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Children's Convalescent Home, 1845-1970



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Marven, Maria 


From the middle of the nineteenth century a new type of health care institution, the children's convalescent home, began to provide care to sick children. Institutional convalescence quickly became an established part of medical orthodoxy, particularly for urban working-class children. Convalescent homes combined simple medical care with the natural therapies of diet, rest, and fresh air within a home-like environment. But they were also institutions of their time. They catered for medical conditions and socials needs that no longer exist today. Moreover, they were culturally acceptable in a way that is no longer recognisable. Their position within a particular epoch makes them revealing about health care provision during that time, and has broader historical significance for how we understand periods of significant social and cultural change; pointing towards points in time when ideas of children's emotional, physical, and health care needs diverged or changed. Despite their potential richness as a source, children's convalescent homes have gone largely unstudied. Historical research on developments in children's health care has focussed on the provision of child welfare clinics, domiciliary nurse visits, and school medical inspections. Numerous scholars have argued that it was primarily through welfare clinics that professional medicine came to ‘know’ children, and conversely, through clinic visits that mothers were exposed to new methods of scientific child care, as their children were weighed, measured, and monitored. Since Roy Porter's call to study history from below, historians have turned to new methods of analysis to study the subjective experiences of the non-hegemonic classes and subaltern groups. In doing so they have produced studies that have illuminated the experiences of diverse patient populations. However, the voices of child-patients have remained persistently silent, and the bodies of literature that study children's health care and children's subjective experiences of that care have rarely been drawn together. Through the contextualised study of children's convalescent homes this thesis begins to draw these works closer together in a fusion that both supports and disrupts current historiography. Although residential health care for children was increasingly available from the mid-1850s, children's convalescent homes occupied a unique space within the provision of children's health care; bridging the divide between residential welfare provision, and familial homes. It will be argued that this distinctive space provides a unique location for historians to explore changing ideas of childhood, health care provision, and children's subjective experiences of these regimes. This thesis has been divided into two sections that have used distinct sources and methodological approaches to explore different aspects of children's convalescent homes. Section one uses archival sources to provide a narrative account of the institutional convalescent care of children in the Metropolis between 1845 and 1970. While section two, uses oral history interviews to explore individuals' remembered experiences of childhood convalescence in the closing decades of the system, between 1932 and 1962.





Szreter, Simon


convalescent, oral history, listening guide, children


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge