UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Britain’s future strength, the health of elementary school children, 1867-1907 : a study in social policy, legislative action and government growth Farson, Anthony Stuart


The major objective of this thesis is to throw new light on the problem of "how" and "why" the function of the State within society changed dramatically during the first few years of the twentieth century By concentrating on the Liberal Government's measures of 1906 to 1907 to improve the health of working-class children this thesis hopes to show that the role of men and their beliefs played a far more important part in the development of the "British Welfare State" than has hitherto been credited. By illustrating how the social, political, and economic condi tions of the period 1870 to 1900 affected the consciousness of individuals and groups, it attempts to explain why there was a delay between the time when the extent of poverty became intolerable and the time when measures were enacted to relieve the problem. Three major themes intertwine throughout this thesis. These are the cause of government growth; the changing status of working-class children; and measures to improve the health of the nation. Chapter One discusses the social, physical, and psychological factors which affected the health of children before 1880, and illustrates the high esteem in which working-class parents held their children. Chapter Two shows how middle class Britain attempted to deal with the problem of child health in the period before the end of the nineteenth century. Chapter Three attempts to explain "how" and "why" the physical condition of the British working class became a question of major political significance for the first time. Specifically it describes the nineteenth century origins of the "National Efficiency" movement, the part played by the movement in concentrating public attention on the physical condition of the working class, and discusses the blue-print for social action formulated by the Inter-departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration. The last chapter describes how the Liberal Government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman began the enactment of this social blue-print. Their first step was an Act which allowed local education authorities to feed needy school children free of charge. This was soon followed by another Act which allowed local education authorities to require the medical examination of all children attending public elementary schools. Together these Acts began a process of long-term social planning in Britain.

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