Growing Up Healthy in the 20th Century
Nathalie Lampron



At the turn of the 20th century, one child in four dies in Quebec by the age of one; that is more than anywhere else in Canada or even North America. The development of cities, begun towards the end of the preceding century, continues at a rapid pace. The densely populated working-class neighbourhoods include many filthy dwellings. In this urban environment, where overcrowding is exacerbated by lack of hygiene, polluted air, and often tainted water and milk, infants are dying of diarrhea or contagious diseases, especially in summer. Something must be done!

Various steps are taken to eradicate this scourge. In the first quarter of the 20th century, public health campaigns encourage mothers to strive to improve their children's living conditions. Two essentials are emphasized: cleanliness and fresh air. The questionable quality of water and milk is also a major issue. Filtering and treating water as well as pasteurization of milk are some of the measures implemented. They directly reduce the infant mortality rate in the first 30 years of the century.

Towards the end of the 19th century, but especially in the early 20th century, the first children's hospitals open. Pediatrics gradually becomes a medical specialty. Prevention is a large part of caring for children: vaccination programs considerably reduce the rate of contagious diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis and polio. A growing number of scientists are concerned with children's health, studying their physiological and psychological development. This new knowledge leads to the creation of early-childhood development programs and educational games and toys, supported by a rapidly changing technology, especially after the Second World War. In short, improved public health and advances in technology, science and especially medicine have a major impact on children's health and development.