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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Advising the parents : child rearing in British Columbia during the inter-war years Lewis, Norah Lillian


During the inter-war years, health professionals and child care advisors in the industrialized world urged parents to reject traditional child rearing practices and to apply a scientific approach to child rearing. Basing some of their advice on research in medical science and studies in child development, these advisors assured parents that, if they adopted the scientific approach to child rearing, their children would have a greater possibility of growing into healthier, happier, more morally/upright, productive members of society than had children of any previous generation. In British Columbia, many voices joined together to advise parents. These advisors included professional and non-professional individuals, members of government boards and departments, employees of public and private agencies, members of community and women's organizations and service clubs, and public relations personnel for food production and life insurance companies. In their efforts to reach parents in all areas of British Columbia, advisors utilized a variety of approaches they published and distributed pamphlets, newsletters, and child care manuals; they showed films in local movie theatres and schools; they prepared broadcasts for local radio stations. This study examines the individuals and the agencies that provided child rearing advice to British Columbia's parents, and the methods and media used to disseminate this advice. Advice to parents centred on four age groups, the prenatal stage, the infant, the preschool child, and the school child. Because expectant mothers tended to be secretive about their pregnancies, advisors found it difficult to reach them with the message that through proper care, child- bed deaths were preventable and that healthy mothers produced healthy babies. Advisors found, however, that women reluctant to seek advice for themselves were often willing to accept assistance and advice on the care and rearing of their infants. Determined to lower the province's mortality rate, advisors urged parents to adopt a systematic, regimented, scientific approach to the feeding, caring, and training of their infants. When children passed from infancy to the preschool stage, both parents and advisors believed they no longer required the intensive care they had received as infants. Thus, less advice was available to parents on rearing preschool children than for rearing infants. Once children moved into the provincial school system, their health was monitored through annual medical inspections by a medical health officer and by regular examinations by a school nurse. At this stage, advisors were concerned with the health of school children, although they also viewed such children as instruments and the school as an agency through which to educate parents to the scientific approach to child rearing. Advisors believed the way to produce a strong, healthy citizen for the future was by expanding existing and developing aditional health care and child care programs for the child, and by changing the child rearing practices of the British Columbia parent. Although advisors proposed to educate all parents in new modes of child rearing, the nature, content, and amount of advice directed towards each age group varied considerably. This study identifies the sources of child care and child rearing advice for each age group. It shows, furthermore, that as advisors' knowledge of child development increased, their perceptions of child care changed, and the nature and content of child rearing advice also changed. This study identifies changes in the focus of advice to parents during the 1920's and 1930's. Additionally, it shows that during the inter-war years, the amount of advice to parents increased both in quantity available and in the number of sources through which information was disseminated to parents. Many British Columbia health professionals and child care advisors were committed to changing child rearing techniques used by parents, and they justified their claims by pointing to a steadily declining child mortality and morbidity rate. Not only did they desire these changes for children growing during the 1920's and the 1930's, but also they believed their influence would be manifest in the child rearing practices of the next generation. Motivated by political, economic, and humanitarian considerations, advisors worked to provide conditions that would produce children that were an asset to the rapidly developing province of British Columbia.

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