Aspects of Infant Mortality in a University Town, Cambridge 1875-1911

Walsh, Joan (2008). Aspects of Infant Mortality in a University Town, Cambridge 1875-1911. PhD thesis The Open University.



As part of a wider Open University project investigating the decline in infant mortality, 1875-1948, this thesis takes the form of an examination of two propositions. First, that the chance of infant survival was determined more by environmental characteristics than by personal and family characteristics. Environmental characteristics include social characteristics and in particular the role played by members of the University. The second proposition was that the development of a health visiting service was a major contributor to the decline of infant mortality in Cambridge after 1906. The impact on infant mortality on five areas of infant and family life is investigated. These include personal characteristics and family income, the external environment, the state of housing, philanthropic ventures and the provision of a health visiting service. These areas were explored in the light of the work of others and this work contributes to the debate on the timing of the decline in infant mortality by investigating the influence of various factors at micro level. The Vaccination Birth Registers, the Medical Officer of Health Reports and the work of the early twentieth century investigators are used. The Vaccination Birth Registers allow detailed investigation at street level in the first three months of infant life. It was found those environmental factors and personal and family characteristics played an important part in the chance of an infant surviving the first year of life. Personal factors were particularly important in the first three months of life. Although evidence suggests that members of the University and those of the town lived separate lives they worked together in philanthropic initiatives which had a positive effect on the health of infants. In particular by establishing a health vesting service, the evidence suggested a positive relationship between the work of health visitors and the reduction in infant mortality from diarrhoea.

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