The health and hygiene movement in the early part of the 20th century was due in part to better education, public health and welfare programs, and a handful of persuasive innovative leaders. One such leader was May Dickinson Kimball, whose commitment to the health and well-being of girls and women, particularly for motherhood concerns, was very influential. Following on the mission of the Girls’ Health League in Massachusetts, which was committed to reducing infant mortality rates, she developed a set of instructions aimed at educating girls, while in school, to prepare them for motherhood responsibilities. A healthy minded girl would be a better citizen and, therefore, a better mother. In some ways, her manual was the precursor to the landmark work of Benjamin Spock in the 1940s. In this copy of her 1918 textbook, inscribed to Harvard President Lowell, Kimball offered a series of instructions for schools, teachers, and charitable organizations. This movement became widely known as Mothercraft.
In her book, Kimball posed the following problem:
“How can we best safeguard the health of our
schoolgirls? and What can we do through
them to save the babies”
Her solution was holistic, using a combination of instruction and educational methods, to develop girls with “sound mind and sound body” so they could properly care for babies.
“The following are good rules:
1. Form health-giving habits.
2. Let keeping well and happy be one of
your most important duties.
The person who honestly wishes to be useful must begin
at once to make good health a certainty. “
Much of what she put forth was just good common sense, though not well recognized at the time. She advocated “new’ health ideas such as “instead of giving large amounts of bread and butter to children three times a day, mothers should substitute in part vegetables and fruits” or “a glass of water should be taken before breakfast, in the middle of the morning, and in the afternoon, and two glasses in the evening.”
Caring for babies involved, proper nutrition, precautions for disease, and behavioral training. She states “A mother with a cold, when nursing her baby, should tie a handkerchief loosely over her nose and mouth in order to protect the child from infection”
Hands-on training for girls was provided by the Girls Health League.
“After attending three successive meetings of
the class each member will be given a Girls’
Health League button. The presentation of buttons
signifies that the girls are members of the
Girls’ Health League. On receipt of the button
each girl agrees to do some definite act each day
to make others well and happy.”
And a novel approach to reaching the public — Motion Picture Film
“This film will make its appeal to the general
public through the theatre, the school, the club
and the church. It will also make its appeal to
the girls in the school, in the office and in the
home. From many who have seen the film and who
are acknowledged and competent critics come
words of congratulation for this unique service
to the cause of Mothercraft.”
- Kimball, May Dickinson. Children well and happy. New York : Craftsman Press, c1918.
- Persistent Link:
- Widener Library
- Harvard University