The Bridgwater Infant Welfare Centre, 1922-1939: from an authoritarian concern with 'welfare mothers' to a more inclusive community health project?
University of Exeter
Family and Community History
The infant welfare movement in Britain has received considerable scholarly attention but continues to generate controversy and debate. Many of the services began with nineteenth-century voluntary initiative but were later developed by local authorities. Critics have drawn attention to the limitations of such provision; arguing that it was predicated on unattractive assumptions about class and gender roles. Under this interpretation working-class mothers were viewed with suspicion and targeted for advice aimed at inculcating middle-class standards of childcare and housekeeping. This paper accepts that there was an authoritarian character to much of the early welfare work but suggests that over time this gave way to more inclusive approaches that sought to provide clients with the services that met their real rather than assumed needs. This paper reviews the recent historiography, develops an overview of national trends, and then takes a detailed look at the Bridgwater Infant Welfare Centre. The case study benefi ts from unusually comprehensive records and, by drawing on evidence from a small Somerset town, adds to our understanding of infant welfare work that has previously been developed from research on major urban centres.
Wellcome Trust Fellowship