Babies of the Empire: Science, Nation and Truby King’s Mothercraft in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa

  • S. E. Duff
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series (PSHC)


In 1923, a coalition of South African child welfare societies invited a nurse trained in Dr Truby King’s mothercraft programme to tour the country, providing a series of public lectures on childrearing. Miss Paterson was met with large audiences and approving newspaper coverage wherever she spoke. Her purpose was to communicate why and how King’s programme of scientific childrearing had contributed to the dramatic reduction in the rate of infant mortality in New Zealand, where King had originated mothercraft in 1907. As Cape Town’s Argus newspaper reported, of every 1,000 babies born in the city in 1922, 137 died, more than half of whom were black. In contrast, in New Zealand, the figure was only 41.8 deaths per thousand — then the lowest in the world. ‘How’, asked the newspaper, ‘do they manage it?’1


Infant Mortality Child Welfare White Mother Reduce Infant Mortality Infant Welfare 
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© S.E. Duff 2016

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  • S. E. Duff

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