Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Evils of Perambulators and the Role of Women

From the first annual meeting of the Ladies Sanitary Association, 21 July 1859:

The Earl of SHAFTESBURY upon the reading of this report, said that, although he had been honoured with a request to preside on this public occasion, the ladies who had established this association made it one of their rules that no gentleman should interfere in this business, and he thought they were right; for this was peculiarly the women's work, and they should keep the management of their affairs in their own hands. ... Although general measures of sanitary reform might be promoted by boards of health and other institutions administered by men, the details of the subject could only be dealt with by women. It was only they who could visit the families of the poor to give them advice and instruction upon various matters, which, homely and simple as they were, vitally concerned the health and safety of the whole population. The weaning of infants, the "evils of wet-nursing", the "evils of tight-lacing", and the "evils of perambulators", such matters as these were discussined in the publications of this association, and were fitly explained to the wmoen of the working classes by the ladies who had combined together to promote this most useful and benevolent design. It was evident that they might thus do a great deal not only to obviate the spread of epidemic disease, and to diminish the sickness and mortality which afflicted the families of the poor, but also to prevent those painful cases of deformity, crookedness and crippling of their offpsring which so frequently occurred, as the result of mismanagement in nursing. ... He would take this opportunity to make his solemn protest against perambulators, as they were commonly used at present. He did not object to them as a means of conveying children from one place to another, but he protested as their being used as cages for the poor children, who ought to be sprawling about and playing on the grass; he had seen them in the park shut up in a perambulator like rabbits in a hutch, while their nursemaids were walking, reading, gossipping or flirting. He was also much impressed with the mischief caused by the use of Godfrey's cordial and similar narcotics; he had known cases in which a child was left with a piece of flannel steeped in laudanum, put into its mouth, for many hours, while its mother went away to her work. Surely, if mothers and nurses were made aware that, by such conduct, they were laying the foundation for dreadful disorders or premature death of the children committed to their care, they would adopt a more salutary treatment. He remembered that, some years ago, in connexion with the dispensary established in the adjoining parishes of St. James and St. George, a small sum was laid out upon whitewashing and ventilation amongst the poor houses in some of the most crowded and unhealthy streets in that neighbourhood, and the ersult was that the number of cases from that district applying to the dispensary for relief was reduced in one year by no fewer than 800. This showed what might be done by means of sanitary reform. ... Great results had been obtained, or might be obtained, from legislative intervention, and compulsory measures of drainage, the widening of streets for ventilation, the improvement of towns and dwelling-houses and the establishment of public parks and playgronuds for recreation and exercise. But a great deal must always depend upon women, since they had almost absolute control over every human being for the first few years of his life. Wives and mothers were, after all, the most valuable and eficient agentsi n this great work. The diffusion of good sanitary knowledge he regarded as auxiliary to the extension of the Gospel itself; for he was convinced there would be no surer way of reaching the hearts of the people than by conveying to their homes, along with the lessons of Christianity, the teaching which would promote their physical comfort, health and deceny, and all the temporal blessings of civilisation.

Daily News, 22 July 1859

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