In the early years of the twentieth century, Margaret MacMillan expressed her concern over the high levels of infant mortality:

It is still enormous — 120,000 die every year in this country. The great majority of these little victims, belong, of course to the poorer class. It is not hard to live, even if one is a weakly baby, when all the resources of wealth, and love, and modern science are at command. But if a weakly baby is born to a working-class mother, he cannot in many instances command even her services, and the chances of life and health are very doubtful indeed.1

Her call for working-class infants to access and reap the benefits from scientific medicine was misguided given the failures of this discipline during the nineteenth century to reduce death rates. The hope invested in scientific medicine and public health initiatives was not restricted to contemporary analysis, for, as we have seen, historians today reiterate the belief that science and medicine might have improved the northern IMR during the latter half of the nineteenth century were it not for the failings of northern working-class mothers.


Child Care Infant Mortality Public Health Initiative Class Woman Factory Owner 
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  1. 1.
    M. McMillan, (1905) Infant Mortality (London), p. 3.Google Scholar

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© Melanie Reynolds 2016

Authors and Affiliations

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

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