From the Mouths of Babes: Infant Mortality and Medicalised Motherhood in County Durham, England, 1892-1914
Bonham, Danika 1990-
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At the turn of the twentieth century, County Durham, a coal-mining region in England’s Northeast, experienced some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. At the same time, medical discourse focused on improving infant health outcomes was undergoing a dramatic shift that placed growing importance on the role of the mother and her abilities to raise the next generation of healthy imperial Britons. Within a national context, medical literature published by Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) identified the ignorance of working-class mother as the predominate determinant of poor infant health outcomes across the country. The suggested remedy was found in education reforms. Yet the reports published by MOHs within County Durham did not mirror this sentiment. Within County Durham, mothers were still blamed from high infant death rates, but the rationale behind this blame differed depending on the backgrounds of individual MOHs, and the approaches taken to address infant health concerns were likewise varied across the districts of the county. This thesis examines the medical discourse surrounding infant health and motherhood between MOHs at the national, regional, and local levels from 1892 to 1914, and argues that infant health initiatives were highly variable during the period. It contributes a vital case study to the growing literature surrounding public health initiatives and infant welfare. This research also demonstrates a regional variability of mother blaming that has not been present in recent historical analyses. Reports issued by MOHs alongside other archival materials allowed for both quantitative and qualitative analyses to be incorporated into this research, which were further supplemented by digital methodologies such as Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS). This thesis contributes to current histories of public health and motherhood by examining a predominately working-class region of England that experienced infant health outcomes and medical approaches unseen in other parts of the country.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeDyck, Erika; Meyers, Mark; Hackett, Paul; Keyworth, George
Copyright DateJune 2019
Medical Officers of Health