could get a hearing, they zealously
defendedthe cause of 'natureagainstnurture':the influenceof environment,they
claimed, was 'not one fifth that of heredity,and quite possibly not one tenth of
it'. [35]
Not surprisingly,theyheld strongviewson marriage,in particularthat it should
only be permittedwherethere was nothing nasty to be passed on. At a time of

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20 History Workshop

increasinganxiety about the spread of syphilis and other venerealdiseases this

demandwould no doubt have had its attractionfor doctorsand medicalworkers,
though they held heredityresponsiblealso for a wide range of other ills. In an
exposition of eugenics published in 1904 the eugenic marriageis explainedas

Whena youngman and a youngwoman,offeringthemselvesfor marriage,can

producecertifiedrecordsof their ancestryback for three or four generations,
showingthat theirprogenitorshave been entirely,or largely,free from nervous
prostration, sick headaches, neurasthenia,hysteria, melancholia, St Vitus'
dance, epilepsy,syphilis,alcoholism,pauperism,criminality,prostitutionand
insanity- whenthey can furthershow that theirancestorshave been free from
all other inheritableforms of nervous disorders,includingcertain forms of
deafness,colour blindnessand other indicationsof defectivenessand degener-
acy, then it may truly be said that such a union may be correctlystyled a

If alcoholism, pauperismand criminality,which traditionallywere blamed for

povertyand the miseriesof working-classlife, could be attributedto heredity,by
implicationthey could be ended if marriageand procreationby the poor were
controlled.Conversely,failureto limit theirmultiplicationwould carrythe risk of
disaster:'the urbanproletariatmay crippleour civilization,as it destroyedthat of
Forthose of 'superiorstock', whosemarriageswerenot doom-laden,therelay a
greatfuture.Motherhoodwasto be madein everywaydesirable:its statusraised,its
supremacyacknowledged,its economic security assured, for 'the elevation of
motherhood'was 'the one fundamentalmethodby whichinfantilemortalitymay be
checked'.[38]'Letus glorify, dignifyand purifymotherhoodby everymeansin our
power',demandedJohn Burns(once a militantsocialistengineer,and by this time
LiberalMP and Presidentof the Local GovernmentBoard), in his presidential
addressat the Infant MortalityConferencein 1906,[39]and his words were often
quoted by eugenists and other 'maternalists'.But it had to be informed and
dedicatedmotherhood, and it was threatenedby recent developmentsopening
education and sports to middle-classgirls. Karl Pearson, one of the eugenist
founding fathers, was among those who believed with Herbert Spencer that
individualintellectualdevelopment(especiallyin women)might impairthe repro-
ductivepowers:in 1885he wrotethat 'if child-bearingwomenmustbe intellectually
handicapped,thenthe penaltyto be paid for racepredominanceis the subjectionof
women', and such ideas continuedto be held and voiced in the 1900s.[40]
The 'newwomen'of the 20th century,in spite of their 'largeroutlook on life',
wrotea doctorin the EugenicsReviewin 1911,wereless fit than their predecessors
'to becomethe mothersof a strongerand morevirilerace, able to keepBritainin its
presentproudposition amongthe nationsof the world'.

Thereis no doubtthat the new womanis a moreinterestingcompanionthan her

predecessors,and that she has made greatprogressin the arts and sciences,in
tradesand professions,but the questionof questionsis - is she a bettermother
of the race? Does, for instance, her knowledgeof mathematics,or even her
efficiencyin athletics,make her intrinsicallya bettermotherthan the natural,
bright,intelligentgirl interestedin frills, dancesand flirtations?...

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ImperialismandMotherhood 21

Womanlinessis disassociatedin men's and also in most women's minds with

eitherintellectualpoweror physicaldevelopment,but is ... rightlyor wrongly
associatedwith certainpassivequalities, such as sympathyand tenderness...
whichbest find theirexpressionin the domesticsphereand more particularlyin
the rolesof wife and mother... may it not be that the manlinessof men and the
womanlinessof women are ... but the modern expressionof Natural Selec-
tion? [41]

Others maintainedthat a woman's health and child-bearingcapacity would be

damagedby excessiveactivity(physicalor intellectual)in adolescence,and advised
againstany but the most desultoryoccupations.[42] MaryScharlieb,an influential
eugenistdoctor, wouldnot go so far (perhapsbecauseher professionalstatusmade
her somethingof a 'new woman' herself). She fearedthat excessiveathleticsand
gymnasticswould be harmfulboth to the individualand to the race, tendingto
producewhatshe called'the "neuter"typeof girl', whoseboyishasexualfigurewas
matchedby disinclinationfor maternity.But she recommendedgeneral 'physical
culture'(especiallydancing)for its moral and physicaleffects, and because:

Oursis a people whichhas been commissionedto carrythe lamp of light and

learningto the uttermostends of the earth,and it will neitherfail as long as it is
worthy, nor cease while aughtremainsto be done. That we may be worthy, it
behovesus to perfectthe spirit,mindand body of everyman and every woman
by our imperialrace.[43]

Of coursethe discussionof the valueof exercisefor adolescentgirls was concerned

only with the daughtersof the well-to-do.Working-classgirlsat pubertyworkedin
factoriesand laundriesand in servicewith no reductionof the demandsmade on
their strength.[44]
Womanmustbe taughthow 'to exerciseher greatnaturalfunctionof choosing
the fathersof the future',andto understand'the age at whichshe shouldmarry,and
the compatibilitybetweenthe dischargeof her incomparablefunctionsof mother-
hood and the lesser functionswhich some women now assume'.[45] Motherhood
thougha destinedand naturalfunctionneverthelessneededto be taught;therewere
skillsto be learntso that the eugenicallyconceivedbabywouldalso be rearedto its
bestadvantage.The responsiblemotherwouldstudyexpertopinionand put herself
and her family underthe supervisionof a doctor, preferablya specialist,whose
instructionsshe wouldthen execute.Teachingwas desirablein 'the subjectsof food
and dietetics,the physiologyof nutrition,and the effects of propersanitation',for
in this way:

by instructionleadingto the inmprovement

of the individualwe shall aid in pre-
servingwomen for theirsupremepurpose,the procreationand preservationof
the race, and at the sametime promotethat race to a betterstandard,mentally
and physically.[46]

But this emphasison the functionsof motherhoodwas not to be thoughtbelittling

or confining:the thoughtfulwomanwould realizethat 'upon womanhoodlargely
dependsthe standardattained by the world's ethical code'. Entrustedwith the
greatestof all humanassets,the child,she wouldrespondto the need for skilfulcare

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22 History Workshop

andguidanceduring'thoseimpressionableyearsconsecratedto characterformation
and physicaldevelopment',for was it not:

a trumpetcallto awakenwomanto her weightyobligations,as muchimperialas

domesticor social, and to arouseher to the imperativenecessityof preparation,
intelligentand sustained,for their fulfilment?[47]

Eugenicspropagandawas directedmainlyat the middleandupperclasses,partly

becausetheytendedto believethatevenin an apparentdemocracytherewas an elite
who in fact werethe only ones whose opinion counted, and also becausein their
analysisthe poor were almost inevitably'dysgenic'(the opposite of eugenic), so
there was little point in teachingthem how to choose noble mates or rear little
imperialassets. Indeedthere was a class fear that the middleclasses, who clearly
werenow beginningto limittheirfamilies,wouldlimitthemselvesout of existence.
The choice of abstinencefrom marriagewas also more feasible for middle-class
women, who were startingto have greaterpossibilitiesof economicindependence
without social stigma. So the reason for the trumpet-callwas partly to remind
women that 'the sacred duties of motherhoodmust not be shirked'[481and the
constant emphasis on the moral reward was perhaps necessary to offset the
increasinglyrecognizedadvantagesof the singlelife or the smallfamily.Doctorstoo
wereseento havea responsibilityin this direction,presumablyin discouragingtheir
patients from restrictingtheir families. (BertrandRussell in his autobiography
recordedthe oppositionof the familydoctorto the decisionhe and his wife madeto
use contraception,thoughthis was slightlyearlier.)[49]At the inauguralmeetingof
the British GynaecologicalSociety in 1904 the assembled gynaecologistswere
warnedthat marriagesamong the better classeswere now so sterile 'that a quite
undue and dangerousproportionof the risinggenerationwas recruitedfrom the
lower, the more ignorant, the more vicious, and semi-criminalpopulation'. The
speakerwent on - invoking the full authorityof his position as president- to
adjurehis audiencein these words:

I would like to sting my fellow countrymeninto some proportionatesense of

shameand duty ... as the temporaryhead of a greatBritishsocietywhichmay
wellclaimto be the greatestBritishauthorityon suchquestions,I am surelynot
oversteppingmy provinceif I ask for the grave interestof every fellow in this
subject.... Forwithus lies a greatresponsibility,and ours will be to a verylarge
extentthe blameif in after yearsthe lamp of the Anglo Saxonsis found to be


In his pamphleton the decliningbirth-rate,publishedas a Fabian tract in 1907,

SidneyWebbpresenteda moresophisticatedargument,but with some of the same
assumptions.He drewtogethervariousfindingson the fall in the nationalbirth-rate
overthe previoustwo or threedecades,and suggestedsome likelyconsequences.His
deductionswerebasednot only on the clearlyproveddeclinein birthsin all classes,
but also on the assumption- for whichstatisticalevidenceof the same qualitywas

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ImperialismandMotherhood 23

not available- that the phenomenonwas more markedamong 'the self-controlled

and foreseeingmembersof each class', and was the resultof intentional'regulation
of the marriagestate'. He had no moral objectionsto such regulation,regardingit
as rationaland prudentunderthe prevailingsocialconditions,sincein four-fifthsof
the nation's households the birth of children was 'attended by almost penal
consequences'. (He meant the cost of rearing children.) But he regardedits
implicationsfor the nation with anxiety. In his view the argumentthat excessive
populationled to increasedpovertyno longerheld, since collectivebargainingand
state controlshould betweenthem make it possibleto securea nationalminimum
standardof living. Population increase on the contrary must be encouraged,
especiallyamong those groups which were now limiting their families. Decline
would be nationallydisastrous,as the less provident,and thereforeless desirable
and fit, sectionof the populationwouldgo on breeding,whichwould lead to racial
deterioration,and any vacuum would be filled by 'freely-breedingalien immi-
grants', which would involve the country 'graduallyfalling to the Irish and the
But he saw hope in the fact that the declinein birthsresultedfrom voluntary
restrictionratherthan degeneracyof the nationalfertility.'A deliberatelyvolitional
interference,due chiefly to economicmotives, can at any moment be influenced.'
The answerwas to 'alter the balance of considerationsin favour of the child-
producingfamily'. This would involvea changeof perspective,the realizationfor

the most valuableof the year's crops, as it is the most costly, is not the wheat
harvestor the lambing, but the year's quota of adolescentyoung men and
womenenlistedin the productiveserviceof the community.

The state would thereforehave to recognizeits responsibilitiesand encouragethe

rationalchoice to have childrenby 'the systematic"endowmentof motherhood",
and placethis most indispensableof all professionsupon an honourableeconomic
basis'. He anticipatedsuch measuresbeing proposedas 'the municipalsupply of
milkto all infants, and a free meal on demandto all mothersactuallynursingtheir
babies',the feedingof schoolchildren,and maintenancescholarshipsfor secondary
educationto encouragemiddle-classparents.[51]
'Endowmentof motherhood'was a demand for financialrecognitionby the
state that mothers'work rearingchildrencontributedto the good of society. Alys
Russellwas speakingon it in 1896duringa visit to the UnitedStates;it was a major
demandin a Frenchpamphletpublishedin translationby the IndependentLabour
Party in the 1890sas Womanand the Suffrage;and it was a common featureof
socialist programmes.Dr Alice Drysdale Vickery, balancingbetween socialism,
feminismand eugenics,arguedin 1906 for its importanceto women's economic
independence,and feministsand socialistsstressedthis aspect. EleanorRathbone
was to be its best-knownand longest-persevering proponent,using every possible
argument,includingthat it wouldgive the state the powerto 'manipulatethe birth
rate'.[52]As proposedin the 1900sby Webb and the Fabiansit was effectivelyan
economicversionof the eugenists''elevationof motherhood'(althoughnot to be
appliedselectively,so not meetingtheircriteria);andindeeddemandsfor improving
the economicand the moralstandingof motherhoodoften went together.A more
moderateproposal,for maternityinsurance,wasalso commonlyput forwardat this

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24 History Workshop

time, and was incorporatedin the 1911 health insuranceprovisions: this was
intendedsimply to help with the expensesof confinement,and in fact scarcely
coveredthem. One doctor, C.T. Ewart,suggestedin the EmpireReviewthat sucha
schemecombinedwith 'lactationpremiumsto those motherswho feed their own
babies'wouldbe 'of greatervital importanceto the racethan old age pensions'.[53]


Emphasison motherhoodwasby no meansconfinedto the eugenistsandtheircloser

followers.It was the commonfeaturein all the discussionof infant mortalityand
childwelfare,whetherthe focus was on qualityor quantity,on the encouragement
andnurtureof the fittest,or the preservationof all infant life. Eugeniststalkedalso
abouteducationfor parenthood;occasionallysomeonemightrecommendinvolving
fathersin the upbringingof theirchildren;[54]but overwhelmingly (andespeciallyin
the medicalpress)it wasmaternalignorancethatwasblamed,not parental-'faulty
maternal hygiene', or the mother's neglect, intemperance,employment, early
marriage,and so on. From'the physiologicallaw that infantlife is dependantupon
the motherfrom nine monthsbefore birthuntil nine monthsafter birth',[55]from
the recognitionthatin pregnancy'themother'swell-beingand the child'swell-being
areinseparable',[56] fromthe discoverythat mortalitywas lower amongbreast-fed
babies,[57]camethe argument'in dealingwith infantmortalityit is the motherswe
must go for not the babies',[58]and this was extendedto mean far more than the
mother'shealth.Biologicallybasedreasoningwas usedto justify a socialconstruct,
motherhood.And the ideologywaspassedon to mothersalongwith practicaladvice
in the newly proliferatingmanuals on child care, even those intended for the

If everywomanwho takes upon herselfthe sacredrelationshipof motherhood

couldbe led to realizehow she is responsiblefor the futureof the baby-life,and
how the truegreatnessof the individualconstitutesthe truegrandeurof nations,
we should have healthierbabies and happierhomes, and the disintegrationof
family life would be a menaceno more.[59]

Nineteenth-century criticismof mothershad dweltmost often on the iniquityof

their going out to work.[60] Workingmothersof the early 20th centurydid not
escapesimilardenunciation,but as 10 yearsof legal restrictionon the employment
of mothersin the first monthafterchildbirthhad not loweredinfantmortality,and
as investigationsshowed that infant mortalityrates were extremelyhigh in some
areas (Tynesideand South Wales particularly)where mothersrarelywent out to
work, it was increasinglyrecognizedthat other factorsmust be involved.Maternal
ignoranceprovidedan acceptablealternativeexplanation.It could includeall the
mother'sfailings, includinggoing out to work, yet by stressingknowledgerather
thannecessity,it madethe problemsseem soluble.Motherswouldwant the best for
the babies,thereforeall thatwas necessarywas to educatethemin whatthey should
be doing. So for example the British Medical Association in 1904, on the
recommendation of its publichealthcommittee,launcheda petition(for whichthey
collected1400signaturesin the first week)representingto the Boardof Education:

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A Group of MNothers and Blalics.

.S , vi.,

1I41 E -

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26 History Workshop

that it is of urgentimportancethat elementaryinstructionin health subjects,

includingtemperance,shouldbe providedin all primaryschoolsin orderthat the
conditionswhich lead to deteriorationof the nationalphysiquemay be under-
stood and as far as possibleprevented.[61]

Specialattentionto the care and feedingof infants was to be taught to future

mothers,whichit wasassumedmeantall girlsand youngwomen.MrsBosanquet,a
well-knownsocial workerand commentatoron social problems,advocatingwhat
she called'a woman'sremedy',in an articleentitled'PhysicalDeteriorationand the
PovertyLine', enjoined:

Beginwiththe girlsin school, and give themsystematicand compulsoryinstruc-

tion in the elementarylaws of healthand feeding,and care of children,and the
wise spendingof money. Go on with the young women in eveningclasses and
girls'clubs;and continuewith the motherswhereveryou can get at them.... It
has been possibleto awakenan intelligentinterestin window gardeningin the
verypoorestquartersof our towns, and it oughtnot to be impossibleto awaken
a similarintelligentpridein the care of children.... What we want is a reform
whichwill providesuitablefood and care for the childrenfrom the first day of
their lives, and continueto provideit throughoutmanhoodand old age; and
thereis no way of securingthat exceptthroughthe mothersand wives.[62]

It is interestingin this passage that not only is all domestic instruction and
responsibilityrelevantonlyto girls,but it is assumedthat the babiesare male- they
are to be caredfor as childrenand 'throughoutmanhood'and old age. This was in
fact quiteoften impliedin the rhetoricof these discussions,and points to the very
directconnectionwith concernaboutthe 'materialof Empire',as Mastermanput it
in his denunciationof conditionsAt the Heart of the Empire(1901)- 'the future
colonizersand soldiers,not to mentionthe traders,who hold the Empiretogether'.
[63]Thewordvirilewas constantlyused, evenwhenthe issuewasnot specificallythe
healthof recruits.'Futurecitizens',in those days when womendid not vote, were
menof course;andthe eugenistKarlPearsondefinedthe desirablecharacteristics of
good Englishstock entirelyin terms of the 'typicalEnglishmanof the past'. ('A
clean body, a sound if slow mind, a vigorous and healthy stock, a numerous
progeny'were'the essentialsof imperialrace',the ideal of all 'who havethe welfare
of thenationandourracialfitnessfor the world-struggle at heart'.)[64]Mothersthus
becameresponsibleto the nationaboveall for the productionand rearingof healthy
sons; in spite of 'the elevationof motherhood'the productionof healthy future
motherswas much less commonlydemanded.
The focus on mothersprovidedan easy way out. It was cheaperto blamethem
and to organizea few classesthan to expand social and medical services,and it
avoided the political problem of provoking rate- and taxpayers by requiring
extensivenew finance.[65]And thereseemedmorechanceof educatingindividuals,
futureor presentmothers,thanof banishingpoverty.So eventhose who recognized
- or paidlip-serviceto - the importanceof environment wereliableto fall backon
suchmeasuresas moredomesticsciencein schools, and educationfor motherhood,
and banningthe employmentof mothers.The parliamentarycommitteeinvestigat-
ing physicaldeteriorationin 1904,decidingthat whileactualdeteriorationremained
unproven working-classhealth neverthelessleft much to be desired, made 53

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ImperialismandMotherhood 27

recommendations.Manyof them dealt with the environment(overcrowding,open

spaces, smoke, pollution, houses in bad repair, insanitaryconditions, cooking
facilities,milk supply,etc), or with other aspectsof working-classlife (unemploy-
ment, the provisionof creches,work conditions,over-fatigue,the employmentof
youngpersonsand of womenin factories,adulteratedfood, insurancefor sickness,
for unemployment,and particularlyfor childbirth).Othersdealt with the powers
and organizationof local and health authorities. But overwhelmingly,in the
discussionwhichfollowedpublicationof the report,most of that rangewas ignored.
The recommendationswhichwere quoted and endorsedwere those concerningthe
instructionof girlsandwomenin cooking,hygiene,andchildcare. Theseweremore
acceptablethan for instancethe registrationof landlordswith a view to enforcing
repairsand the provisionof decentliving conditions.
But there were in fact considerableproblemsin implementingthe catch-all
solutionof teachingfuturemothers. Provision for furthereducationof girls who
had left school (at 13 or 14 usually)was not widespread,was organizedmuch more
aroundcommercialskills, and would not necessarilyattractgirls who had been at
workall day andmightwellhavetheirshareof choresto do at home in the evening.
(In fact it's likelythat manyof these 'little mothers'who alreadyhad a greatdealto
do with childcarewouldhave felt they had little to learn.)Girls' clubs, anotherof
Mrs Bosanquet'ssuggestions,were unevenlydistributedand sometimesirregularly
attended;in any case they reachedonly a few girls. In schools the syllabusof girls
wasalreadyoverloaded:to theiroriginalhandicapof needleworkhad beenadded(in
the big citiesat least)classesin cookery,laundryand housewifery,but withno very
satisfactoryresults.It was expensiveto providethe necessaryequipment,and what
was providedbore no relationto whatthey wereused to, being too up-to-dateand
probablytoo large-scale.In cookeryclassesthe dishescooked were supposedto be
paidfor to covertheircost, but often the girlscould not afford them and they might
endup eatenby the teachers.Nor couldthe girlsget muchpracticeat home, evenif
any of the dishesthey weretaughtwerewithinthe family'smeans:few mothersfelt
they could risk experimentwith the carefully rationed supplies. There were
complaintsthat laundryworkwas taughtby givingthe girlstheir teachers'washing
to do; or thattheywerelearningskillsonly relevantto domesticservice,not to their
familyneeds.[66]To set up classesin infantcarewas even moretricky- whatcould
they practise on? Dolls were proposed, or borrowed babies, but one was too
unrealistic,and the other was difficult to organize.Nevertheless,at the Board of
Education,on the instigationof its presidentWalterRunciman,with the strong
supportof RobertMorant,its secretary,and of the Chief MedicalOfficer, George
Newman(allgentlemenwithoutschool-teachingor presumablydomesticexperience),
a circularwas preparedby JanetCampbellurgingon local educationauthoritiesand
teachers'the great importanceof increasingand improvingthe presentinadequate
provisionin our schools for instructingthe girls in the care and managementof
infants'.Thehopewasthatby teachinggirlsand womenhow to take careof infants
both mortalityand ill-healthin infancyand childhoodmightbe diminished.[67]All
girlswereto learnit, includingthe dullerones, who mightwell discoverthey could
for oncedo somethingas well as the brighterones, and who wouldlearn'withtheir

intellectualattainmentis not the only issue of true education, and that in

learningthe art and practiceof infant carethey are helpingto securefor them-
selvestheir true place in the futureof the state.[68]

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28 History Workshop

They were, of course, 'the mothersof the next generation'.[69]


In 1906the first NationalConferencefor the Preventionof Infant Mortalitytook

place, underthe auspicesof the Local GovernmentBoard.[70]The papersread at
the conferenceexploredsome of the possiblefactorsand ways of counteringthem.
Likethe recommendations of the PhysicalDeteriorationCommitteethey went into
possible administrativemeasures:the appointmentof qualified women health
visitors,publicprovisionof puremilk, earliernotificationof births,the regulation
of child-minding,the amendmentof the Infant Life ProtectionAct, the powersof
local authorities,the operationof the MidwivesAct. But therewas nothingon the
environment,unlessone countsthe two paperson the milk supply;and the aspects
of working-classlife discussedhadlittleto do with economicsor workor poverty-
thereweretwo paperson infant life insurance,two on alcoholism,[71] and one on
the employmentof marriedwomen in factories. Only two examinedhealth in
childbirth(one on prematurebirth,one on ante-natalcausesof infantilemortality,
includingalcoholism),[72]thoughone by Sykestouchedon this area('TheTeaching
of the Hygieneof the ExpectantMother').The first paperwas an addressby the
influentialDr James Niven, MedicalOfficer of Health for Manchester,on 'The
Teachingin Schoolsof ElementaryHygienein Relationto the Rearingof Infants'.
Thepresidentialaddresswasgivenby JohnBurns,in his capacityas Presidentof
the Local GovernmentBoard. He began by suggestingthat 'in equal parts the
mother, society and industry'were to blame for high infant mortality. But his
discussionof the problemwas in fact couched entirelyin terms of mothers. He
blamedtheir delinquencyin giving birth outside wedlock (the mortalityrate was
substantiallyhigher for illegitimate children, probably because the economic
situationof a womanon herown was so bad);theirintemperancewith alcohol;their
employment(disastrousfor moral trainingand disciplineas well as health);even
theirallegedinterestin physicalexercise.(This is of courseanotherexampleof the
way that the rhetoricof motherhoodignoredclass difference.)He believedthat:

at the bottomof infantmortality,highor low, is good or bad motherhood.Give

us good motherhood,and good pre-natalconditions,and I have no despairfor
the futureof this or any other country.

(This statementwas to be quotedagain and again.) The contributionsof industry

and society had disappeared:he attributedpreventibledeath to 'cruelty, over-
feeding,under-feeding,ignorance,stupidity,or improperfeeding'.[73]
The next conference, in 1908, developed this emphasis on the mother still
further:its programme,as one of the participants(an enthusiasticallyeugenist
doctor called Caleb Saleeby) later wrote, 'proceeded upon a principle- the
principleof the supremacyof motherhood'.[74] Saleeby'ssubject, 'The Human
Mother',set the tone. Anothereugenist,Alice Ravenhill(who in 1897-8had written
threepamphletsfor the Women'sCo-operativeGuild,and latera specialreportfor
the Board of Educationon domestic science teachingin the United States),[75]
spoke on 'The Educationof Girls and Women in the Functions and Duties of
Motherhood'. AldermanBroadbentof Huddersfield,where for several years a

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ImperialismandMotherhood 29

scheme had been operatingto encouragebreast-feedingand provide support in

child-rearing throughregularhome-visits(to whichBroadbent'scontributionduring
his yearas mayorwas a systemof vouchersto the mothersof newbornbabieswhich
they could redeemfor a sovereignif the infant survivedits first year), spoke on
'Educationand Instructionfor Mothers' (not on bribery).[76] There were two
paperson the best way to help mothersbelow the poverty line, two on parental
neglect, and one demandingcontrolson the sale of infant foods. The only other
paperwas on 'ThePowersof Boardsof Guardiansin Relationto the Parentsandthe
Need of Further Extension': this presumablydealt with the alternativeswhen
Saleebyand Ravenhill,whose names crop up continuallyin these years, were
ardentproponentsof what Saleeby called 'maternalism',as well as of eugenics.
Saleebysaw himselfas a followerof his 'augustmaster'FrancisGalton, the father
of eugenics,who apparentlyhad said that 'his disciplesmust instil these principles
into the public mind like a new religion'.[77]Both howeverwere on the humane
wingof eugenics;theywereconcernedwithactualinfantand childlife as well as the
eugenicideal. Saleebywas againstthe so-callednegativeeugenicmethods(steriliza-
tion or the lethal chamber,or oppositionto preventivemedicine):he arguedthat
interventionto improvethe racecould only take placebeforeconception:'fromthe
momentof conceptiona newindividualhas beenformed',andits destruction'except
to savethe life of the mother'would be murder.[78] He did not oppose preventive
measureslike crechesand the provisionof puremilk, though he regardedthem as
stopgapsand dislikedthem becausethey 'infringedthe maternalistprinciple',that
is, theyencouragedsubstitutionfor the mother.The hardlineeugenistmightbelieve
'that in the presentunorganizedstate of society, in the presentdethronedstate of
motherhood,it werevastlybetterhad manyeven of the healthymajorityneverbeen
born', but in Saleeby'sview sincethe childrenexistedtherewas no choicebut to do
the best for them.[79]
Beliefin preparationfor parenthood,the strandin eugenicthinkingwhichboth
Saleebyand Ravenhillmost stronglypropounded,and also concern for existing
infantsand children('to stopthis childslaughterandchilddamage'),led themto the
mother.Womanwas 'Nature'ssupremeinstrumentof the Future',Saleebywrotein
the introductionto his book Parenthoodand Race Culture(1909);[80]and he
devoteda furthervolumeentirelyto Womanand Womanhood(1912),in whichhis
ideasare set out at length. He seemsto have been a popularspeaker,certainlyhis
turnsof phrasein the books are often memorable;his criticismof municipalmilk
depots for instanceends up: 'Thereis no State womb, there are no State breasts,
there is no real substitutefor the beauty of individualmotherhood'.[81]Marie
Stopes, in the prefaceto MarriedLove, quotedhim approvinglyon the difference
betweenthe mothercat (instinctivelyexpert)and the humanmother(needingto be
trained).[82] His flair for putting across the argumentsis well illustratedin this

Thehistoryof nationsis determinednot on the battlefieldbut in the nursery,and

the battalionswhichgivelastingvictoryare the battalionsof babies.The politics
of the futurewill be domestics.[83]

Butit was also no doubtimportantthatwhathe wassaying,especiallyon the subject

of maternalism,was well withinthe mainstreamof discussion.

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30 History Workshop


Even those who were most expert in the field of infant mortalitywere liable to
succumbto the rhetoricof maternalism.GeorgeNewman, for instance, in Infant
Mortality, analyzed the causes of death and their variations, and recognized
environmentalfactors of all kinds, yet still gave them second place or expressed
them in termsof motherhood:

This book will have been writtenin vain if it does not lay the emphasisof this
problemupon the vital importanceto the nation of its motherhood.

It becomes clear that he is includingthe physicalstate of the mother under

this heading:deathsof prematureinfantsarethe resultof the mothers'debility,and
externalconditions of poverty are mediatedby the mother:their effects on her
health as well as on how she managesto run the householdall seem to count as

The problemof infant mortalityis not one of sanitationalone, or housing, or

indeedof povertyas such,but is mainlya questionof motherhood.... Improved
sanitation,betterhousing,cheapand good food, domesticeducation,a healthy
life of body and mind- these are the conditions which lead to efficient
motherhoodfrom the point of view of child-bearing.Theyexertbut an indirect
effect on the childitself, who dependsfor its life in the first 12 monthsnot upon
the Stateor the municipality,nor yet upon this or that systemof crecheor milk-
feeding, but upon the health, the intelligence,the devotion and the maternal
instinctof the mother.And if we wouldsolvethe greatproblemof infantmortal-
ity, it would appearthat we must first obtain a higher standardof physical

This confusionbetweenmotherhoodin the ideologicalsense and the healthof the

motherwas presumablythe resultof over-exposureto the endlessmystificationand
rhetoricabout motherhood,so that his actual observationsof the role of maternal
ill-healthand the conditions of poverty got overlayed. Elsewherehowever the
contributionsof povertyand ill-healthwereleft out altogether,and the responsibil-
ity is once again placedon maternalignoranceand negligence.

Deathin infancyis probablymoredue to suchignoranceand negligencethan to

almost any other cause, as becomes evidentwhen we rememberthat epidemic
diarrhoea,convulsivedebility,andatrophy,whichare amongthe most common
causesof death, are broughtabout in largemeasureowing to improperfeeding
or ill-timedweaning;bronchitisand penumoniaare due not infrequentlyto
carelessexposure(indooror outdoor);and death from measlesand whooping
coughis largelycausedby mismanagementof nursing.To remedythis condition
of things three measuresneed to be carriedout: (a) instructionof mothers,
(b) the appointmentof lady health visitors, and (c) the educationof girls in

Newmanwas a lifelong Quakerwhose career suggests a strong sense of public

responsibility.Afterqualifying(in 1892)he specializedin publichealth,and with 10

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ImperialismandMotherhood 31

years'experienceas a MedicalOfficerof Health(for Bedfordshireand for Finsbury)

he becamethe first Chief MedicalOfficer of Healthto the Boardof Educationin
1907,and organizedthe medicalinspectionof schoolchildren,continuallypressing
in his annual reportsthat it should be extendedto all areas. Perhapshis Quaker
backgroundand his own childlessmarriagemadehim particularlysusceptibleto the
ideologyof domesticityand motherhood;in any case he believedthat homes were
the vitals of a nation, and that the BritishEmpiredepended'not upon dominions
and territoryalone, but upon men, not upon marketsalone, but upon homes.'[86]
Certainlyhis positionin the Boardof Educationand his close workingrelationship
withits secretary,SirRobertMorant,gave him the opportunity(as we have seen)to
presshis views on the usefulnessof educationfor motherhood.
His older colleague,ArthurNewsholme,had also earlyturnedhis attentionto
infantmortality.In the tradition(as he pointedout in his autobiographymanyyears
later) of Simon and Farr, the mid-nineteenth-century pioneersof public health,
Newsholmewas a carefulstatistician,and alreadyin the 1880swas collectingdataon
the incidenceof infant mortalityin Brighton,where he was Medical Officer of
Health. He saw the conditionsof povertyas havinga large influence, and argued
againstsimple generalizationsabout the incapacityof working-classmothers. He
refusedto associatehimselfwith those who usedthe argumentof racedeterioration
(as for instancein the BritishMedicalAssociation's1904petitionfor hygienelessons
in school,whichhe wouldnot signthoughhe partlyagreedwiththe demand),on the
groundsthaturbanizationandthe currentsocialarrangements had for somedecades
resultedin deplorablehealthfor the workingclasses, and therewas no evidenceof
recentchangesfor the worse, only a new awareness.[87] He almost neverused the
vocabularyof empireand nation:generallyhe took for grantedthat infantmortality
deservedattentionas a major health problem.Wherehe did introducea political
justificationfor health measures,in arguingthe case for medicalexaminationof
schoolchildren,he talkedof the 'socialvalue'of each scholar,and of safeguarding
their health 'in the interestsof the community'.[88] He even counteredeugenist
allegationsthatthe birthratewas decliningfastestin the classeswhosecontribution
to the race and the nation was most important,by arguingthat 'special fitness to
replenishthe worldis not a monopolyof class, but occursin stockswhichare found
in everysocial stratum';or againthat a distinctionmustbe drawnbetweenintrinsic
inferiorityand 'inferiorityassociatedwith present social circumstances'.While
accepting that the children of the poor were handicappedin their potential
achievement,he was 'satisfiedthatno sufficientevidencehas beenproducedto show
that thereis innateinferiorityin a large proportionof the wage-earningclass'.[89]
(On the questionof race and empire,unfortunately,his views though cautiously
expressedseem moredubious:it could not be 'a matterof indifference'what races
peopled'the unfilledportionsof the world', and everyBritonwould 'wish that his
race may have the preponderantshare in shaping the future destinies of man-
Newsholme'sapproachto the question of infant mortality(like Newman's)
involvedclose examinationof causes.Yet like Newmanhe sometimeslet biasagainst
mothersprevail,as in his 1910reportto the LocalGovernmentBoardon infantand
childmortality.[91] Nevertheless,his constantawarenessof the contextof poverty
madehim relativelyrealisticabout working-classlife, its problems,and its endless
variationwith regionand community.In his autobiography,writtenit is truein the
1930s, he largely escapedthe influenceof maternalism.Maternalignorance,he

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32 History Workshop

tartlyobserved,provideda convenientexplanationof excessivemortality,it was 'a

comfortabledoctrinefor the well-to-dopersonto adopt' since it led to 'the notion
thatwhat is chieflyrequiredis the distributionof leafletsof advice,or the givingof
theoreticalinstructionin personalhygiene'. Mothersin all classes,he pointedout,
mightbe ignorantbut 'themotherin comfortablecircumstances' was able 'to ensure
for herinfantcertainadvantageswhichthe infantof the poorermotheroften cannot
obtain'. Theseincludedrelieffrom otherhouseholddutiesand helpwith the infant
itself;accessto the mosthygienicallyobtainedmilk, andgood conditions- a pantry
or a cool place-in whichto store it; alternativecare for the child in case of the
mother'sillness('if the working-classmotheris ill the childmustoften sufferwithits
mother');good nursingand medicalattentionfor the child if sick; rest, so that her
milk wouldbe moreplentifuland richer,and her relationshipwith the child under
less stressthan if she was overworkedand sufferingfromchronicfatigue;a healthy
environmentas regardsspace, ventilation,sanitationand so on. The ignoranceof
the working-classmother, he concluded, 'is more dangerous,becauseassociated
with relativesocial helplessness'.[92] Or again he stressedthe need to foster the
healthof the mother,'aidedby hygienicand medicalhelp for her children'.[93]He
did however attach importanceto education, though of the public mind and
consciencein generalas well as of mothers.In tryingto explainthe plummetingof
infantdeathsin the 20thcentury(1900: 154 per 1000live births;1920:105per 1000;
1920: 80 per 1000; 1930: 60) he suggestedas one prime factor the influence of
elementaryschools, with their 'constantstimulusof emulationtowardstidinessand
cleanliness',and pointed out that the girls in the first generationof compulsory
schoolingwere the mothersof infants in the 1900s.[941He also remarkedthat the
decliningbirthrate(whichin his view had affectedthe wage-earningclassesas well
as the better-off) meant smaller families, and therefore 'for the working-class
mother,moretime and an improvedexchequerto devoteto the careof each child',
whichwould be likelyto improve'each child's prospectof life and health'. (This
however,like the improvementin living standardsfor most people over the last
decadesof the 19thcentury,could not, he argued,have been a chief factor in the
declineof infant mortality,since both developmentsprecededit.)[95]


Thisis not the placefor a detaileddiscussionof the causesof infantmortality,but it

wouldperhapsbe usefulto give someidea of the conditionsof working-classfamily
life in the 1900s,and in thatcontextto look at the explanationswhichweregivenfor
the 'annualholocaust'.The problem,as Newsholmeremarkedof infant diarrhoea,
was an urban one, and one mainly 'of the artisan and still more of the lower
labouringclasses'.[96]The working-classfamily at this time varied considerably,
accordingto wage level, local employmentopportunitiesand rents,and custom.As
a generalrulein the townsand cities,the betterandmorecertaina wagea man could
earn,the lesslikelyhis wife wasto go out regularlyto work,providedhe remainedin
healthand employment.Amongartisansespecially,wherean adequateand regular
wagewasmostusual,the way of life of the familywouldfrequentlyapproximateto
the middle-classideal:breadwinner,housekeeper,and dependentchildren.A better
standardof living- morespace,morefurniture,moreclothes,more food - tended
also to meanmorehousework,so that the motherwho could afford to stay at home

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ImperialismandMotherhood 33

wouldalso be the one for whomthe housewifelyrole was becomingmoreand more

full-time.Her childrenwouldbe regularat school, so she wouldnot havetheirhelp
duringthe day;shewouldhavehigherstandardsas to theirappearanceand the state
of the home, so therewouldbe morewashingand ironingand mendingto do, and
morecleaningand scrubbingand polishing.The careof infantsand toddlerswould
be entirelyin her hands. With money for food beyond bare essentialsshe would
probablycook more. In short she would be fulfilling the functions which she
ought- she would be a properhousewifeand motherby the definitionsimplicitin
the exhortationsto motherhood,though sometimeswith quite a struggle.
At the otherextremeof the workingclasswouldbe familieswherethe fatherwas
absent,dead, ill, or out-of-work,or wherethe wagesthat could be earnedby him or
other membersof the family(includingthe mother)never quite stretchedto meet
theirrequirements.Rowntree's1900surveyin York suggestedthat nearly 10% of
the populationwere living in poverty with such causes, which he called primary
causes,and another18%in secondarypoverty,whereother reasonsalso operated:
in short,that over a quarterwerelivingat a standard'insufficientto maintainmere
physicalefficiency'. He regardedthe overcrowdingwhichresultedfrom high rents
and low wages, and the poor nutritionwhich inadequatebudgets made almost
inevitable,as responsiblefor the generallypoor level of healthin the workingclass
(withthe exceptionof the artisansector).[97]In these poorestfamiliesthe woman's
wagemightbe the only income, and certainlywas essential.Space and possessions
would be minimal,so that houseworkin the sense of daily maintenancewas less,
though a great deal of 'transformation'work might be needed, making over old
clothesto fit currentneeds,mendingand washingfrequentlybecausetherewereno
spares,and so on. Childcarewould be improvised- now a neighbourwould help
out, now an olderchildwouldstayhomefromschool, now the babywouldbe taken
alongto the mother'scleaningjob, or wouldcrawlaroundthe mother'sfeet as she
sat pastingpaperbagsor seamingtrousers.Such a mother, howeverhardworking,
would not appearas a model housewife, or as one properlydedicatedto mother-
Betweenthe very poor and the artisanswas a shifting stratumwhere circum-
stances would determineeverything- the number and ages of the children in
particular,but also the husband'swork and conditionsin his trade, and of course
his health.Herea motherwithyoungchildrenmightnot haveto go out to work, but
sometimesit mightbe necessary,or she mighttake in homeworkon a regularor an
occasionalbasis. A motherwhose childrenwere older might well take casual or
regularemployment.(Mostworking-classchildrenstartedfull-timeschool at three,
though in 1906 an adverse report by the inspectorson infant education led to
attemptsto end or at least limit school provisionfor childrenunderfive: one of the
argumentswas that they oughtto be with theirmothersanyway,but the economic
strainput on the family by withdrawalof infant school provisionwas the main
reasonwhyit was not in fact abolishedat this point.)[981Whentimesweredifficult
relatives or friends might take care of a child or two for a while, or even
permanently;or it was not unusualfor a familywho werenot in difficultiesto take a
girl cousin, say, perhapsfrom the country, to help the motherwith childrenand
housework,or for a local school-leaverto come in regularlyand give a hand, for a
small wage, but often in a relationshipcloserto that of daughterthan of servant.
In all of these groupsbreast-feedingwould be normalat least at first, if it was
physicallypossible.It did not requirea cash outlay, and it was thoughtto postpone

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34 History Workshop

conception.But of coursemotherswho wentout to workwereunlikelyto be able to

suckleat work (thoughsometimesit was possiblefor the child to be broughtin the
dinnerhour and put to the breast);and many motherswere not in a good enough
health to sustain the flow, their own nutrition being the worst in the family.
Sometimesthe better-offmothersmay perhapshave succumbedto the claimsof the
patentbaby-foodmanufacturers (whowereexpandingfast and advertisingheavily),
and weanedtheirbabiesprematurelyso as to give them these new ideal products.
Eric Pritchardof the St MaryleboneHealth Society, an influentialfigure in the
infantmortalitymovement,had verystrongviewson the subjectof infant feeding.
Denouncingthe wide popularityof 'those infant exterminatorsknown as infant
foods', he emphasizedthat the ambitionof maternityshouldbe 'not to makea fine
fat baby, but to make a fine useful man', so that the starchy patent food
preparationswere useless; and what was needed was protein, or as he called it,

We havebeentaughtin thiscountry... to thinkimperially.If our motherscould

only be taught to think nitrogenouslyof infants, what an imperialasset this
would be for the empire.[99]

But manybabiesbeing'broughtup by hand' wouldbe bottle-fedwith the cheapest

condensedmilk, dilutedwith hot water. This was made from skimmedmilk, so
nutritionallyit was almost useless, with less than a quarterof the fat content of
breastmilk, althoughit was often advertisedwith picturesof fine healthybabies.
One kind had the brandname 'Goat' and benefitedfrom the common belief that
goat's milk was the best substitutefor breastmilk. But it was skimmedcow's milk
like the rest.[100] The bottles used were still occasionallythe old-fashionedlong-
necked kind, whose long rubbertube was almost impossibleto clean and which



L~ {
it DON'T
_. EVE_YThING - ... - - THE WILK


p M,Id K Is I,
Sr49VIOU16 |4AX"aU&.spog


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ImperialismandMotherhood 35

wasalwaysdenouncedby the healthauthorities.On bacteriologicalgroundsthis was

clearlyright, but they also criticizedit becauseit was possible to leave it with the
babyso that it would suck when it wanted(and so requireless attention),whereas
they advocatedregularfeeding even if the child had to be woken. This was not
popular:one doctorwritingto the BritishMedicalJournalcomplainedthat he had
greatdifficultyin working-classfamilies'persuadingmotheror nurseto take up the
child every two or three hours in the daytime,when the baby is asleep. To these
people it seemswrongto disturba child out of its sleep'.[101]
Butthe practicemostcommonlydenouncedwas that of givingthe babya sup of
whateverthe other membersof the family were having. On this point 'expert'
opinion since then has swervedmore than once from opposition to tolerance:at
presentin baby clinics (or at least in the one I attend with my daughter)it is
recommendedfrom quitean earlyage to give thema little mashed-upadultfood -
potatoes and gravy for instance- which is probably pretty much what was
happeningin the periodunderdiscussion,and what so much displeasedthe new
professionalsof childhealth.Babiesin most working-classfamiliesweregreatpets,
anda commonexpressionof affectionwouldbe to takea childup duringa mealand
feed it titbits. How far totallyunsuitablefoods were fed in a quantitysufficientto
do damageis perhapsopen to question.
The major killersfor babieswere, accordingto Newman, 'prematurity,pneu-
monia, and diarrhoea'.Prematurityclearly had to do mainly with the mother's
health: it might have been consideredpreventible,but received relativelylittle
attention.The othertwo wereopen to differinginterpretations.Stomachailments
could be attributedto infection (as they had to be during the regularsummer
epidemics),or they could be blamedon unsuitablefeedingand lack of cleanliness
overthe bottlesandso on. It seemsall too likelythat inadequatesterilizationwould
have been a real problem,especiallyin the earliestmonths, when it would matter
most. Insufficientknowledge,badlydesignedbottlesand teats, and lack of facilities
in the kitchenwould all have contributed.And condensedmilk would have been
particularlyattractiveto the numerousand lethalflies, becauseof the sugarin it, as
well as beingexcellentgroundfor bacterialmultiplication.Unsuitablefeedingmay
be more dubious(apartfrom the skimmedmilk problem),though wherethe baby
sharedfood withthe restof the familyit will of coursehave sharedthe inadequacies
of that food, both hygienicand nutritional,and its resistancewould be lower.
Familyfood was designedsimplyto satisfyhungerat the least cost, and wouldoften
havefallenwellbelowthe optimum'nitrogenous'level.Babieswho werenot breast-
fed wereverymuchmoresusceptibleto infection;it was claimedespeciallyof those
fed on condensedmilkthatthey had all the appearanceof health,but no resistance.
But working-classmotherswho could not breast-feed,whetherfor physicalreasons
or becausetheir wage was needed, had little choice: condensedmilk was cheaper
thanfresh,and condensedskimmedmilk cheapestof all; theirbudgetswerealready
stretchedbeyondthe possible,and if the babyappearedto flourishhow could they
know this was 'unsuitablefeeding'?
Chest infections too could be given different causes. The proponentsof the
maternalignoranceexplanationwould assumethat they werecausedby injudicious
exposure:motherswereaccusedof not dressingthe infantswarmlyenough(though
in the context of older children and summer it was frequentlysaid that they
overdressedthem),andof takingthemout at all hoursand in all weathers.Herethe
differencebetweenmiddle-classand working-classattitudesto childrenhas to be

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36 History Workshop

borne in mind. In the middle classes children were segregatedand different,

especiallybabies. They had specialclothes, special food, special furniture,special
rooms, sometimes special attendants. (The popular print of 'His Majesty King
Baby',the frilledinfantin a regalperambulatorwitha uniformednurse,conveysthe
image.)In the workingclassuntil veryrecentlychildhoodhad been a muchbriefer,
less differentiatedaffair. Compulsoryschooling over the previous two or three
decadeshad extendedchildren'speriodof dependenceand reducedtheir economic
role, but they wereoften still to middleclass outsiders'littleadults'and 'old before
their time'. Children- and babies- were much less excluded from adult life.
Crowded homes and economies of fuel and light made separation at home
impossible except perhaps for sleeping; many leisure activities would include
children,and they wereonly to any extentexcludedfromthe sphereof work. (And
this wouldbe less trueof workin home workshopsor kitchens.)It was shockingto
the middle-classto see this difference,and most of all so whenthey saw a shawled
infantin the streetat night, on the way home from pub or music-hallor otheradult
resort.(Thisgulf wouldalso of coursehave affectedtheirperceptionof the infant's
beingfed titbits from the adultplate.) But bronchitisand pneumoniacould as well
be caused, and certainlywould be much worsenedin their impact, by cold damp
homes, with leaking roofs, broken windows, illfitting doors, damp walls, cold
floors, and insufficientheat. Such conditions- or not much better- would have
been commonamong Rowntree'spoverty-stricken 28%7o.


With hindsight, the conditions imposed by poverty seem likely to have been
significantfactors in infant mortality,to be rankedat least alongside 'maternal
ignorance'perhaps.[102]A greatdeal of effort was neverthelessput into adviceand
instructionon motherhood- as we have seen these were measuresvery frequently
proposed.The most generalmethod was through leaflets on infant management
handedout to mothers:this was sometimesorganizedby local authorities,some-
timesby societieslikethe Ladies'SanitaryAssociationor the InfantHealthSociety,
and was alreadyan establishedmethodby the beginningof the century.How far
they werereador followedis impossibleto say. Dr Sykes,in St Pancras,receiveda
shockwhenhe triedto find out the impactof a leaflet he'd been circulating,which
whilerecommendingbreastfeedingif possible,also gavedetailson 'the best method
of bottle feeding':he found that the leaflet was beingmisinterpreted,and 'mothers
weresedulouslyweaningtheir babes in order to follow the detailedadvice of the
medicalofficer of healthin the methodof hand feeding'.[103]
Lecturesto motherswerealso tried, especiallyby the National Health Society,
whoseHomelyTalksincluded'Howto rearourlittleones',[104]butit was difficultto
assemblethe appropriateaudienceexceptwherea mothers'meetingor a girls' club
was preparedto listen, or perhapsa Women'sCo-operativeGuildgroup. In some
caseshoweverthey wereable to securea captiveaudience.In PortsmouthPrisonin
1904womenprisonerswerebeing given a fortnightlyseriesof lectureson sanitary
subjects.The listenerswere selected for good behaviour;the prison was one 'to
which many women are sent for variouspetty crimeswhich in the richerclasses
wouldbe expiatedby a smallfine'; andthe women,it was claimed,were'responsive
to teachingas to the dignityof housekeepingandthe efficientdischargeof the duties

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ImperialismandMotherhood 37

of wife and mother'. (Or it might be more true that 'in a gaol such lecturesare
attractiveas a relief from the monotonyof ordinarylife'.)[105]
Infantconsultations,the forerunnersof today's babyclinics,wereset up, on the
patternof those already existing in France. Another French initiative was also
imitated, the 'hygienic milk depot' whose aim was to provide sterile milk for
bottle-fedbabies.(The standardof hygienein the sale of milk was not veryhigh, in
spite of inspection.)These were set up by various progressivelocal authorities,
startingwith St Helen's in 1899.[106]
Many local authoritiesappointed lady health visitors. The Ladies' Health
Societyof ManchesterandSalfordhad startedhomeinstructionin domestichygiene
backin the 1860s.In 1892,on the suggestionof FlorenceNightingale,Buckingham-
shire County Council engagedfull time health visitors; Newsholmehad one in
Brightonin 1894;five 'lady healthmissioners'weretaken on in Worcestershirein
1897to giveinstructionin childwelfare;but in the beginningof the 20th centurythe
movementreally got under way. Huddersfieldhad a well-organizedsystem co-
ordinatingthe effortsof two femaleassistantmedicalofficersof healthwith a corps
of about80 voluntaryvisitors.[107]Birminghamappointedfour lady healthvisitors
in 1899. Theirdutieswere:

to visitfromhouseto housein suchlocalitiesas the medicalofficerof healthshall

direct;to carry with them disinfectantpowder and use it where required;to
directthe attentionof thosetheyvisitto the evilsof bad smells,wantof freshair,
and dirtyconditionsof all kinds; to give hints to motherson the feedingand
clothingof theirchildren,and use their influenceto inducethem to send their
childrenregularlyto school;in caseof sicknessto assistin promotingthe comfort
of the invalidby adviceandpersonalhelp;to urge, on all possibleoccasions,the
importanceof cleanliness,thriftand temperance.[108]

It is not perhapssurprisingto find that theirvisitswerenot alwayswelcome,or that

GeorgeNewmanurgedthatbesidesbeingtrainedthey shouldaboveall 'haveinsight
andtact'.[109]Thereactionrecordedby SomersetMaughamin his novel Of Human
Bondageringstrue.It willhavebeendrawnfromhis experienceas a medicalstudent
in Lambethdoing midwiferypracticein people'shomes in the 1890s.[110]

The districtvisitorexcitedtheirbitterhatred.She camein withoutso much as a

'by your leave'or a 'withyour leave'. . . she pokedher nose into corners,and if
she didn'tsay the placewas dirtyyou could see what she thoughtright enough,
'an' it's all verywell for themas 'as servants,but I'd like to see what she'd make
of 'er room if she 'ad four children,and 'ad to see to the cooking, and mend
theirclothes, and wash 'em'.

But such intrusionswere part of a generalinvasion of working-classlife by the

authoritiesand their well-intentionedsupporters.Considerthis complaintfrom a
motherwhose child's hair had been shorn after a school inspectionfor headlice:

I shouldlike to knowhow muchmorespiteyou intendto put upon my child, for

it is nothingelse. Firstyou sendthe SanitaryInspectorand I havemy hometaken
away, then my husbandhas to get rid of his few rabbitsand chickens,and now
you cut the few hairsmy girlwasjust beginningto get so nice.... I know she had

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38 History Workshop

no needto haveherhairoff as it was washedwith soft soap last night. The child
is thoroughlyheartbroken.


School was of course an important component in the campaign to transform

working-classlife, teachingthe ideology as well as the skills of domesticity,and
moregenerallyinstillinghabitsof regularity,obedience,punctualityand discipline.
[112]As we have seen, Newsholmeratedhighlythe effects of school influenceon
domestichygieneand thereforeinfantmortality.In somecasesthe exerciseof power
mightgo beyondintrusion:if therewas any questionof childrenbeingtakeninto the
care of the local authority,then one criterion-contributory ratherthan basic-
will no doubt have been whetherthe family, and the mother in particular,met
requirements.The less housewifely activity, the more likely the family to be
consideredinadequate.Thepoor law authoritiestoo hadthe powerto makeoutdoor
relief conditionalon approvalof the home: they wanted to be sure the mother
fulfilled her functions, and felt it should not be necessaryfor her to go out to


Oneattackon the problemof infantmortality,thoughit too was definedin termsof

education,and thoughit didverymuchfocus on the mother,was neverthelessbased
on a more comprehensiveapproachand firmlyrooted in the realitiesof working-
classlife. It is howeveran illustrationof the ideologicalbasis of even humaneand
perceptivereformism.Thiswasthe St PancrasSchoolfor Mothers.[114]Althoughit
wassimplyone institutionwitha local impactthatmaywellbhave been fairlylimited,
its influencein the growinginfant welfare movementwas considerable.This was
partlybecauseDr Sykes, (the MedicalOfficerof Health for St Pancras)one of its
founders,was an admirableand articulateadvocateof its merits,partlybecauseof
influentialsupport,and partlybecauseit appearedto succeedin diminishinginfant
mortalityby going for the mothers. Thus in its practiceas well as in the theory
expoundedby Sykesandothersit conformedwith - and indeedstrengthened - the
ideologyof motherhood.Sykeswasquiteexpliciton the key role of the mother.She
was to be made 'the centreroundwhichall the agenciesrevolvedfor the protection
and preservationof the health of both mother and child'.[1151 She was also
fundamentalin his view of society. 'Urbanizationand subdivisionof labour', he
said, must if carriedto the ultimateextremity,

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ImperialismandMotherhood 39

terminatein the subdivisionof the family and the consequentdestructionof

family life and home, whichare the basis and incentiveof labour itself. The
managementof the home and the tending of the family, essentiallywomen's
work, if not maintained,must end in moral disaster. [He calls it moral: as so
often in these pronouncements,politicalmight be substituted.]

Labour-savingmethods and appliances, he continued, 'provided they do not

destroyfamilylife and the home, are worthyof seriousconsideration'.Dr Sykesis
said to have inventedthe word 'mothercraft'.[116]
After his unfortunateexperimentwith the leaflet on infant feeding, Dr Sykes
continuedto study 'social conditionsand statisticalfacts', and concentratedon
expandinga systemof local weeklyvisiting of all infants, as far as they could be
tracedthroughmidwives,baptisms,and so on, at the same time trying to direct
people in need of help to the appropriateagency so as to treat some of the
difficulties behind health problems.[117]His recognitionthat there were other
difficultiesmadehim receptiveto ideas whichwent beyondinstructionand advice,
thoughhe regardedmilk depotsas likely to be counter-productive (like his leaflet)
becausethey might encourageearlyweaning.
In 1906-7reportscame throughof the successof experimentsin the feedingof
pregnantand nursingmothers. Alys Russell, after a visit with membersof the
Women's Co-operativeGuild, describedenthusiasticallythe working of such a
schemein Ghent,and a MrsGordongave an accountof her own initiativein a poor
West London district.[118] With the support of the St Pancras Mothers' and
Infants' Societya committeewas formed;it receivedmuch publicityand support
frommembersof the upperand middleclasseswho foundit a worthy(andperhapsa
fashionable)cause;and in June 1907 a centrewas opened in Chalton St, Somers
Town (behindSt Pancrasstation):the Babies' Welcomeand School for Mothers.
The official inaugurationfolloweda few weekslater, with a conferenceon infant
mortalityorganizedby Sykesat St PancrasTown Hall. Sir RobertCecil was in the
chair,andresolutions(on breastfeeding,maternalinstruction,and the new project)
were moved and seconded by prominent speakers who included two doctors
well-knownin the movementagainstnationaldeteriorationandinfantmortality,Sir
ThomasBarlowand MaryScharlieb,the authorand anti-suffragistMrsHumphrey
Ward, the Liberal temperancecampaignerLady Henry Somerset (founder of
Woman'sSignal,the temperanceorgan),Alys Russell(who throughher marriageto
BertrandRussell was part of that aristocraticfamily, but whose own ideas and
activities were radical), Countess Russell, George Alexander from the London
CountyCouncil, and the ReverendC. EnsorWalters.
The new centreprovided:
1. Consultationsand weighings(of babiesand mothers)
2. Dinnersfor sucklingmothers
3. Lessonson food and food valuesand prices.(Especiallythe feedingof suckling
4. Classeson simplecookery.(For young wives and all mothers.)
5. Lessonsfor mothersand young wives:
- In the cuttingout and makingof babies' clothes
- In the preparationfor and care of babies
- In housewiferyand domestichealth

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40 History Workshop

6. ProvidentMaternityClub. For (1) doctoror midwife;(2) babyclothes;(3) extra

help duringconfinement;(4) extranourishment
7. Fathers'EveningConferenceson the duties of the father to the mother, the
babe, the children,and the home. (Coffee handedround;smokingallowed.)
Outdoor- Visits to the homes of mothersattendingthe Welcome.
It was co-ordinatedwith municipal provisions, where Sykes, as local Medical
Officer of Health, was of course also influential.These includednotificationof
births,followedby advicecardson infant feeding(tellingthe mothersto breastfeed
or if they couldn't to consult their doctor or come to the Welcome);comparing
registereddeaths of infants with the notified births, for statisticalpurposes;and
visiting'the most suitablecases', whichwereselectedfromthe list of notifiedbirths
on the basis of 'the pooresthouses in the poorest streets'. Co-ordinationwith the
localauthoritymustcertainlyhavehelpedthe Schoolworkersto reacha widerrange
of peoplethan was usuallypossiblefor a voluntaryorganization.
In spiteof its name,one of the firstprioritiesof the Schoolwas the verypractical
one of feedingthe mothers.Thisblendedinterestinglyinto a ratherdifferentversion
of the argumentthat women needed to feel that motherhoodwas a noble and
valuablefunction.TheSchool'sMedicalOfficer,Dora Bunting,startedher account
of the Welcomedinnersby justifyingthe attemptto improvewomen'snutritionin
terms of avoiding infant mortalityand the deteriorationof the race. She then
suggestedas a reason for their poor nutritionthat workingwomen didn't think
themselvesworthcookingfor, andonly cookedif husbandor childrenwouldalso be
there to eat. From this she concluded that women 'don't think enough of

They nevertreat themselves,eitherin the home or in public affairs, as of any

importance,and consequentlyno-one else thinks them important.One of the
first steps neededto effect the politicaland social emancipationof womenis a
crusadeon the part of man callingupon her to eat. And there nevercan be a
reallystrongrace of Britonsuntil she does.[119]

Economywas of coursea furtherreason why women stintedthemselves,but this

does not disproveher point, sinceit is clearthat womendid give themselvesless of
whateverthe restof the familywerehaving,as thoughwill-powerwouldbe enough
for themto live on but otherswereweaker.[120]The dinnerswerewell-patronized,
and the informal atmosphereof 'the cheerful dining-room'gave 'the greatest
opportunitiesfor unobtrusiveteaching'. They rightly recognized that didactic
methodswere far less effectivethan friendlyconversations.

Duringthe dinnertime we discussthingsboth greatand small, from threatened

strikesto baby's 'comforters'(dummies),and the constantpersonalintercourse
gives a privilegedposition which is also a great responsibility.We try not to
forgetthatthe Welcomeis primarilya 'schoolfor mothers',andjust as we know
that the set lessons of school are the least, and the atmospherethe most
importantpartof the educationof the child, so we desirethat our mothersmay
unknowinglybreathein more than they consciouslylearn.[121]

Anotherimportantfactorin the successof the School for Motherswas probably

that its workersdid assumegoodwillin the mothers.The accusationsof maternal

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ImperialismandMotherhood 41

ignoranceoften carriedwith them implicationsof wilful neglect, assertionsthat

anywaypoor parentswouldjust as soon theirinfantsdied- it was one less mouthto
feedand they mightmakesomethingon the insurance.[1221Commentsover a dead
babythat it had gone to a betterplace, that maybeit was betteroff dead, whichwe
mightsee as an attemptto make the loss less painful(and as a bitterreflectionon
how they saw their own lives), were quoted against mothers to illustratetheir
heartlessness.Advice and help from people with so little comprehensionor
sympathycan neverhave been easily accepted.At the School on the other hand it
was consideredthat 'mother-loveis the greatestpowerin the world, and we may still
reckon on it'. True, from our point of view they were manipulatingthat love,
towardsconcernover the infant's weightfor instance:

As we turnedawaylast week from a girl-mothersobbingover her baby'sloss of

weight,we felt thateventhoughthe griefwasprobablyshallowandtransient,yet
it waswellit shouldbe there.And whenwe go dayby dayand find her struggling
with all the odds againsther, to follow out the instructionsgivenher to the very
letter, and hear her earnest'Don't you think he looks a little fatter?'we begin
to questionthe ephemeralnatureof her affection,and to take freshcouragefor
ourwork.For she is only a rather'low' workinggirl, marriedjust in time for her
childto be born in wedlock.Not a high type- no, but capableof 'growingup'
nevertheless,becauseof her love for her child.[123]

This attitude, though still patronizingand class-bound,was at least relatively

sympatheticandtactful.The fact too thatthe Welcomeexisted,andwas morea club
than a school, with instructionalmost incidentalto other activities, and with an
emphasison practicalhelp (like making a cheap cradle out of a banana box),
immediatelydistinguishedit from the intrusionsof authority,or even from parish
mothers'meetings.Visitsto the homewereacceptablebecausetheydevelopedout of
an initiative originallythe mother's, and an actual relationshipwith the social
worker,insteadof havinga bureaucratic originandinvolvingthe arrivalof a strange
visitor,walkingin 'withoutso muchas a "by yourleave"'. Theindividualapproach
of workerswould be likely to have a considerableeffect on the success of any
project. Those who saw themselvestoo much as representativesof authority,
supervisingand directing,wouldsurelyget on less well than those who made some
effort, howeverself-consciousandclumsy,to developunderstandingand sympathy.
This was the adviceof EmiliaKanthack,a St Pancrasmidwifeand healthvisitor:

You will not be a scrapof use to themor theirbabiesunlessyou understandthem

and they understandyou. So you must do your level best to make yourself
acquaintedwith their habits of mind and modes of speech and their code of
manners,as well as with theirphysicaland economicconditions.... If they like
you, and if you can succeedin impressingthemwith your air of experience,you
can do anythingwith them.[124]

The St Pancras School for Mothers seems to have had a success out of
proportionwith its scale. (Its local effectivenesseitherin termsof attendanceor of
changesin local attitudesand practiceis difficult to measure,and of course no
correlationcan be proved with the actual decline in the birth rate.)[125] As
McClearypointed out in his history of the infant welfare movement, work on

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42 History Workshop

similarlines was going on elsewherein 1906-7, for instancein Glasgowand in St

Marylebone;but it was alwaysthe exampleof the School for Motherswhich was
quoted,and that was the namewhichcaughton. As the movementgrewit was the
workof 'Schoolsfor Mothers'thatwaspraisedandcreditedwithinfluenceevenwhen
manyother kinds of centrewere involved

the School gave a conspicuousexampleof a many-sidedwell-considered,co-

ordinated, and effective body of preventiveefforts. It was launched under
distinguishedauspices,had considerablesocialprestige,and was conductedwith
muchenthusiasmand elan. And its positionin the capitalassistedin makingit
widely known and helped to expandthe field over which the influenceof the
School was felt.[126]

Its reputationwas certainlyencouragedby the enthusiasticand detailedaccountsof

its workand its intentionswhichwere publishedearlyon. The Schoolfor Mothers
(1907), editedby EvelynBunting(joint Hon. Secretarywith Sykes), gave both the
historyand ideologyof the institution(mainlyin the introductionby Sir Thomas
Barlowand in Sykes'scontribution),and a vivid accountof its daily working. The
PuddingLady (1912)describedan extensionof their work: cooking lessons given
both at the centreand in women'sown kitchens,with the aim of giving help and
advicethat was realisticunderthe actualliving conditionsof local women. And in
otherarticlesand books, as well as at conferencesand meetings,the Schoolbecame
an exampleof whatcouldbe done. Similarinitiativesmultipliedand federated;and
an Association of Infant Consultationsand Schools for Mothers was set up,
co-ordinatingstatistics, promoting new branches, encouragingcompetitions in
mothercraft,spreadingliterature,and so on.[127]
From 1907Schools for Motherscould qualify for official subsidyin respectof
classteachingin domesticsubjects.[128]27 were receivingsuch grantsin 1912, 150
in 1913,290 in 1918.[129]But therewere many more establishments,both Schools
for Mothersand Infant WelfareCentres, which did not qualify. Probably they
found classteachingless popularand less effectivethan informalmethodssuch as
the dinnertimeconversationsdescribedby Dora Bunting,or remarkswhile a baby
was beingexaminedand weighed.Centreswith and withoutgrantsnumberedsome
400 by 1914, according to Eric Pritchard at the Liverpool Infant Mortality
Conferencethat year.[130](At the time of the Maternityand Child WelfareAct in
1918therewerewellover 1000,morethan half of themvoluntarilysupported.)[13 1]
From 1914the LocalGovernmentBoardco-operatedwith the Boardof Education
on grants, and their circularon the subjectrecognizedother activitiesthan class
teaching, though the object of these 'institutionsof the nature of Schools for
Mothers'was still expectedto be 'primarilyeducational'.
[132] But in the following
yearit was madeclearthat no grantwas availablefor the provisionof food ('except
patentfoods or milkfor infantswhosecost was incurredbefore 1 April 1915').[133]
This explicit exclusion suggests that in official quarters it was above all the
instructionof mothers that was thought useful, not attemptsto improve their
nutrition.The 'Welcome'aspectof the St PancrasSchoolwas not the one regarded
as most important by the authorities, though one may suspect that it had
considerableinfluenceon its popularitywith the mothers.
This educationalfocus presumablyaccountsfor the way in which Schools for
Motherscaughton. Just as maternalignorancehad most frequentlybeen madethe

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ImperialismandMotherhood 43

scapegoatfor infant mortalityby the expandinghealthprofession,so educationfor

mothershad beenthe universallydemandedsolution.A 'School for Mothers'in its
very name proclaimed itself the perfect answer. Of course there were other
tries-Babies' Welcomes, Infant Consultations,Schools of Mothercraft,Infant
HealthSocieties- but in the lists of these organizationsit is the School for Mothers
which stands out as recurringmost often;[134] and it was the title School for
Motherswhich stood for the othersin official mention.


It is significantthat the numberof thesecentresmore than doubledduringthe war

years.Wargavenew stimulusto the questionof childwelfare,especiallyperhapsas
it becameclearthatthe methodsof modernwarfarerequiredcannonfodderin even
vasterquantity.[135]In the prefaceto a new publication,Child WelfareAnnual, its
editorDr T.N. Kelynackheld forth in familiarphrases:

Forlong we havebeenaccustomedto speakof the childrenas the most valuable

of Imperialassets.Now it is for us to realizefullythat the futureof our existence
is wraptup in the well-beingof the childrenof the present.... War has forced
childwelfareworkinto the forefrontof nationalresponsibilities.Theproblemof
the conservationof childlife is of paramountimportance.The child of today...
will be the citizenof the comingyearsand must take up and bear the dutiesof
statesmanship,defence from foes, the conduct of labour, the direction of
progress,the maintenanceof a high level of thoughtand conduct, and all other
necessitiesfor the perpetuationof an imperialrace.[136]

In the monthlyMaternityand Child Welfare,which startedto appearin 1917, the

samethemesrecur,along with much detailedinformationon projectsall over the
country,and correspondence.(A letter from a 'materfamilias'proposed'mother-
ships'- allowances for deservingwidows of 'our fallen fighting men', to be
conditionalon good mothercraftas approvedby supervisors.)[137]Its advertise-
mentsalso evoke the climateof concern:the ShaftesburySocietysolicitsmoneyfor
SAVE BABIES';Glaxo, makersof a patent baby food, ask for the attentionof
welfareworkersawareof the terribleobstacleof ignorantmothers('perhapsthe
chiefcontributingcauseof infantmortality'),point out how war-workmeansmore
babies have to be artificiallyfed, and name some of 'the many Official Bodies
continuouslyusing Glaxo'; the BritishCommercialGas Association recommends
gas cookers('PractiseThriftby using Gas Properly',and 'SimpleCookeryfor the
People'werefree handoutswhichthey offered)and gas washingcoppersto schools
for Mothersand WelfareCentres,for teachingmotherswith; children'shospitals
declarethat 'The Childrenof Todayare the Citizensof Tomorrow',and ask 'Help
us to Carefor the Childrenand thus ensurea HealthyRace'. Therewas a National
BabyWeek in 1917, with exhibitions,lectures,and competitionsfor the bonniest
infant,[138]andthe NationalBabyWeekCouncilwas founded,followedin 1918by
the MothercraftTrainingSociety.[1391Then the state took on altogethermore
extensiveresponsibility,with the 1918 Maternityand Child Welfare Act, which
envisagedthe provisionof a network of infant welfare centres:the multifarious

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44 History Workshop

Schools for Mothers,Babies' Welcomesand the rest were thus absorbedinto the
newcomprehensivesystem.Thatofficial sanctionwas givenunderthe name 'Infant
Welfare Centre' rather than School suggests that other factors than maternal
ignorancewere now being given more importance.


In spite of the mobilizationof marriedwomen for warworkand the temporary

expansionof creches,motherhoodremaineda centralpreoccupationduringthe war.
But behindthe rhetoricwas developinga deeperrecognitionof the handicapsof
working-classmotherhood,which strengthenedthe case for greatersupport for
mothersfromlocal and nationalauthorities.A majorpartin this was playedby the
Women'sCo-operativeGuildand its secretary,MargaretLlewellynDavies. After
successfullycampaigningfor maternitybenefitto be includedin the 1911National
InsuranceAct (and in 1913 for it to be paid to the woman not the man), they
broughtpressureon the LocalGovernmentBoardandits newpresident,the Fabian-
influenced Liberal, Herbert Samuel, to adopt a series of proposals 'to insure
effectivecareof Maternityand Infancy'.Motherswith babieslobbiedthe offices of
the Board,and Guildbranchesforcefullyput the case to theirlocal authorities.[1401
Then in 1915the Guildpublisheda collectionof letters from its officials (present
and past) recountingbriefly- even baldly- their experiencesof pregnancyand
childbirth.It had a shortprefaceby Samuel,arguingthatit was the duty of the state
to act, both becauseunnecessarysufferingshouldwhere possiblebe avoided, and
becausenumberswere indispensableto a strong state-'In the competitionand
conflictof numbersit is the massof the nationsthat tells'-yet a largepart of the
possible population was being wasted. The excess of infant mortality in poor
districtswas due, he argued, 'to ignorance, to malnutrition,to all the noxious
influencesthat go with poverty'.It was clearlythe duty of the communityand the
state 'to relieve motherhoodof its burdens' through mothercraftteaching and

The infant cannot indeed be saved by the State. It can only be saved by the
mother.But the mothercan be helpedand can be taughtby the State.[141]

Samuel'sbrief prefacerecapitulatedand redefinedsome of the old arguments,

perhapsstressingpovertymore,but stillendingup withthe motherand motherhood
in relationto the state.Thelettersthemselvesmadea verydifferentimpact.Here for
the first time wereworkingwomenspeakingout on the subjectof maternity,and
emergingas women, as people in their own right, not just mothersor suppliersof
population,not evenjust wives. ('We must let the men know that we are human
beingswithideals,and aspireto somethinghigherthan to be mereobjectson which
they can satisfy themselves',wrote a mother with seven children,three of them
consumptive.)[142] Theletterswerevivid, convincing,and harrowing.Theydemon-
stratedhow common were the experiencesof miscarriages,stillbirths,and infant
mortality:nearlyhalf the writershad had stillbirthsor miscarriages,and almost a
quarterhad lost childrenin theirfirst year;[143]yet these womenwerenot the most
poverty-strickenand resourcelessby any means. Time and again they describe
pinchingand scrapingthroughoutpregnancy,stintingthemselvesto save up for

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ImperialismandMotherhood 45

attentionat the birthand for help after it, strugglingwith heavy houseworklong
before they were fit because they couldn't afford another week of help from
someonewho cost 10s a week and who could not spin out the householdbudgetas
they did; '. . . the strain to keep up to anything like a decent standard of housing,
clothing,diet, and generalappearance,is enoughto upset the mentalbalanceof a
Chancellorof the Exchequer.How much more so a strugglingpregnantmother',
wrote a motherof five, and added that 'preventives'(contraception)were largely
used:'Racesuicide,if you will, is the policy of the mothersof the future.Who shall
blameus?'[144]Theirhealthsufferedof course, and also their morale,even where
the relationshipwith the husbandwas a sourceof strength.Too often it was not.
One woman had seven childrenin 10 years, duringwhich time her husbandwas
earning30s a week of whichhe claimed6s. 6d (a fifth) 'as pocket-money',leaving
her to manageon the rest.

Whenat the end of 10 yearsI was almost a mentaland physicalwreck, I deter-

minedthat this stateof thingsshouldnot go on any longer, and if therewas no
naturalmeansof prevention,then, of course,artificialmeansmustbe employed,
whichweresuccessful,andam happyto say that fromthat time I havebeenable
to takeprettygood careof myself, but I often shudderto thinkwhatmighthave
been the resultif thingshad been allowedto go on as they were.[145]

Women with consideratehusbandseagerlygive them credit; others were all too

aware that 'when you have got an unkind husband it is a terrible life',[146]
particularlyof courseif he drank,as a few husbandsin this collectiondid, or if 'he
hadnot a bit of controloverhis passions'.A writerwho had sevenchildrenand two
miscarriages,alwaysgettingpregnanttoo soon so that she was very weak and had
much sufferingfrom varicoseveins, wrote:

I do wishtherecouldbe somelimitto the timewhena womanis expectedto have

a child.... Practicallywithina few days of the birth,and as soon as the birthis
over, she is torturedagain. If the womandoes not feel well she mustnot say so,
as a man has such a lot of ways of punishinga womanif she does not give in to

The women often talk of their own ignoranceupon marriage,but the knowledge
thatwouldhavebeenmost use to themwas obviouslythat of birthcontrol,as some
of them say. Knowledgethat in pregnancyyou need rest and good food was not
enoughto enablethemto takepropercare. 'Myhusbandwas out of workduringthe
greaterpartof the time, and I was not only obligedto workmyself, but often went
shortof food and warmclothingwhen I was most in need of it.'[148]Evenwithout
unemployment,how couldyou stretcha normallyinadequatewageany further?The
women'sexperiencesoften illustratethis dilemma,and some of themare veryfrank
in theirconclusions.'I feel sureit is not so muchlackof knowledgeas lack of means
that entailsso much suffering',wrote one woman. She arguedfor State Maternity
Homes, becausethere was 'no peace for the wife at home'. She also advocated

I know it is a delicatesubject, but it is an urgentone.... All the beautifulin

motherhoodis verynice if one has plentyto bringup a familyon, but what real

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46 History Workshop

motheris going to bringa life into the worldto be pushedinto the drudgeryof
the world at the earliestpossible momentbecauseof the strain on the family

She went on to quotethe recentcommentsof 'Kitchenerboys' billetedon her, who

said her nine-year-oldwas as big as 13-year-oldswherethey came from, 'But then,
ma, you'veonly one to keep,whichis differentto sevenor eight';and endedwith an
appealfor the nationto wakeup to the needsof the mothersof the futurerace.[149]
MargaretLlewellynDavies, in her introduction,quoted from the letters and
drewgeneralconclusions.Shenotedthat sufferingandmotherhoodwerecommonly
supposedto be inseparable,and denouncedthe resultantfatalism, of doctors and
others,whichallowed'unnecessaryand uselesssuffering'.She saw 'the roots of the
evil' as lying in 'the conditionsof life which our industrialsystemforces upon the
wage-earners'- irregularand low wages, insufficient medical care, poverty in
pregnancyresultingin undernourishment and overwork.

Writerson infantmortalityand the declineof the birth-ratenevertire of justly

pointingto the evils whichcome from the strainof manuallabour in factories
for expectantmothers.Verylittle is ever said about the same evils which come
from the incessantdrudgeryof domesticlabour. People forget that the unpaid
workof the working-woman at the stove, at scrubbingandcleaning,at the wash-
tub, in lifting and carryingheavy weights, is just as severe manual labour as
many industrialoperationsin factories. It is this labour which the mother
performsoften up to the veryday on whichthe childis born, and she will be at it
again perhapssix or eight days afterwards.

Althoughshe dealtwiththe sameproblemsas the infantwelfarecampaignersof the

precedingdecade, her startingpoint was different,as she remarked-they started
with the infantsand endedup at the mother,she startedwith the mothersand their
actual experiences.This gave her a more realisticperspective.Familiaritywith
women's whole lives, instead of just the moment of childbirthand crises in the
health of infants, enabledher to see more clearlythe contributionof ante-natal
factors. Her proposalswere for the improvementof the economicposition of the
family, and for specific measuresto 'bring specializedknowledge,adequaterest,
nourishmentand care,medicalsupervisionandtreatmentwithinreach'.The Guild's
schemeincludedmorerealisticmaternitybenefits,to be paid over the weeksbefore
and after confinement,improvedmidwiferyand nursingprovision,morematernity
bedsin hospitalsfor difficultcases,maternityhomes, milk depots, householdhelps,
moreparticipationof womenin local government,and publichealthmaternitysub-
committees,to includerepresentatives of women'sand working-classorganizations.
Maternityand InfantCentresshouldbe ableto providemealsfor mothers.It looked
forwardto the establishmentof a Ministryof Health, with a Maternityand Infant
Life Department,partlystaffed by women. Its concludingparagraphstressedthat
governmentdepartmentsand public health committees should be in constant
contactwith workingwomen:

It is by a partnershipbetweenthe women who are themselvesconcerned,the

medicalprofession,andthe Statethat the best resultsof democraticgovernment
can be securedfor the mothersand infants of the country.[150]

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ImperialismandMotherhood 47


The lettersin Maternity,and the campaigningof the Women'sCo-operativeGuild

at every level, must certainlyhave helped to turn attention more towards the
mother'shealthand conditionsof life. Thecult of motherhoodlost someof its force
when confrontedwith the actuality,and maternalignoranceand neglect became
increasinglyinsufficientexplanationsof infantmortality.(GeorgeNewmanhowever
continuedto stressunenlightenedmotherhoodas the all-pervadinginfluencein the
annual loss of 52,000 infants which impoverishedthe nation.)[151] Prospects
improvedwith the establishmentof the Ministryof Health in 1919 and greater
awarenessof the importanceof maternalhealth,[152]but the cuts and restrictions
on localspendingbetweenthewarswerea brakeon development;andthe democratic
partnershiprecommendedby the Guild hardly developed. The most important
influenceson the experienceof motherhoodbetweenthe wars were probablynot
stateattemptsto improvethe conditionsof maternity,but the spreadof contracep-
tive informationand the steadyshrinkingof the averagefamily, and the rise- at
least for a proportionof the working class- in the standardof living. In the
distressedareas maternalhealth, infant mortality,and child health all remained
majorproblems,[153]althoughin nationaltermsthe infantmortalityratecontinued
to decline.
In the comparativelyprosperousnew estates of the midlandsand the south
motherhoodwas enteringa new incarnation.[1541 It was increasinglyunusualfor
marriedwomen to go out to work, but their childrenwere fewer, their health was
likely to be better, and their housing conditionswere much improved.This made
roomfor a more intenseand home-basedfamilylife, with muchcloserinvolvement
of mother and even father with their childrenand home-centredactivities like
gardening,repairs,and improvements.Ideologicallyit was expressedthrough an
emphasison the interestand valueof carefulhome management,and the fulfilment
to be found in efficientand loving care of husband,childrenand house. It fitted
nicelywith the new orientationof Britishindustrytowardsproductionfor a home
mass market, and laid the foundation for the consumerhousewife of post-war
Britain.Home-makingand child care were a staple topic in the magazineswhich
avidlyreachedout to the new marketof houseboundand literatewomen; experts
expoundedand exhorted,or answeredqueries;new productswere recommended,
tips collectedon how to do this job or brightenup that corner.
The theoreticalunderpinningfor muchof the adviceon childcarewas provided
by Dr Truby King, the Spock of that generation,though one may doubt how
faithfullysome of his preceptscouldbe followedin working-classhomesevenon the
newestates:theyinvolvedextremeseparationof childfromadult- the morea baby
was left alone the better- and rigorousadherenceto a regular(four hour) feeding
schedule,with no indulgentpicking-upof a childhowlingfor no good reason.This
would requirenot only more housingspacethan most working-classfamilieshad,
but also more distant(or tolerant)neighbours,and no-one in the family to whom
undisturbedsleep was important.TrubyKing, like MarieStopes, the evangelistof
birthcontrol whose influencein these years was of even greaterimportance,was
muchinfluencedby eugenicideas. (His theorieson infant-rearingdevelopedout of
his experienceas a stock-breederin New Zealand, which presumablymade him
particularlyopen to the notion of scientificmanagementof breeding.)With mass
unemploymentthe argumentsin favour of boosting populationmight have been

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48 History Workshop

expectedto weakenin favour of a eugenicemphasison quality, but in fact both

positions still had their followers.Eugenicswas only graduallydiscreditedby its
abominableapplicationin Nazi Germany;but the growingstrengthof the labour
movement in Britain was a serious obstacle to extension of its influence. The
plummetingbirthrate led to doom-ladenpropheciesof nationaldecline(in books
like TheTwilightof Parenthoodand TheMenaceof BritishDepopulation)[1551 and
old imperialistslike Leo Amerycalledfor familyallowancesto encourageprocrea-
tion.[156]In Germanysimilarfearscombinedwith expansionistand racistideology
to stimulatea whole rangeof measuresto encourageand supportlarge familiesof
Aryan stock, and to develop an extremecult of motherhood.[157](Today John
Tyndall of the National Front advocates similar policies: cutbacks in family
planning, a ban on abortion, resources devoted to the prevention of infant
mortality,and reorientationof statepolicy to favourlarge(white)families,to halt
declinein the numbersand the racialqualityof the 'Whiteworld'.)[1581
By the time of the BeveridgeReport (1942), wartime labour and military
requirementshad reassertedthe value of numbers.MoreoverBeveridge,in his
comprehensive surveyof socialprovisionand his scheme'to abolishwant' (without
abolishingcapitalism)was conscious that the falling birth rate combined with
increasinglife expectancywouldmeanan increasingimbalancebetweenpeopleof an
age to be employedand productive,and people who were too old to work and
dependenton the state. His threemain proposalswere for a comprehensivehealth
scheme, avoidanceof mass unemployment,and family allowances.The first two
were designed to minimizethe waste of resourcesinvolved in bad health and
unemployment.The third aimed to reduce the ill-effects of low wages on the
childrenof large families, and to encourageparentsto have more children,both
aimsrelatingto concernaboutlabourpowerand population.Followingthe recently
accepteddoctrinesof Keynes,Beveridgeallowedthat governmentinterventionwas
permissiblein the interestsof fulleremploymentandotherrequirements of a healthy
economy,but in relationto the familyit hadto be mostcautious:the familymustbe
strengthened,not replaced. So Beveridge'sreport, which was the basis for the
'WelfareState'provisionsbroughtin by the post-warLabourGovernment,was an
extensionof the old 'nationalefficiency'arguments,still firmlylimitedby Liberal
ideas of individualresponsibility.No allowancewas paid on the first child of a
family, whose maintenancewas to be wholly providedby the parents;and the
paymentson subsequentchildrenwerecontributions,not full support.The statewas
admittingan interestratherthan a responsibility.Nor was it payinga wage to the
mother.The familyallowancewas a contributionto the familybudget,designedto
offset the effects of low wages on large families so that parents wouldn't be
discouragedfrom havingchildren,it was not an endowmentof motherhoodor a
wage for housework.[159]Housewives and mothers had 'vital work to do in
ensuringthe adequatecontinuanceof the Britishrace and of Britishideals in the
world',[160]but that contributionwould not be officially rewarded,they were to
remaindependenton theirhusbands.Althoughmany aspectsof the experienceof
maternityhad changedin the first half of the century,the mother'srole was still
essential,and the provisionsof the WelfareStateboth expressedand reinforcedthe
ideologyof motherhood.[161]

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ImperialismandMotherhood 49


How then do we explain the over-ridingimportance of the mother- or of

motherhood- in these developmentsof the early20th century?And what was the
generalcontext for the preoccupationwith infant mortalityand domesticmanage-
ment?Neitherquestionis easilyansweredin a definitiveway, thoughI havetriedto
sketchout somepossibilities.It is muchharderto proveconnectionsthan to suggest
them, and these conclusionswill be partlyspeculative.
Theconnectionbetween'thehealthof the nation'and 'the wealthof the nation'
is nowadayscomparativelyeasy to accept,sinceit has becomea basicpoliticaltenet
in contemporaryBritain, so much taken for granted that it is seldom even
articulated.But the timingof its emergenceis significant,as is its particularfocus.
The recognitionthat populationwas power, and that quality-the standardof
physiqueof that population-was also important,are clearlypart of that back-
ground.Speculativeconnectionsmayindeedbe madebetweenon the one handthese
two partlycontradictoryrequirements,and on the otherdifferentruling-classviews
on empire and defence. Imperialdomination(and or exploitation)of a peopled
countryby a Britishmilitaryandadministrative elite(India,Africa, China),perhaps
withthe aid of 'native'soldiersfrom anotherterritory(Ghurkasand Sepoysarethe
obviousexample),wouldrequireofficersand officialsratherthan men, and would
fit nicelywith the emphasison stimulatingthe middle-classbirth-rate.Conversely,
preoccupationwith settlerterritorieslike the white Dominions (McCleary'sgreat
interest),would favour an emphasison saving the lives of 'all' infants, that is
working-classones. Anyoneexaminingfutureroles for the Army, especiallyin the
contextof new imperialrivalry,wouldhavebeen likelyto think about not only the
fitnessof recruits,but also the questionof numbers.The muchhighercasualtyrates
of warconductedwith machineguns (alreadystartingto be used in the Boer War)
would carry a double implicationfor the generalhealth: the carefully skimmed
creamof the nation's young men would be at great risk, and their inferiorswho
stayed at home unscathedwould father the next generation,presumablyto its
detriment.Suchconsiderationscarriedgreatweightin the contextof generalanxiety
about national deterioration, particularly when economic competition from
Americaand Germanyand the additionof Japanto the imperialistpowers were
underminingBritain'sworld pre-eminence.
Healthierbabieswererequirednot only for the maintenanceof empirebut also
for production under the changing conditions made necessary by imperialist
competition.The old systemof capitalistproduction(which itself had nourished
imperialexpansion),with its mobile superabundantworkforceof people who were
underpaid,underfed,untrainedand infinitelyreplaceable,was passing.In its place,
withthe introductionof capital-intensive methods,was neededa stableworkforceof
peopletrainedto do particularjobs and reasonablylikelyto stay in them, neither
movingon, nor losing too much time throughill-health.This was the context of
efforts to reduce casual labour (as in the docks) and to lessen the burden (on
ratepayersat this point) of unemployment.It also involveda continuationof the
separationof skilledand unskilled,and progressiveexclusionof women from any
footholdsin the skilledsectors.Attemptsto force marriedwomenout of employed
work throughlegislationhad failed; but the limitedopportunitiesand inadequate
trainingof girlscombinedwithincreasingideologicalpressuresaboutthe responsibi-
litiesof motherhoodcertainlyoperatedas a brakeon marriedwomen'swork, and

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50 History Workshop

helpedto confirmwomenas the casualworkers,the labourreserveto be summoned

(as in wartime)or sacked(as in unemployment,when men are consideredto have
first rightto whateverjobs are going), accordingto the convenienceof employers
andthe state. Probablytoo the pressureon marriedwomento stayat home, whereit
was combinedwith real economicneed for their money as well as their labour
contributionto the family'ssurvival,helpedto confirmoutworkas an integralpart
of capitalistproduction,not a survivalfrom a pre-capitalistpast.
In the early 20th centurythe doctrineof 'laissez-faire'was losing credibility:
state interventionwas becomingmore and more acceptable.Statisticswere being
collectedon a whole rangeof social trends,administrativeagencieswere prolifera-
ting, and scientificplanningof society was beginningto seem a possibility.This
explains the Fabians' social engineeringapproach, and also eugenist ideas of
selectivebreeding.It had beenestablishedthroughlegislativemeasureslike compul-
sory schooling(introducedin the 1870s)and the Preventionof Crueltyto Children
Act (1889)that the statecould intervenein relationto children,that parents'rights
couldbe over-ridden;andit was evenbeing said in some quartersthat the rearingof
childrenwas 'a co-operativeundertaking,in which there are three parties-the
father,the mother,and the State'.[162]But effectively,in the matterof preserving
infantlife only one of those parties,the mother,was considered,and the solutions
attemptedwere not collectivist but individualist,and based very much on the
approachand structuresof voluntaryorganizations.Althoughcrecheswere well-
establishedand might have been much extendedas a form of child-careand for
supervisionof infant health, yet they and even kindergartenswere objectedto as
'infringingthe maternalistprinciple'.Exceptionallocal authoritiesadministering
verypoor districtsdid expandcrecheprovision,recognizingthat poor mothersdid
go out to work, but the prevailingidea amongthose in positionsof power(medical,
administrative,legislativeor whatever)was that mothersshould be at home and
childrenshouldbe withtheirmothers.This is the assumptionbehindall the talk of
motherhood.But it fitted well in other ways.
The associationbetweenwomanand homewas of coursean old one, and it had
alreadyled to attemptsby sanitaryreformersto enlist her. 'Long beforethe word
sanitationwas heardof, or any other word that conveyedthe idea of a scienceof
health,the good, trained,thriftyhousewifewas a practicalsanitaryreformer',wrote
B.W. Richardsonin 1880. Preventivemedicinewas to be her sphere(ratherthan
curative,to be keptfor the professionalmen), 'not simplybecausewomencan carry
it out, not simplybecauseit pertainsto ... theirspecialattributes,theirwatchfulness
and their love, but becausethe whole work of preventionwaits and waits until
woman takes it up and makes it hers'.[163] The Ladies' SanitaryAssociation
(founded 1857 and increasinglyactive in house visitingand leafleting)saw infant
mortalityas particularlya woman'sconcern;in their tracts of advice and moral
storiesthe importanceof beinga good mothercontinuallyrecurs.Sanitaryprogress
showed that infant deathswere not necessary:not to learn and obey the laws of
healthwas a sin; motherswereresponsibleto God for the livesof theirchildren.This
argumentwas combinedwith the middle-classideal of a mother, home-keeping
helpmeetas opposedto wage-earner,whichwasalso beingimposedthroughthe fact
and the contentof compulsoryschooling.By the 1900signoranceis stressedrather
thansin, but woman'smoralstrength,an almostmysticalpowerfor good (whichof
coursewas easilyidentifiedwith health),is invokedmorethan ever. This is perhaps
surprising:the concernin the 1900swas a political and economicone, and might

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ImperialismandMotherhood 51

thereforehave been expectedto producesolutionsof the samekind ratherthan the

moralistic'elevationof motherhood'.
In parallelwith the insistenceon motherhood,complementingthough appar-
ently contradictingit, was the developmentof employmentand even careersfor
singlewomenin the expandingfieldof health.Saleebyin Womanand Womanhood,
is at painsto explainthat while'racialmotherhood'is essential,'individualmother-
hood' is not, and to expatiateon the potentialusefulnessof single women.

Everyoneknowsmaidenauntswho arebetter,morevaluable,completermothers
in everynon-physicalwaythanthe actualmothersof their nephewsand nieces.
This is woman's wonderfulprerogative,that, in virtueof her psyche, she can
realizeherself,and serveothers,on femininelines, and withouta pangof regret
or a hintanywhereof failure,eventhoughshe foregophysicalmotherhood.This
book, therefore,is a pleanot only for Motherhoodbut for Foster-Motherhood
-that is Motherhoodall but physical.In time to come the greatprofessionsof
nursingand teachingwill more and more engageand satisfy the lives and the
powersof VirginMotherswithoutnumber.[164]

Not only nursingand teaching,in which womenwere alreadywell-established,but

all the new servicesarisingout of greaterofficial and voluntarypreoccupationwith
childhood, family, and things domestic, provided work for women. This was
justifiedideologicallyby theirgreatersuitability;it also madethe newprovisionsless
expensive. Women were even becoming increasinglyacceptable in administra-
tion.[1651TheTimesin 1906carriedan articleon 'HomeEconomicsas a Careerfor
Women', which drew an analogy between administrationand housekeeping('all
institutionsare but homeson a large scale, and many philanthropicundertakings
resolve themselvesinto a complicatedform of housekeeping'),and argued that
trianedintelligentwomenwould 'preventmuchwaste of publicmoney'. By taking
seats on boards of hospitals and of guardians, as well as on philanthropic
committees,and by becomingpaid officials in various institutionsand organiza-
tions, womenwould 'taketheirplacenot only as Empire-builders, but above all as
Empire-conservers'. At the sametime they would 'add immenselyto the permanent
stabilityof the country',sinceno nationcouldhave surerfoundationsthan that 'in
whichthe mostcapablewomen,thosemost highlytrained,are the housekeepersand
mothers'.[166]Thusno womanwas to escapemotherhood:surrogatevocationsof
equalimportanceto the nationwereto be foundevenfor thosewho remainedsingle.
(An alternativesometimesarguedwas that they should emigrateto improvethe
balancebetweenthe sexes- amongwhites- in the colonies, and also of courseto
breedthere.)[1671Butin the homeor out of it, mothersand 'Foster-mothers'would
havemalesuperiorsto deferto: at a time whenin some areaswomenseemedat last
to be makinggains, motherhoodconfirmedtheirsubordination.A class difference
may also be seen in the future postulatedfor these 'Foster-mothers':the profes-
sional 'housekeepers'sittingon boardswere no doubt to be from the middle and
upperclasses;womanlydrudgeryon the hospitalfloor and elsewherewould be the
lot of poorerwomen.
Exhortationof working-classwomenon the dutiesof motherhooddid not bear
muchrelationto what was actuallypossible, at least for the majority,outside the
artisansector. In most casesif they went out to worktheirwagewas indispensable;
andthe moreflexiblechild-rearing arrangements (dependingparticularlyon the help

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52 History Workshop

of olderchildren)althoughtheyhad beenunderminedby compulsoryschooling,still

had a functionin enablingthe family to cope with varyingdemandsin the labour
andtimeof its adults.Unlessa mothercouldaffordto stayat home it wouldbe very
difficultfor herto continuebreast-feedingafterthe first few weeks, and in any case
poor nutritionmightwell have madethe milk inadequate.The greatneed 'to bring
hometo the matronsof the nationthe few homelytruthswhichformedthe basisof
all true sanitation'[168]in fact involved the creationof a scapegoat. Of course
knowledgeof basicsanitationwas a good thing, thoughit is ironicalthat as health
consciousnessincreasedat the level of individualand family, so capitalistdevelop-
ment (which had requiredthe growthof that health consciousness)imposed new
patternsof living which (insidiouslyperhaps)were more and more unhealthy
atmosphericpollution by industrialand household smoke, and later by exhaust
fumes from innumerablemotor vehicles, or over-refined,over-preserved,over-
preparedfood. (Nineteenthcenturyfood was often and notoriouslyadulteratedby
dilution or substitutionfor profit; today our food is adulteratedby 'additives'
supposedto preserveit or make it more acceptable,againin the interestsof profit
not health.) But the standardsof hygiene set up by those who were calling for
educationof mothersoften confused habit with hygiene:middle-classritual and
customwere advocated(with minor modificationsperhaps)becausethey must be
right.So for instancewith the separationof adultsand children:it must be wrong
for children,especiallyinfants,to be takenwhereveradultswent,becausetheirplace
wasin the nursery,eatingchildishfood and keepingchildishhours. If an infantdied
in its parents'bedit musthavebeen 'overlayed'becauseit was in the wrongplace:it
shouldsleep in a separatecot. (The 'cot deaths'of today were still to be identified,
let alone explained.) But space for a cot might be a problem; and in densely
inhabitedhouses a baby cryingwould disturbeveryone,so of coursetired parents
wouldpreferto let it snugglein with them, and would assumethat they'd wake as
usual if it was at risk.
The standardsset up for motherhoodwere unrealisticin the context of much
working-classaccommodation.No amountof instructionand advice,whetherfrom
a MedicalOfficerof Health'sleaflets, or a districtvisitor'scallsat the house, could
removethe basichandicapsof overcrowding,of damp,ill-drained,airless,bathless,
taplesslodgings,of sharedand filthyash closetsand middens.[169]No trainingfor
motherhoodwouldensurea supplyof freshuncontaminatedmilk, or providefood
whentherewas no money.EdwardCadburyandhis colleagues,in theirenquiryinto
women'sworkandwagesin Birmingham,remarkedthat 'evenwherethe motheris a
good managermany childrenare enfeebledfor life by recurrentperiodsof under-
feeding'.[170]Many of the mothersthey visitedtook in homework(sewinghooks
andeyeson to cardsfor instance),and 'apologizedfor theiruntidyrooms... clean-
ing and washingmust be indefinitelypostponed,for as they say, "It's eitherwash
the childrenor feed them, and it's betterto earnthe few pencefor a bit of bread"'.
[171] At best, education in thrift-tips in cooking and sewing and managing,
perhapshow to budget- such as was advocated,would enablehousewivesto spin
out further the inadequate weekly income. (Presumablythrift was so often
recommendedby the employingclassesbecauseit meantwagescouldbe kept lower.)
Butwriterswitha realand close acquaintancewith working-classlife, like Margaret
Loane,for manyyearsa districtnurse,often commentedon the amazingcapacityof
poor women:

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ImperialismandMotherhood 53

Would-bereformersof the culinaryart amongthe poor coolly take for granted

thatthe womenwho for countlessgenerationshave kepttheirmen-kindmoreor
lesscontented,havebroughtup to maturitya largeproportionof theiroffspring,
and have done this on sums rangingfrom 10 shillingsa week upwards,are,
nevertheless,absolutelyignorantof their business.... The first thing that the
instructorsneed to graspis, how admirableare the resultsof a poor woman's
cookingwhencomparedwith her means, and how much of value can be learnt
from nearlyeverydecentworkman'swife.[172]

Those who were campaigningagainstinfant mortalityseem frequentlyto have

beencarriedawayby theirownrhetoric.Motherhoodwas so powerfula symbolthat
often classdifferencesdisappeared,alongwiththe realitiesof working-classlife. All
the individualreal motherswere subsumedinto one ideal figure, the Queen Bee,
protectedand fertile, producingthe next generationfor the good of the hive.[173]
The home was 'the cradleof the race... Empire'sfirst line of defence',[174]not a
crampedcottagein MerthyrTydfilor a squalidslumroom. The familywas suchan
acceptedsymbolfor the statethat its actual disparateidentitieswere forgotten.Of
course many of the campaigners(doctors especially)came from families on the
middle-classmodel, and were likely to assume that anythingelse was all wrong,
deviantratherthan different.Fathersshould be breadwinners,and 'failed' if they
werenot - probablytheymustbe good-for-nothinglayaboutslivingoff theirwives;
childrenshouldbe dependent,so the 'little adults'of the workingclasswhosework
mightstill providea significantcontributionto the family budget, even though it
hadto be combinedwithschool,andwhoseresponsibilityfor theiryoungerbrothers
andsistersmightstill be extensive,werein theireyestragic,neglected,and proof of
dangerousinadequaciesin the home life of the poor. They expectedmothersto
spendtheirdaysat home,so goingout to work,whetherfull-timeor for odd daysat
washingor cleaning,was immoral, even selfish- not provident,self-sacrificing,
and necessaryfor the survivalof the family as a group. Doctors and many of the
other campaignerswere also men, with their own interest in preservingthe
conventionalfamilyform. Although they may not have been much awareof this
bias, it is likely to have coloured their attitudesto the rearingof childrenand
reinforcedthe idealizationof motherhood.An unusuallyexplicitexpressionof such
bias is to be found in an articleon the recruitingproblemin 1903:

The tendencyof the times is too much in favour of girls being educatedin
accomplishmentsin which only the few can excel. What is wanted for the
comfortof theirhusbandsand the properrearingof their childrenis the know-
ledgeof the dutiesof everydaylife. To darna pairof socks or to makean appe-
tizing meal is far betterthan to strumthe piano.[175]

His perspectiveis thatof the well-to-do;from John Burns(once an engineer)we get

a pictureof the artisanideal, the 'kindly figure in a white apron' who should be
therewith 'willingwaitinghand'whenhermancomeshomefromwork, 'the mother
at the head of the table, and her childrenaroundher, and the fathercominghome
regularlyto his meals'. Marriedwomen's employmentwas to blame for their
husband's drinkingand for street gangs of 'anaemic, saucy, vulgar, ignorant,
cigarette-smoking hooligans'.[176]
The inadequacy of individuals-mothers -and perhaps of the particular

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54 History Workshop

family,was a moreacceptableexplanationof infantmortalityand ill-healththan the

shortcomingsof society. It seemedmore 'attackable'.And it was the established
responseof the rulingclassto povertyitself, reinforcedby the protestantethicof the
individual'spowerto prosperor to fall. Therewerethe few 'deservingpoor' who
hadhadbad luckbut reallytriedto live right(thatis by middle-classstandards)and
be respectable;andtherewerethe many'undeserving'poor, who werepoor by their
own fault. Small wonder if the attributionof personal fault continued: infant
mortalitywas clearlyconnectedto poverty,as the statisticsshowed;but povertywas
the fault of the individuals,not an intrinsicpartof a classsociety.And althoughin
relationto povertyitself this attitudehad been forcefullychallengedby the 1900s,
not leastin the surveysof Booth and Rowntree,with theirevidenceof the structural
characterof povertyas well as its extent, neverthelessthe frameof mind seemsto
havelingeredstronglyenoughto supportthe doctrineof maternalfault. At the same
time, for those who acknowledgedstateresponsibilityand interesteven in territory
(like the family) still largely consideredto be the domain of individualright,
emphasison the individual- the mother- andon hereducationwas a good way to
reduce the opposition: it could justify intervention,and also through rhetoric
obscureit. (The family as well as the mothercould be used in this way.) School
dinners,whose provisionby local educationauthoritieswas resisted(before and
afterthe 1907EducationAct legalizedit at local discretion)by thosewho criedfaulty
motherhoodand feared the 'demoralization'of parentsif their functions were
fulfilledfor them, weredefendedin one reportas furnishinginstructionand safety
for the future, not just nutrition:

As regardsthe children,who will be mothersand housekeepersof the future,the

school dinneritself may be made to servea valuableobject lesson and used to
reinforcepracticalinstructionin hygiene,cookeryand domesticeconomy.[177]

And they were also to provide an example of the civilizedbehaviourwhich the

mother ought to be inculcating- politeness, nice manners, using knives, forks,
plates,and mugscorrectly,andnot spillingthings.[178]Forthe mother'sresponsibi-
lity was moral as well as physical.Her offspringwere not only to surviveand be
healthy,theyhadalsoto learnhow to behave.Thiswas partlya questionof manners,
but also of characterbuilding,that is learningclass and sex roles. Pritchard,in
Infant Education,arguesemphaticallyfor the importanceof maternalfirmnessin
'educationalmotherhood'for the good of society:

Manymothersseemto imaginethatchildrenshouldbe coaxedand wheedledand

cajoledinto doingwhatis good for them,but thereneverwas sucha mistake....
When you find a motherof this invertebratetype you must in the first place
imparta littleartificialstiffnessto the moralbackbone,if you wish the infantto
be a creditto our society. If the childhas to learnhow to obey, the mothermust
know how to command.... If you find a child wilfully disobedient, dirty,
untidy,slovenlyor obstinate,andyou wishto tracetheseresultsto theirultimate
source, cherchezla femme - studythe mother.[179]

It is not unusualto find referencesto the failureof working-classmothersto teach

their childrendisciplinedhabits(as in their reluctanceto wake a sleepingbaby for
'feeding-time'),but this passage suggests a particularinterestin the connections

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ImperialismandMotherhood 55

betweenchild-rearingand society. It may reflectPritchard'sinvolvementwith the

ChildStudySociety,an organizationof teachers,doctors,and some parents,whose
field of study was mainly child developmentand psychology(withoutapparently
any acquaintancewith the work of Freud).[180]In theirjournalthe importanceof
the motherto the characterformationof the child not infrequentlycropsup, as in
an articleon 'The Cultivationof the Mindin Children',by H. Davy (thenpresident
of the BritishMedicalAssociation)in 1908. He advocatedthat for the good of the
nation children should have implantedin them from the earliest age, by their
mothers,the importanceof self-control,of obedience,and of patriotism.(He cited
the upbringingof Japanese children in devotion to family and country as a

* * *

Problemslike infant mortalitywere defined, describedand 'explained'by the new

professionalsof publichealth. By the turn of the centurytheir numbersand their
influencewerefast expanding;they werein a positionof poweras regardsboth the
developmentandthe disseminationof ideology.Althoughincreasingknowledgeof,
for instance,bacteriologywas enablingthem to understandsuch problemsbetter,
the contributionof infectionwas still under-estimatedor at least under-blamed,as
was the role of maternalhealth and malnutrition.It is significant that it was
maternalnot medical ignorance that always received the blame, and that the
minimalaccess of the poor to medical help in this period is never mentioned.
Doctors and the rest createdout of their own assumptionsa set of explanations
which over-rodescientificobservationand analysis.They knew at one level that
30%of infantdeathswererelatedto the poor healthof the pregnantand parturient
mother;they knew that environmentalfactorsand infectionplayeda part in both
stomachand respiratoryinfections;yet only the mothers' ignoranceand neglect
were stressed.
The vocabularyof concernalso reflectstheir views of the world aroundthem:
the anxietyto builda raceof strongmen, to promotevirility,and so on; and also the
capitalistterminologyof commodities,assets, and the rest. One strikingexampleof
this differentiatesinterestinglybetweenwomenand men:

If men representthe income to be used and spent freely by each succeeding

generation,women must be consideredas capitalto be spent sparinglyin the
presentand to be husbandedcarefullyfor the futureand for the welfareof the

The use of 'husbanded'nicely fuses the ideologies of class and sex domination.
Racistassumptionsarealso implicitor sometimesexplicitthroughoutthe discussion
of racialstock:it is alwaysclearthatthe only desirablestock is white, Europeanand
preferablyAnglo-Saxon.And of course imperialismitself was often presentedin
termsof the superiority(and thereforeright to rule and mission to guide) of the
British'imperialrace' over the rest.
In the context then of racism and imperialismat one level, and of class
exploitationand sex prejudiceat another, we come back to the mothers. The

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56 History Workshop

mothers'role in the creationof a healthierworkforce,as of a virilearmyand navy,

was crucial.In the fixingof the workforce,the developmentof a new kindof family,
with head and housewifeand pridein possessions,boundto one place and one job
by a new level of emotionaland financialinvestmentin an increasinglysubstantial
'home',was also to play a centralpart. The ideologicalapproachto the questionof
infantmortalityand domesticlife can be seen thereforeto have a close connection
not only with the economicand politicalproblemsposed by fallingbirthrates, but
also with new developmentsin industrialcapitalism,in Britain. The barrageof
propagandaon the importanceof childhealth,with its bias about motherhood,did
provoke official action, enquiries,modest legislation,and various provisionsby
local authorities.It also helpedto confirm or create attitudesabout the relation
betweenchild and familyand state, and most of all about the role of women;the
influenceof suchchangeswas probablymore far-reachingthan any measuresat the
time. Wherethe solutionsofferedfor improvingnationalhealthweremoreconcrete
thanthe simpleexaltationof motherhood,they weregenerallyones whichtendedto
confirmthe family in its bourgeoisform and to consolidatethe mother'srole as
child-rearerand home-keeper,as also did improvementsin male wages- the family
wage- and perhapseventuallyfamily allowances.
Thisin turnservedthe interestsof industryand of empirein a numberof ways:
by increasingthe ties and the responsibilitiesof male workers,and enablingthem
throughthe unpaid servicesof thrifty, conscientiousand hard-workingwives to
surviveand keepbetterhealthwithoutthe need for industrialor state provisionof
maintenance;by ensuringthat children-the next generationof workersand of
soldiers- wouldbe raisedat minimumcost to the stateandin serviceablecondition;
and by setting ideologicalbarriersto marriedwomen's work outside the home,
which where possible would keep women as a reservelabour force, availablein
emergency(as in two world wars), but not cloggingthe labour marketin normal
times, nor requiringstate subsidywhen not employed.At the same time contra-
dictionsin the ideologyhave enabledit to be adaptedto changingcircumstances:
whethermarriedwomen'sworkis toleratedor denounceddependson whetherit is
needed. The unpaidhousekeeperperformingmiracleson a low budget, the ideal
housewifeputtingher energies(and her money)into carefulshoppingto make and
maintain the ideal home for her family, the office cleaners or the twilight
shiftworkeradding low-paidwage-labourto her domesticshift becausemoney is
neededfor the children'sclothes,shoesor food, or for holidayor toys, but she can't
leave them in the daytime-all these are incarnationsof motherhood.

Thisarticleoriginatedin workwiththe WomenagainstPopulationControlgroupin the early

1970s.Sincethen it has drawnso muchon the reactionsand suggestionsof variouspeople,
both individuallyand in discussionswhen I have presentedits earlierversions at History
Workshop,FeministHistoryGroup seminar,and on otheroccasions,that it is impossibleto
give creditwhereverit is due. In draftingthis latestversionI am above all gratefulto Walter
Easeyandto mycomradeson the editorialcollectiveof HistoryWorkshopJournal.I also wish
to thank the librariansof the Fawcett Collection (now housed at the City of London
Polytechnic)for theirhelpwiththe illustrations,whicharetakenfromSchoolfor Mothers(see
below)and the monthlyProgress- Civic- Social- Industrial,which was the organ of the
BritishInstituteof Social Service.

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ImperialismandMotherhood 57

In the footnotesbelowworksandsourcesreferredto only onceor twiceare givenin full on the

first occasion.Those referredto frequentlyare abbreviatedas follows:
Schoolfor Mothers-Evelyn Buntinged., TheSchoolfor Mothers,1907.
Rearingan ImperialRace-C. E. Hechted., Rearingan ImperialRace, 1913,proceedingsof
NationalFood ReformLeagueconferenceon Diet, Cookery,and Hygienein Schools.
McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement-G.F. McCleary,The Early History of the Infant
Newman,Infant Mortality- GeorgeNewman,InfantMortality,A SocialProblem, 1906.
Newsholme,Fifty Years- ArthurNewsholme,Fifty Yearsin PublicHealth, 1935.
Pritchard,InfantEducation- Eric Pritchard,InfantEducation,1907.
Saleeby,Race Culture- C.W. Saleeby,Parenthoodand Race Culture,1909.
Maternity-Margaret LlewellynDavies, ed., Maternity,Lettersfrom Working Women,
collectedby the Women'sCo-operativeGuild, 1915.(New editionVirago1978with intro-
ductionby GlodenDallas.)
BMJ- BritishMedicalJournal(the authoritativeweeklypublicationof the BritishMedical
Association(BMA),voice of the medicalestablishment).
PP - Parliamentary Papers(printedgovernmentpapersavailablein researchlibraries).
PRO-Public RecordOffice (now at Kew).

I As for instance in T.H. Huxley, 'The Strugglefor Existence', in The Nineteenth

Century,Feb, 1888.
2 Theeugenistsdrewbothon ideasof 'thesurvivalof the fittest',as developedby Francis
GaltonandKarlPearson,and on Mendel'stheoriesof heredityas they cameinto currencyat
the turn of the century.
3 CharlesKingsley,The Massacreof the Innocents,addressgiven at the first public
meetingof the Ladies'NationalAssociationfor the Diffusionof SanitaryKnowledgein 1858.
Printedas a Ladies'SanitaryAssociationpamphlet.
4 J.L. Garvin,'TheMaintenanceof Empire',in ed. C.S. Goldman,TheEmpireand the
Century,1905,pp.72-81.Japanhad also now establisheditself as a sea power by its skilful
defeatof the muchbiggerChinesenavyin the 1894-5Sino-Japanesewar. CompareJ. Crichton
Browne'spresidentialaddressto the MedicalSection of the InternationalCongressfor the
Welfareand Protectionof Children,1902,pp.6, 9.
5 E. Cadbury,M.C. Mathesonand G. Shann, Women'sWorkand Wages,1906, pp.228-
9; BMJ 30 July 1904, p.231, addressby Sir WilliamSelby Church,Presidentof the Royal
Collegeof Physicians,at annualmeetingof BMA;T.J. Macnamara,LiberalMP, 'In Corpore
Sano', Contemporary Review,Feb. 1905,p.238;inauguraladdressby EarlBeauchampto the
InternationalCongressfor the Welfareand Protectionof Children,1902, p.4.
6 McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,p.146.
7 AlexanderWynterBlyth,prefaceto EricPritchard,InfantEducation,1907.Pritchard
was a prominentSt Marylebonedoctor whose energiesand powers of propagandawere
devotedto savinginfantlivesfor the nationthroughthe mothers;he believedthatinfantscould
'live and thrive in spite of poverty and bad sanitation' but would not 'survive bad
mothercraft'.EricPritchard,'Schoolsfor Mothers',Proceedingsof InfantMortalityConfer-
ence at Liverpool,1914,p.54.
8 Newman, Infant Mortality, p.v. George Newman (1870-1948)became first Chief
MedicalOfficer to the Board of Education1907; duringWorldWar I served on various
importanthealthcommittees;from 1919was first Chief MedicalOfficer at new Ministryof
Health.Marriedbut no children.See Dictionaryof NationalBiography,and text throughout.
9 JeanneBrand,Doctorsand the State, 1965, is a useful text for the historyof Medical
Officersof Health.
10 See G.R. Searle, The Questfor NationalEfficiency, 1971.
11 Forearlierconcernsee JamesCrichtonBrowne'Educationand the NervousSystem'in
ed. Malcolm Morris, The Book of Health, 1883; J.C. Browne, Report to Education
Departmentupon Alleged Over-pressure of work in public elementaryschools (PP 1884 lxi
(293));FrancisWarner,'Physicaland MentalConditionof 50,000 Children'in Journalof
RoyalStatisticalSociety, lvi, 1893;ChildhoodSociety'sReporton the scientificstudyof the
mental and physical conditions of childhood, 1895; and the campaignof the Women's
IndustrialCouncilagainstchildren'semploymentoutside school, as in Women'sIndustrial
News, April 1896, and Edith Hogg, 'School Childrenas Wage-Earners',The Nineteenth

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58 History Workshop

CenturyAug 1897.Also J.C. Browne,PhysicalEfficiencyin Children,1902;Royal Commis-

sion on PhysicalTraining(Scotland)PP.1903, xxx; Interdepartmental Committeeon Physical
DeteriorationPP.1904, xxxii.
12 SeeMcCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,1933,andDevelopmentof the BritishMater-
nity and Child WelfareServices,1945, and (less detailed)GeorgeNewman,English Social
Services,1941.Forresultsattributedto the younginfantwelfaremovementby John Burnsand
his assuranceof the LocalGovernmentBoard's'paternalinterestin milk, the mothersandthe
babies',seeProceedingsof NationalConferenceon InfantMortality1908,p.12, andcompare
13 Thereis a useful list of voluntarysocieties'engagedin healthpropagandaof a public
nature',witha few detailsin each, in Newman'sPublicEducationin Health, 1924,pp.18-22.
14 J.W. Kirton,CheerfulHomes:How to GetandKeep Them(undated)pp.11-12;Mary
Scharlieb,Whatit Meansto Marryor Young Womenand Marriage,1914, pp.36-7. (Kirton
devotesonly 23 out of 288 pagesto children-'Our PreciousDarlings';Annie S. Swannin
CourtshipandMarriage,1894, gives them38 out of 144 pages;and Scharlieb60 out of 140,
15 SeeGertrudeTuckwell,TheStateand Its Children,1894;JohnGorst, TheChildrenof
theNation, 1906,ReginaldBray, The TownChild, 1907;H. LlewellynHeath, TheInfant, the
Parentand the State, 1907;ed. Kelynack,Infancy, 1910, etc.
16 PP.1910, xxxix (Cd. 5263) pp.71-3. Arthur Newsholme,(1857-1943)was Medical
Officer of Health for Brightonfrom 1888;then from 1908 till he retiredin 1919 Principal
Medical Officer to the Local GovernmentBoard, appointedby John Burns. He was an
acceptedauthorityon medicalstatisticsandbelievedstronglyin statemedicine.Marriedbut no
children.See Dictionaryof NationalBiography,and text below throughout.
17 Newsholme,'InfantileMortality,a statisticalstudy', Practitioner,Oct. 1905,p.494.
18 G.F. McCleary, The Menace of British Depopulation, 1937, p.9. McClearywas
BatterseaMedicalOfficer of Health in the 1900s,with the supportof John Burns, and an
enthusiastfor hygienicmilkdepots(see note 106below),quotingthe experienceof the pioneer
one at Battersea.He wroteseveralFabianPamphlets-'Municipal Bakeries'and 'Municipal
Hospitals'in 1900,and 'Life in the Laundry'in 1902.Laterhe was Chief MedicalOfficerto
the NationalInsuranceCommission,Chairmanof the NationalCouncil for Maternityand
ChildWelfare,and Chairmanof the NationalAssociationof Maternityand Child Welfare
Centresand for the Preventionof Infant Mortality.His last book, Peopling the British
Commonwealth,was publishedin 1955.
19 Reportby Dr JamesKerr,MedicalOfficerfor Education,in MedicalOfficerof Health
for London's Annual Report, 1904, Appendix III. The point was frequentlymade in
discussionin the medicalpress: see for instance,Practitioner,Feb. 1905, p.217; and was
generallyaccepted(exceptby eugenists)as confirmingthe need for actionover infant health.
See also Newsholme,1910report,Part 1.
20 It shouldalso be noted that urbanrecruitswereparticularlyunfit. See ArnoldWhite,
Efficiencyand Empire, 1901; Annual Reportsof InspectorGeneralof Recruiting,1900-3
(PP.1901,Cd.519,ix; PP.1902, Cd.2175,xxii; PP.1903, Cd.1496,xxxviii;PP.1904, Cd.1778,
viii);Reportof Interdepartmental Committeeon PhysicalDeterioration.For widerissuessee
Anne Summers,'Militarism',History Workshop2, 1976.
21 FrederickMaurice, National Health: a Soldier's Study', ContemporaryReview,
Jan.1903.For earlierdiscussionin periodicals(thoughwith less impact)see Pretorius,'The
Armyand Empire',and E.R. Dawson'Britain'sDuty to Britain'sLabour',both in Empire
Review,1901;andHenryBirchenough,'Ourlast effort for a VoluntaryArmy'and ArthurH.
Lee, 'The RecruitingQuestion',both in TheNineteenthCenturyand After, April, 1901.
22 GarethStedmanJones, OutcastLondon, 1971, p.151; and see chapter6 for fears of
urbandegenerationin the secondhalf of the 19thcentury.The prospectof 'Deteriorationof
the Race'accordingto SamuelSneadeBrownin 1870wouldbringthe healthof townsinto the
provinceof imperialcare and control. 'The Health of Towns', in his Notes on Sanitary
23 See PP.1901, lvi, Statisticsof InspectedSchools, 1889-1900,SummaryTables52 and
54, for figureson the teachingof DomesticEconomyand of Cookeryand Laundry.See also
two articlesby Carol Dyhouse:'Social Darwinisticideas and the Developmentof women's
educationin England1880-1920',Historyof Education,1976, and 'Good Wives and Little
Mothers:SocialAnxietiesand Schoolgirls'Curriculum1890-1920',OxfordReviewof Educa-
tion, 1977.

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Imperialism andMotherhood 59

24 T.J. Macnamara,'In Corpore Sano', ContemporaryReview, Feb. 1905, p.248.

(Macnamara wasa lifelongsupporterof LloydGeorge,becameparliamentary secretaryto the
Local GovernmentBoard in 1907, and in 1920 was first Ministerof Labourunder Lloyd
George.)Forthepartypoliticsof socialreformin this periodsee for exampleG.R. Searle,The
QuestforNationalEfficiency,1971;BernardSemmel,Imperialismand SocialReform(which
does not deal with the area discussedin this paper);and MauriceBruce, The Comingof the
WelfareState, 1961. A. Watt Smyth, Physical Deterioration,1906, covers the range of
provisionsand reformswhichwerebeingconsideredby non-socialists.
25 BMJ30 July1904;J.W. Taylor'TheDiminishingBirth-rateand whatis involvedin it',
PresidentialAddressto InauguralMeetingof BritishGynaecologicalSociety, BMJ, 20 Feb.
1904,p.427. (Taylorwasquoting'a prominentJapanese'as reportedin theDailyMail,23 Dec.
1903).See also 'The Physiqueof the Japanese',BMJ, 12 March1904, p.622.
26 HenryBirchenough,'Our last effort for a VoluntaryArmy', The 19th Centuryand
After, April1901,p.552. See alsoArthurShadwell,IndustrialEfficiency:a comparativestudy
of industriallife in England,Germanyand America,1906.
27 Alreadyin 1885the platformof AmieHicks, SDF candidatein the MaryleboneSchool
Boardelection,includedthe demandfor at least one free meal a day in everyBoardSchool.
Justice,3 Oct. 1885,p.1.
28 MargaretMcMillan,Life of RachelMcMillan,1927,p.113.
29 See for instance,EarlyChildhood,1900,InfantMortalityandLabourand Childhood,
both 1907,and even The Childand the State, 1911.
30 RamsayMacDonald,Socialismand Government,1909, pp.14-20.
31 See A.M. McBriar,Fabian Socialismand EnglishPolitics, 1962, chapter5; Semmel,
Imperialismand SocialReform, chapter3.
32 SidneyWebb, 'Lord Rosebery'sEscape from Houndsditch',The 19th Centuryand
After, Sept. 1901, pp.375-6.
33 WilliamButler,PresidentialAddressto WillesdenandDistrictMedicalSociety,readby
requestbeforeHomeCountiesbranchof Societyof MedicalOfficersof Health,Dec. 1899and
reprintedin Public Health, 1899, p.326. See also in same issue J. Howard Jones (Medical
Officer of Health for Newportand Presidentof West of Englandand S. Wales branchof
Society of MedicalOfficers of Health), 'The Influenceof PreventiveMedicineupon the
Evolutionof the Race'.
34 Karl Pearson, The Scope and Importanceto the State of the Science of National
Eugenics(lecturegiven in 1907),1909, pp.10, 25.
35 Pearson,Natureand Nurture:the Problemof the Future, 1910,p.27.
36 TheScienceof Eugenicsand Sex Life- Regenerationof the HumanRace, ed. Charles
H. Robinson,from the notes of W.J. Hadden, 1904, p.ii. This appearsto be an American
publication,but the statementwould have been altogetheracceptableto Britisheugenists.
Accordingto J.R. Rumsey,(Essaysin StateMedicine,1856),a legal ban had even then been
proposedon the wilful transmissionof hereditarydiseasethroughmarriage.
37 J.R. Inge (laterDean Inge), 'Some MoralAspectsof Eugenics',EugenicsReview 1,
1909,p.30, demanding'anylegislation'whichwouldreducethe slumdwellers'desireto breed.
Comparisonswere frequentlymadewith past empires,whose fall was equatedwith degener-
acy: Sir GeorgeKekewich,formerSecretaryto the Board of Education,when opening a
conferenceon Diet, CookeryandHygienein Schools,in 1913,actuallyquotedin Latinseveral
lines of Horaceon the way each generationis worsethan the next, thoughhe declaredwith
optimismthat he thoughtthe oppositewas goingto be true. Rearingan ImperialRace, 1913,
p.7. Spartawasalso occasionallyquotedfor its practiceof exposingweaklyinfantsto preserve
38 Saleeby,Race Culture,1909,p.32.
39 Speechgivenin full as appendixto McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement.
40 Pearson,lectureon The WomanQuestion,1885(in TheEthic of Free Thought1901).
HerbertSpencerin vol. ii of his Principlesof Biologyhad suggestedthat intellectualdevelop-
mentof the individual- especiallythe female- impairedreproductive powers,and this seems
to have been fairlycommonlytakenas a real possibility.See also Mrs. ArthurPhillp, 'Are
recentdevelopmentsin women'seducationin favourof the bestpreparationfor Wifehoodand
Motherhood?',ParentsReview,1906(the answerwas no); and Dyhouse,'SocialDarwinistic
41 R. MurrayLeslie, 'Woman'sProgressin Relationto Eugenics',EugenicsReview,Jan.
1911,p.283. See also Practioner,Oct. 1905, p.586.

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60 History Workshop

42 For an extremestatementof this positionsee R.R. Rentoul'spamphlet'for womenand

girls', The Dignity of Woman'sHealth and the Nemesis of its Neglect, 1890, especially
p.xxviii. (Rentoulwas generallyregardedas an extremist,and his views on sterilization
provokedhostile reactionsin the medicalpress. See BMJ 12 March 1904, and subsequent
correspondence (12March,19March,2 April,9 April,2 July,30 July, 13August),andhisRace
Cultureor RaceSuicide,1906;and P.Z. Hebert,TheKillingof the Unfit and the Transmissi-
bilityof AcquiredCharacters,1907, (reprintsfrom PractitionerattackingRentoul).
43 MaryScharlieb,'RecreationalActivitiesof GirlsDuringAdolescence',ChildStudy,4,
1911,pp.9, 14. Otherswereless cautious:'If we makeour girlsstrong'(throughathletics)'the
mothersof futuregenerationswill be strongand the strongerwill our nationbecome'- report
of TottenhamBranchconference,SchoolAttendanceGazette,Dec. 1902.
44 Forinterestingrecentworkon the effect of socialclasson doctors'perceptionsof their
patients'healthsee KarlFiglio, 'TheSocialStructureof Disease'(typescript),and abstractin
Societyfor the Social Historyof MedicineBulletin,21 Dec. 1977.
45 Saleeby,Race Culture,1909,pp.xii-iv.
46 J.E. Gemmell,PresidentialAddressN. of England Obstetricaland Gynaecological
Society,in Journalof Obstetricsand Gynaecologyof the BritishEmpire,Dec. 1903,p.590.
47 AliceRavenhill,'EugenicIdealsfor Womanhood',EugenicsReview,1909,p.267. C.T.
Ewartin 'Parenthood',EmpireReview,xix, 1910, p.320, has a very similarphraseabout a
trumpetcall, as wellas a similargeneralargument.(ForRavenhillsee belownotes75 and 180).
48 G.E. Shuttleworth,'Degeneracy:Physical,Mentaland Moral', addressto the Society
for the Studyof the Mentaland PhysicalConditionsof Children,BMJ, 21 May 1904,p. 1205.
49 BertrandRussell,Autobiography1872-1914,p.84, referringto 1894.
50 Taylor, 'The DiminishingBirth-rate',as in note 25.
51 SidneyWebb, TheDecliningBirth-rate,1907,(FabianTract 131), especiallypp.16-19.
FabianTract 149was TheEndowmentof Motherhood,1910,by HenryD. Harben.
52 Russell,Autobiography1872-1914p.132;MrsWibaut,'WorkingWomenandthe Vote'
reprintedin Womenin Rebellion1900,intro. SuzieFleming,ILP SquareOnepamphlet,1973.
ForAliceDrysdaleVickery'scontributionto a discussionon 'Restrictionsin Marriage'and on
'Studiesin NationalEugenics'seeSociologicalStudies,1906,p.21. Fortheviewsof the Fabian
Women'sGroupsee MrsPemberReeves,RoundAbout a Pounda Week,1913,p. 1. And see
New Statesman,16 May 1914,supplementon Motherhoodand the State;EleanorRathbone,
The DisinheritedFamily 1924 (and other publications);MaryStocks, The Casefor Family
Endowment, 1927. D.V. Glass gives two chaptersto the question in The Strugglefor
Population, 1936;see also his PopulationPolicies and Movements,1940 for international
comparisons.Thereis a usefulrecentarticleon the laterphaseby JaneLewis, 'Themovement
for FamilyAllowances1917-45'(typescript).And see note 161 below.
53 C.T. Ewart,'NationalHealth',EmpireReview,Feb.-July1910,p.263.
54 See for instanceSchoolfor Mothers,pp.51, 53; or LouiseCreighton,'Women'sWork
for the Churchand for the State', AnglicanPapers, 1908, p.3.
55 Sykesintro. to Schoolfor Mothers,p.8.
56 EmiliaKanthack,ThePreservationof InfantLife (Lecturesto HealthVisitors),1907,
57 This had been observedfor manyyears(see TheLancetin the 1870sfor instance,or
indeedthe 'greatreputation'of Pip's sisterin GreatExpectationsfor her successin bringing
him up 'by hand'),but the statisticscollectedin the 1890sand 1900sbroughtdramaticproof.
Newmansummarizedthe state of informationin the chapteron infant feeding in Infant
Mortality.GeorgeSims,in TheCryof the Children,1905, p.7, commentedthat 'Backto the
Landmaybe a good cryfor the community,but Backto the Breastis a bettercry for the race'.
Patentbaby foods and condensedmilk weremuchadvertisedat this time, and theiruse was
thoughtto be increasing.
58 Kanthack,Preservationof InfantLife, p.28.
59 Introduction,Cassell'sPenny Book for Mothers, 1911;compareEdith L. Maynard,
Baby- UsefulHintsfor Busy Mothers, 1906, especiallypp.30-1. This was aimed at 'busy
womenwho haveno time to readlong books or attendlectures,andyet who are veryanxious
to do the best for theirbabies'.
60 See MargaretHewitt, Wivesand Mothersin VictorianIndustry,1958, for the classic
considerationof this question, and Carol Dyhouse, 'Working-classMothers and Infant
Mortalityin England1895-1914',(forthcomingin Journalof Social History),for the slightly
later historyof the theory (as well as a useful discussionof the whole questionof infant

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Imperialism and Motherhood 61

61 BMJ, 23 Jan. 1904,p.201, resolutionof BMA Council;namesof petitioncommittee

pp.212-3;leaderwithinformationon 14,000signatures30 Jan. p.261;presentationof petition
16 July pp.129-30.By 1913, after some years of such teachingseemedto have made little
difference,it was arguedthat the hoursspenton domesticsubjectswerestill insufficient,and
at a NationalFood ReformAssociationconferenceLadyMeyer,Chairmanof the St Pancras
School for Mothers,evenproposedthat the school-leavingage shouldbe raisedto give more
time 'for the studyof a subjectof such consequenceto the futuremothersof the race'. See
Rearingan ImperialRace, pp.xxxixand 180-1.
62 HelenDendyBosanquet,'PhysicalDegenerationand the PovertyLine', Contemporary
Review,Jan. 1904,p.73.
63 C.E.G. Masterman,TheHeartof the Empire,1901,p.viii.
64 Pearson,Scope... p.41.
65 The systemof local option meantthat measuressanctionedby Parliamentwere not
necessarilycompulsory,andwhethertheywereputinto practicedependedon the local political
andfinancialpositionand the attitudeof the local authority.Gorstsuggestedthat muchmore
could be done than was. See reviewof his Childrenof the Nation, in Progress,1907,p.63.
66 MarionPhillips,a vigorousAustraliansocialist(Fabianand later LabourParty)and
historianvoiced some of these criticismsat a meeting of the Associationof Teachersin
DomesticSubjects:reportedin The Times,29 Jan. 1913.
67 R. Morant,PrefatoryNote to Boardof EducationCircular758 (1910), Memorandum
on theTeachingof InfantCareandManagementin PublicElementarySchools.For originsof
circularsee PRO file. ED/1 1/51.
68 JanetCampbell,Circular758, conclusion,p.10.
69 JanetCampbell,Circular758, p.1.
70 See Reportof Proceedingsof NationalConferenceon InfantileMortalitywith address
by ... John BurnsMP, 1906, and PRO Home Office File HO 45 10335/138532/6for list of
resolutions.(This may also be the referencefor an applicationfor Royal Patronageof the
conferencemadeby JohnBurnson thegroundsof the nationalinterestbeinginvolved,but I've
lost the relevantnote.)
71 Drinkwasanotherwidely-quotedcauseof infantmortality- parentsdrinkingawaythe
children'sfood money, mothersdrinkingaway their healthand cripplingtheir infants were
thoughtby some to be the chief cause of infant death. There was overlap between those
involvedin temperanceand in infant welfarecampaigns.See GeorgeSims, The Cry of the
Children,1907, accountof conference25-36.
72 Ballantyne'spaperon ante-natalcauses was a rare exampleof realism. He ignored
problemsof heredity,since he 'did not regardthem as solved to such an extent as to come
withinthe rangeof the practical',describedthe problemsof pregnancy,and urgedgreatercare
of the pregnantwoman, includingthe provision of pre-maternitywards and hospitals.
(McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,pp.109-10).Sykesof St Pancrasalso saw that healthin
pregnancywas important,whichled to the provisionof mealsfor mothersat the St Pancras
School for mothers(see text below), but he fused such perceptionswith rhetoric about
motherhood.Ballantyneconcentratedon the medicaltreatise.
73 Burns,PresidentialAddressto the Infant MortalityConference1906, see McCleary,
Infant WelfareMovement,Appendix.
74 Saleeby,RaceCulture,p.32.
75 Ravenhill,TheHealthof the Communityand How to Promoteit, 1897,How the Law
Helps to HealthyHomes, 1898,Our WaterSupply,1898;'TheTeachingof DomesticScience
in the United States of America' Board of Education Special Reports. PP.1905, xxvi.
Ravenhillwas also active in the Child Study movement:see articleson children'shours of
sleep, ChildStudy2, 1909,and on play, ChildStudy3, 1910;also expressionof regretat her
proposedemigrationto Canada,ChildStudy3, 1910,p.84. (Also note 47 above).
76 107 mothersclaimed their sovereign-see Newman, English Social Services, 1941,
p.20; and McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,pp.90-3. A similarschemeof voucherswas
tried in Glasgowby the Anderstonand DistrictHealth Association:Progress,April 1907,
77 Saleeby,Methodsof Race Regeneration,1911, p.8.
78 Otherswerepreparedto go further:see Butlerand Jonesarticlesin PublicHealth,Feb.
1899,(referredto in note 33), Rentoul,(note42) andProposedSterilizationof certainMental
andPhysicalDegenerates:an Appealto AsylumManagersand others, 1903;ChattertonHill,
'Race Progressand Race Degeneracy',SociologicalReview, 1909, p.257; Arnold White,

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62 History Workshop

Efficiency and Empire. Pearson advocated'the expatriationof confirmed criminals'for

eugenicreasons,as well as the exclusionof 'undesirablealiens' and reductionin Poor Law
assistanceto paupersand the insane-National Life from the Standpointof Science(lecture
1900), 1905, 104-5, and argued that racial and medical progress were incompatiblein
Darwinism,MedicalProgressand Eugenics,1912.
79 Saleeby,Race Culture,p.29.
80 Saleeby,Race Culture,pp.21, 19, xiv.
81 Saleeby,'The HumanMother',InfantMortalityConference,1908,p.32.
82 MarieStopes, preface,MarriedLove, 1920ed. pp.16,97.
83 Saleeby,Race Culture,p.285.
84 Newman,InfantMortality,p.257.
85 Newman,InfantMortality,p.262.
86 Newman,TheHealth of the State, 1907,pp.15, 183, 191.
87 Newsholme,Fifty Yearsin PublicHealth, 1935, pp.402-4.
88 Fifty Years, quoting editorial article he wrote for BMJ, 14 Nov. 1903, on The
Organizationof MedicalInspectionin Schools.
89 Newsholme,Declining Birth-rate,1911, p.44, and Fifty Years, pp.406-7 (quoting
speechin 1904).
90 DecliningBirth-rate,pp.57-8.
91 PP.1910, xxxix(Cd. 5263) pp.70-3.
92 Fifty Years,pp.372-4.
93 Fifty Years,p.321.
94 Fifty Years,p.333.
95 Fifty Years,pp.330-1.
96 Newsholme,Contributionto the Studyof EpidemicDiarrhoea,1900,pp.13-15.
97 B.S. Rowntree,Poverty:A Studyof TownLife, 1901, conclusions.
98 PP.1906, xc Cd. 2726, Reportson childrenunderFive in PublicElementarySchools,
(especiallyMissMunday'sand Miss Bathurst'sreports);PP.1908, lxxxiiCd.4259,Reportof
Boardof EducationConsultativeCommitteeon School Attendanceof Childrenbelow Five.
99 Pritchard,InfantEducation,p.19.
100 F.J.H. Coutts,CondensedMilks, 1911,Reportsto LocalGovernmentBoardon Public
Health,New Series56.
101 F.G. Haworth, letter to BMJ, 26 March 1904, p.763. ComparePritchard,Infant
Feeding,pp.44-5;andA. DingwallFordyce,The Careof Infantsand YoungChildren,1911,
pp.59-61and98-9.Of coursenowadays'demandfeeding'receivesofficialsanction:see Infant
Feeding1975,Practiceand Attitudesin Englandand Wales,HMSO, 1978.
102 Poverty was occasionallyinvoked. See BMJ, 27 Aug. 1904, p.439, contributionby
McClearyto discussionon Povertyand PublicHealth.
103 Sykes,Schoolfor Mothers,p.7. For examplesof earlierleaflettingsee Lancet,7 Feb.
1874, p.212, 21 Feb. 1874, p.283; A.W. Jephson,My Workin London, 1910,p.95.
104 Progress,April 1907, p.117.
105 NationalHealthSocietylecturerwas a pursuitrecommendedin J.E. Davidson, What
OurDaughterscan do for themselves,1893, p.40; see also BMJ, 12 March1904, p.629; 27
Aug. 1904,p.436;andfor lecturesby doctorssee 18June 1904,p.1467and 8 Oct. 1904,p.956.
G.A. Simpsonrecalledlecturingaround 1906 to mothers'meetingson infant feeding and
infant diseases(My Life and FamilyReminiscences,1931, p.52). For lecturesin Portsmouth
Gaol, see BMJ, 20 Aug. 1904, p.397; for HollowayPrison, BMJ, 22 Oct. 1904, p.118.
106 Theprincipleof the milkdepotwas to providemilk suitablefor infantswhosemothers
wereunableto sucklethem. (In Francethe bottles bore the motto 'Fautede Mieux'-'for
wantof better'.)The milkin poor districtswas often veryunsatisfactory:even if it had come
from cow to shop without contaminationor delay, it was often sold in very unhygienic
conditions,andsometimesdilutedwithwater.So to providemilklesslikelyto conveyinfection
to susceptibleinfantswas certainlya good idea. Unfortunatelythey were fairly expensiveto
run, and some local authoritiesthoughtit eithertoo great an expenditure,or beyond their
powersanyway;while for the purchasersit was not as cheap as the treacherouscondensed
milk, so demandwas sometimesunexpectedlylow. See McCleary,InfantileMortalityand
Infants Milk Depots, 1905, and Infant WelfareMovement;also BMJ, 9 Jan. 1904, p.97
(BelfastPublicHealthCommitteerefusinga donationto help establishone); BMJ, 9 April
1904,p.848(TheLondonMilkSupply);BMJ, 16Apriland 13Aug. 1904,for depotsprojected
in Lambethand Shadwell,London;27 Aug. 1904,(criticismsby Newmanas tendingto lessen
maternalresponsibility);17Sept. 1904,p.693(discussionat SanitaryInspectors'Association);

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Imperialism and Motherhood 63

24 Sept. 1904,p.768(detailsincludingcost of Bradforddepot);andargumentsin favourin The

PresentConditionsof Infant Life, Infants'HealthSociety, 1905,pp.13-4,and J.J. Buchan,
'MilkDepotsand KindredInstitutions',in ed. Kelynack,Infancy, 1910.
107 McCleary,Developmentof BritishMaternityand Child WelfareServices,1945,p.10;
Newsholme,Fifty Years,p.335.
108 PublicHealth, Aug. 1899, p.721.
109 Newman,InfantMortality,p.264.
110 SomersetMaugham,Of HumanBondage, 1915, p.560. In Huddersfieldhoweverthey
werenot supposedto enterunlessinvited,norcomeinsideto sit downwithoutbeingasked.See
McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,p.264.
111 ThomasGautrey,Lux Mihi Laus, 1937,p.91.
112 See Anna Davin, BoardSchool Girls,forthcoming.
113 See Local GovernmentCircularto the Boardof Guardianson the Administrationof
Outdoor Relief, 1910, pp.34-5; and Pat Thane, 'Women and The Poor Law' History
Workshopforthcoming.See also her point that the 1908 Children'sAct was opposed by
working-classorganizationsbecauseit 'licensedintrusionsinto the working-classfamilywhich
wouldnot have been countenancedby or for the better-off.
114 This accountis basedmainlyon DoraBunting,'Schoolsfor Mothers'in ed. Kelynack,
Infancy,and McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,pp.123-30.For detail on the School for
Mothersin Birminghamsee Dyhouse, 'Working-classMothersand InfantMortality'.
115 Sykes, Schoolfor Mothers,p.8.
116 Sykes, prefaceto Miss Bibby, Miss Colles, Miss Petty and Dr Sykes, The Pudding
Lady:a new departurein social work, 1912,(reprint1916by NationalFood ReformLeague),
p.13;Infant WelfareMovement,p.35. (LadyMeyerwas quotedas using'mothercraft'in 191I
[Progress,1911,p.52], whichis the earliestmentionof the wordI havefound, but as she was
closelyinvolvedin the School for Mothersthat does not disproveMcCleary'sattribution.)
117 Theimportanceof the Notificationof BirthsAct (1907)was thatit madeit mucheasier
for the localauthorities(if theywanted)to tracenewbornbabiesand sendout visitors.Saleeby
after its passage'occupiedhimselfin variousparts of the countryin the efforts which were
necessaryto persuadelocalauthoritiesto adopt'its provisions.See Womanand Womanhood,
118 See Alys Russell,'The GhentSchool for Mothers',The 19th Centuryand After, Dec.
1906;andInfant WelfareMovement,p.126. She and MrsGordonspoke on 1 May 1907to a
meetingof peopleinterestedin developingsomethingsimilarin St Pancras.
119 Schoolfor Mothers,p.39.
120 For recentworkon differencesin dietwithinthe familysee LauraOren, 'The Welfare
of Womenin LabouringFamilies:England1860-1950',in ed. Hartmanand Banner,Clio's
ConsciousnessRaised, 1974;and D.J. Oddy, 'The working-classdiet 1880-1914'in ed. D.J.
Oddyand D.S. Miller, TheMakingof the BritishDiet (chapter18), 1976.
121 Schoolfor Mothers,p.39.
122 Suchaccusationsprovokedthe submissionof the InfantLife InsuranceBillin 1890,and
theyareplentifulin evidenceof doctorsand coronersto the SelectCommitteeof the Houseof
Lords set up to reporton the bill. See PP.1890, xl minutesof evidencethroughout.D.L.
Thomas, MedicalOfficer of Health for Limehouse,in a detailedanalysis(1899) of infant
mortalitythere,felt constrainedto discussthepossiblerole of insurance,thoughhe felt unable
to prove or to disprove it. The other factors he consideredwere Poverty, Illegitimacy,
Overlaying,UnhealthySurroundings,and HereditaryDiseases(not maternalignorance).'On
InfantileMortality',PublicHealth, Sept. 1899, pp.810-17.
123 Schoolfor Mothers,pp.38-9.
124 Kanthack,Preservationof InfantLife, pp.2, 4.
125 As theinfantdeathratewasdecliningquitesharplyin theseyearsit wasalwaystempting
to attributethe fall to the strenuousefforts beingmade. Sykeswas alreadyin 1907 claiming
that the reductionof infant deathsthat summerwas the result of their systemof visiting.
Progress,1907,p.56. In retrospectNewman,McClearyand even Newsholmeall explainthe
twentieth-century declineby the riseof the infantwelfaremovement.See especiallyNewman,
Buildingof a Nation'sHealth, p.244, EnglishSocial Services,p. 19.
126 McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,p. 129. For comparablebut less publicizedwork
in neighbouringSt Marylebonesee Pritchard,InfantEducation,introduction.
127 Eric Pritchard,Proceedingsof the Infant Mortality Conference,Liverpool, 1914,
pp.51-9.The word 'mothercraft'was being freelyused at the conference.Besidesthe usual
papers(and an eveninglectureby Saleebyon 'The Nurtureof the Race') a competitionin

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64 History Workshop

mothercraftwas judgedand prizespresented.

128 Newman,TheBuildingof a Nation's Health, 1939, p.243.
129 Newman,Building,247.
130 Pritchard,as note 127, p.51.
131 McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,pp.17-18.
132 LGB Circular,30 July 1914,quotedin Infant WelfareMovement,p.142.
133 Boardof Educationyearlyregulationsfor Grantsto Schoolsfor Mothers,in PP.1914,
Cd.7534,lxiv; PP.1914-6,Cd.7985, 1; PP.1918, Cd.9154,xix.
134 See for examplePP.1917-18(86), xxv, Returnof Grantsfrom Board of Education
1916-7to voluntaryschools for mothersin London, Birmingham,Manchester,Liverpool,
Leedsand Bradford.
135 TheMaximgun, introducedinto the BritishArmyin 1889(afterit hadbeentriedout on
a punitiveexpeditionin the Gambia),and by World War One being used in an improved
versionby bothBritishandGermantroops,wasvastlymorelethalthanpreviousweapons,and
alongwithhighexplosiveshellsand mineswas responsiblefor the unprecedented casualtiesof
136 Ed. T.N. Kelynack,Child WelfareAnnual, 1916, p.vii.
137 Maternityand Child Welfare,Jan. 1917, p.32.
138 MaternityandChildWelfare,April 1917,('How the NationalBabyWeekcan be made
a Success');June 1917,('NationalBabyWeek'-three articlesincluding'A Justificationof
BabyWeek'by Mrs. A.E. Barnes).
139 Maternityand Child Welfare,Feb. 1917, p.60; Newman,PublicEducationin Health,
140 GlodenDallas, introductionto 1978ed. Maternity.
141 HerbertSamuel,prefaceto Maternity.
142 Maternity,letter41, p.68.
143 Maternity,figuresbearingon infant mortality,pp.194-5.
144 Maternity,letter20, p.46.
145 Maternity,letter33, pp.60-1.
146 Maternity,letter63, p.91.
147 Maternity,letter21, pp.48-9.
148 Maternity,letter 16, p.40.
149 Maternity,letter62, pp.89-90
150 Maternity,p.212.
151 Newman,PublicEducationin Health, 1924, p.7.
152 Threereportson MaternalMortalityand Morbidityby Dr JanetCampbellwereissued
by the Ministryof Health in 1924, 1927 and 1932; and there was an Interdepartmental
Committeeon the same subjectwhose interimreport in 1930 consideredhalf of maternal
deathsto be preventible,and stressedthe role of anaemiaand malnutritionin the mother.
153 MargaretBalfourandJoanC. Drury,Motherhoodin theSpecialAreasof Durhamand
154 SeeCatherineHall, 'MarriedWomenat Home in Birminghamin the 1920sand 1930s',
andDianaGittins'Women'sWorkandFamilySizebetweenthe wars',both in OralHistory5,
Autumn 1977(Women'sHistoryIssue).
155 Enid Charles,1934(and her Menaceof Underpopulation 1936);McCleary,1937.
156 HilaryLand, 'The Introductionof FamilyAllowances:an act of historicjustice?',ed.
P.K. Hall, H. Land, R.A. Parker,A. Webb, ChangeChoiceand Conflictin Social Policy,
157 See Tim Mason 'Womenin Nazi Germany'History Workshop1 Spring 1976 and 2
158 Thereis a useful articleon womenand the Front by RichardMarlenin the Leveller,
159 M. Bruce(The Comingof the WelfareState p.314) pointsout that family allowances
werenearlypaidto the fatherratherthanthe mother:only a last minutevote in the House of
Commonssecuredthem as primarilythe mothers'right.
160 Beveridge,quotedby HilaryLandin 'Women,Supportersor Supported?'ed. Barker
and Allen, SexualDivisionsin Society:Processand Change,1976,p.109.
161 Thisis discussedin ElizabethWilson, Womenand the WelfareState, 1976;and in the
workof HilaryLand:'Women,Supportersor Supported?'(see note 160), 'Whocaresfor the
family?'Journalof SocialPolicy, July 1978,'Incomemaintenancesystemsandthe divisionof
labour in the family', Social SecurityResearch,(DHSS Report) HMSO, 1977, and 'The

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Imperialism andMotherhood 65

Introductionof FamilyAllowances:an act of historicjustice?'in ed. P.K. Hall, H. Land,

R.A. Parker,A. Webb, ChangeChoiceand Conflictin SocialPolicy, 1975.
162 R.A. Bray, The TownChild, 1907,p.116. CompareL. HadenGuest, LondonCounty
Council doctor, on the necessityof feeding hungry schoolchildren-'We must insist on
parentalresponsibility,but we must also insist on our responsibilityas membersof the big
familyof the State, for the feedingof all our children'.Rearing
an ImperialRace, p.35. See
also opposingview of Miss Elliott from SouthwarkHealth Society, p.47, and discussion
163 B.M. Richardson,'Womanas a SanitaryReformer',Fraser'sMagazine,Nov. 1880,
pp.669-71.Richardson,a well-knownandauthoritative'sanitarian',was vice-presidentof the
EducationSocietyand verymuchopposedto women'seducation(see Journalof Education1
Feb. 1880,p.34).
164 Saleeby, Womanand Womanhood,p.18-19.
165 Burns, as Chairmanof the Local GovernmentBoard, had prescribedthat the local
committeewhich arrangedthe fosteringof childrenshould be at least one third women
(BoardingOut Order 1911). For a detailedaccount of the expansionsee Edith Maynard,
Womenin the Public HealthService,1915.
166 The Times,4 May 1909,(quotedin Rearingan ImperialRace, p.xxxviii).
167 Saleeby,Womanand Womanhood,pp.269-271,quotesapprovinglya correspondentto
TheTimeson 24 Dec. 1909,SophieBevan,who had pointedout the imbalancecreatedboth in
the coloniesand at home by the emigrationof young men but not young women. Her letter
emphasizedthat one resultwas 'the appallingnumberof half-castes,a blot on the civilization
of the States... theveryworsttype of population'.Saleebywas anxiousaboutthe low (white)
birthratein the colonies,andthe 'surplus'of womenat home;andpointsout thatthe emigrant
womanwouldbe betterplacedto exerciseher 'rightfulfunctionof choosingthe best manto be
her husbandand the fatherof the future'.
168 SirWilliamChurch,at a meetingof the NationalHealthSociety,reportedBMJ,2 July
1904, p.32.
169 RachelMcMillan,as a travellingteacherof hygienefor Kent CountyCouncilin the
1890s,realized'thatfragmentary helpwasalmostuseless':MargaretMcMillan,Life of Rachel
McMillan,p.94. Thebooksof MargaretLoane,districtnurse,givea vividpictureof theway in
which working-classhousewivesstruggledagainst almost impossible conditions. See for
exampleAn Englishman'sCastle, 1909, pp.75, 140-1, 167, 224-5;Neighboursand Friends,
1910,p.294;and also T.C. Horsfall, TheImprovementof Dwellingsand Surroundingsof the
People, 1904,p. 167 and throughout.
170 Cadbury,Mathesonand Shann, Women'sWorkand Wages,1906, p.235.
171 Women'sWorkand Wages,p.161.
172 An Englishman'sCastle,p.64.
173 A not infrequentmetaphor:see for example'ChildFeeding,Motherhoodand National
Well-being',Progress, April 1907 (wherein spite of the stress on the mother the actual
suggestionsmadecateronly for herchildren);and Saleeby, Womanand Womanhood,p.323.
174 ElizabethSloan-Chesser,PerfectHealthfor Womenand Children,1912,p.54.
175 WilliamHill-Climo,'ArmyOrganization:the Recruit',EmpireReview, 1903, p.361.
176 McCleary,Infant WelfareMovement,Appendix pp.159, 158. The socialist Robert
Blatchfordidealizedhome and motherin much the sameway.
177 PP.1910,Cd.5131,xxiii. Reporton the Workingof the Education(Provisionof Meals)
Act, 1906.
178 See discussionon tableclothsversuseasily-cleanedoilcloth,at NationalFood Reform
AssociationConference.Rearingan ImperialRace, pp.88-9,and also pp.17, 29-30.
179 Pritchard,InfantEducation,p. 133.
180 For originsof societysee addressby Sir J.A. Cockburn,ChildStudy1, April 1908;for
its compositionsee reportsfrombranches,ChildStudy3, July 1910,p.80. BesidesPritchard,
Alice Ravenhill(see note 75), MaryScharlieb(eugenistdoctor with strong line on women,
author of a numberof manualson problemsof infancy, girlhood, motherhood,venereal
diseasesetc, and see above notes 14 and 45), and James CrichtonBrowne(a doctor with a
long-standinginterestin childhealthandnationalefficiency,anda firmbeliefin the powersof
motherhood;see abovenotes 3 and 11), all addressedmeetingsof the societyand contributed
to the journal.
181 H. Davy,'TheCultivationoftheMindinChildren', ChildStudyJuly 1908,pp.51-2.(He
also recommendsthe motherof LittleLordFauntleroyas ideal.)
182 C.T. Ewart,'Parenthood',EmpireReview,Feb.-July1910,p.319.

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