The health of young children and the foundation of British children’s hospitals, c.1830 –1860

Kennedy, Andrew (2014) The health of young children and the foundation of British children’s hospitals, c.1830 –1860. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Between the years 1852 and 1860 six voluntary hospitals were opened in Great Britain to provide medical care for children who would previously have been considered too young to be admitted to hospital. This thesis argues that the process was shaped by the public health movement which was ascendant at that time.
The literature review shows that while historians of nineteenth-century childhood have been aware that child health was a problem, especially for working-class children, they have tended to view this through the prism of industrial and urban history, and there is little work available relating specifically to the provision of health care for younger children.
Chapters two and three demonstrate the emergence of a new understanding of the nature of childhood which came about as a result of the great inquiries into child labour, the health of towns, and the condition of the labouring classes, and the impact of the emerging science of statistics. At a time of crisis in traditional British medicine, the new approaches combined with French clinical and German laboratory techniques to open British physicians to the possibility of working with young children as a serious proposition for the first time.
Chapters four to six follow the various ways in which six children’s hospitals were opened in London, Norwich, Liverpool, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Influences which are analysed include the desire to rectify the acknowledged ignorance among physicians concerning children’s diseases, the recognition of environmental management as a fruitful means for improving children’s health, and a new willingness to emulate Continental practices.
This thesis departs from the existing historiography in challenging the underlying assumption as to the operating model of a hospital. Histories of children’s hospitals are written in terms of the extent to which they succeeded in applying the allopathic model of health, with the administration of medicines and surgical procedures at the centre, however ineffectually. What actually distinguished the new institutions was their emphasis on promoting healing not by manipulating children’s bodies but, drawing on the insights of the public health movement, by providing a therapeutic environment.

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