Growing Up Healthy in the 20th Century
About 1925, 20th century
Gift of Mrs. Murray A. Vaughan
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Crib (1)
Keys to History
At the turn of the 20th century, being born in a well-off neighbourhood or in a working-class one made a significant difference to a child's chances of survival. Montreal's infant mortality rate at the time was staggering: between 200 and 290 infants out of every 1,000 died before the age of one. In contrast, Toronto, in the same period, had annual infant mortality rates of around 160 per 1,000, which was comparable to the rates of other major industrial cities in the West. A careful analysis of these statistics shows that high infant mortality tended to be concentrated in Montreal's poorer neighbourhoods, such as Ste. Marie and Point St. Charles. Over 15,000 children died every year at that time. More than half of these deaths were due to intestinal diseases that could be linked to public health problems and poverty: overcrowding, squalor, malnutrition, and drinking of water and milk unfit for human consumption.
Children's cribs like this one hung between posts and rocked gently back and forth to put children to sleep.
In the early years of the 20th century, upper-middle-class families, especially in English Montreal, used to set aside part of the house for their children and governess, or nanny. It was her job to look after the children and she often slept in the same room.
Cribs and cradles were part of household furniture in Canada as far back as New France.
It has been found that at the beginning of the 20th century, infant mortality was higher in French-Canadian Catholic families than among Protestants or English-speaking Catholics. Many doctors of the time attributed the difference to poverty and early weaning.