Discussion of State Care of Mothers and Infants, May 17, 1918

REEL 47_1610.jpg
REEL 47_1611.jpg


1. Miss Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago, in discussing Miss Lathrop's address, said in substance:

England, during the first year of the war discovered a sudden rise in the mortality of children. One reason for this increased death rate was found to be the fact that mothers were working in munition plants. During the second year of the war, the infant death rate fell below pre-war levels, [page 2] as the result of concerted action by the entire nation, roused by the seriousness of the situation.

Munitions plants in the United States are now arranging to take in mothers and provide day nurseries for the children. Fortunately these nurseries are being placed under the management of existing organizations of women familiar with such institutions. But is it necessary, at the beginning of the second year of the war for mothers to work in munitions plants? Cannot the heightened solidarity of the nation be used, now while the subject is up, to protect these children? Mothers' pensions have been provided in many states to enable widows to stay with their children. Why should the wives of the soldiers not also be kept with their children? It should be easy to persuade the community that the children of soldiers should be protected. Such a movement would serve as a good beginning toward the solution of the whole question of taking care of mothers.

Some people contend that a large number of children are better taken care of in nurseries than by mothers who have spent their girlhood as factory workers. Let the mothers, it is urged, go back to the factories. After the day's work, the short period before the children go to sleep would not fatigue the mothers; indeed they would enjoy their children better for not having spent the whole day with them. Such is not the point of view advocated in America, urged by the Children's Bureau, nor embodied in the best legislation. America should insist that munitions work shall be done by others than the mothers of little children.

Our general but passive beliefs need sharpening, sometimes by acute experience. Leaving a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education one night at 2 a.m., I found a scrub woman wet from head to foot with the mother's milk which her work prevented her from giving to her nursing child at home. By an ironical coincidence, the city council had just been called back from its vacation to consider means of protecting the city from contaminated milk furnished its children from four states.

A biologist at the University of Wisconsin has said that a tadpole well fed produces a fat frog that can stand a good deal of starving without visible damage, while an underfed tadpole always produces a thin frog whom no amount of feeding will fatten. In respect to children, too, he argued, one can never make up in later life for the hardships of childhood. We must see what we can do to keep the mother with her children until they have made at least their first start in life.

  1. In addition to those mentioned heretofore the following delegates took part in the discussion: Mrs. Kelley; Oscar Leonard, St. Louis; Rev. James Parsons, Kansas City; J. Bruce Byall, Philadelphia.