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Abstract

As we have seen in the previous chapter, workhouse nurses were not disinclined to tend to pauper infants, but to what extent did they feed them dangerous foods when they got around to offering care? This chapter will analyse the feeding practices in the workhouse, and identify when and where the workhouse took on responsibility for feeding infants. We begin by relating the contemporary view of workhouse nurse feeding:

Experience has repeatedly shown that the congregation of several hand-fed infants in infant-nurseries, workhouses and elsewhere entails almost certain disease and death. Sooner or later, they are attacked by aphthae [atrophy] or diarrhoea, and no amount of care or attention will avert their death. In one instance, mentioned by Dr. Routh, where the infants … were received in an infant-nursery, an average of four out of five died …1

Despite the endeavours of workhouse nurses to do their best for pauper infants, as the contemporary report in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) cited above indicates, the incidence of infant mortality, particularly within the workhouse, remained a concern for the medical establishment.2 These concerns are shared by historians like Ruth Richardson, Angela Negrine, Jonathan Reinarz, Leonard Schwarz and the Webbs in particular, who argued that indoor pauper infants who lived in workhouses ‘outside of London’ experienced an annual death rate of a third of all infants, and these high rates continued into the early twentieth century.3 Such figures were abysmal. As Ruth Richardson notes, the workhouse nurses and the ‘care’ that they were able to provide to infant paupers was ‘dismal.’4

Keywords

Breast Milk Infant Mortality British Medical Journal Feeding Practice Infant Feeding 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    J. Reinarz and L. Schwartz (2013) (ed.) Medicine and the Workhouse (Rochester: New York), p. 6 and especially chapter 9, A. Negrine, ‘Practitioners and Paupers: Medicine at the Leicester Union Workhouse, 1867–1905’, pp. 192–211, R. Richardson, (2013) ‘The Art of Medicine: A Dismal Prospect: Workhouse Health Care’, The Lancet, 6 July 2013, pp. 20–21 and S. and B. Webb, (1963) English Poor Law History, Part II, Volume I, (London), pp. 310–11.Google Scholar
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    R. Richardson, (2013) ‘The Art of Medicine’ 20–21.Google Scholar
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    S. and B. Webb, (1963) English Poor Law History, p. 310.Google Scholar
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    V. Fildes, (1986) Breasts, Bottles and Babies, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 168–87 and pp. 281–8. Fildes gives a very good example of how medical men and philanthropists such as Joseph Hanway saw the negative influences which eighteenth-century wet-nursing could have on pauper infants. The consequences of this led to the wet-nurse experiencing an increasingly bad press becoming associated with ill-health and unrespectability: it was believed that infants fed by wet nurses would be contaminated by her illness and bad characteristics.Google Scholar
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    It is interesting that Eustace Smith was in contact with Jenner whilst Smith was writing his paper on infant feeding. See Eustace Smith, (1868) The Wasting Diseases, p. 33 and P.J. Atkins, (1992) “White Poison?” The Social Consequences of Milk Consumption, 1850–1930, The Society for the Social History of Medicine, 5, pp. 207–27. Although the arguments on milk still ensue, one would expect the milk in workhouses to be as pure as possible, costs allowing. See M.A. Crowther, (1981) The Workhouse System, 1834–1929: the History of an English Social Institution (London: Batsford Academic & Educational), p. 3; Charles Henry Routh, MD., MRCPE, (1860) Infant Feeding and its Influences on Life: or the Causes and Prevention of Infant Mortality (London), p. 199 and L. Weaver, (2007) ‘Feeding Babies in the Battle to Control Infant Mortality: Glasgow 1900–1910’ A paper given at the Mini-Symposium on The Origins of the Science and practice of Infant and Child Nutrition and Feeding 8–11 October, 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Melanie Reynolds 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie Reynolds
    • 1
  1. 1.Oxford Brookes UniversityUK

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