This volume is a study of the campaign, designed and led by physicians, to reduce infant and maternal mortality in early-20th-century Ontario. Against a background of socio-economic transformation, infant and maternal mortality were identified as public health problems of national significance. Cynthia Comacchio examines the evolving relationships between medicine, mothers, families and the state within the context of modernization. Armed with a secure faith in science and aided by the increasingly important position of experts in Canadian society, the medical profession tackled the "national tragedy" of infant and maternal mortality by advocating "scientific motherhood". Canadian mothers were believed to be handicapped by an ignorance which could be remedied only through expert tutoring and supervision of child-rearing duties. Medical information about child health and child-rearing methods was provided to mothers through state-sponsored advice literature, diagnostic clinics and visiting nurse services.
The book demonstrates that the attempt to save infants and mothers from unnecessary death was part of a conscious plan to modernize Canadian families to meet the ideological imperatives of industrial capitalism. It was believed that ensuring both social reproduction and economic productivity required that the necessary values be instilled at the earliest possible moment. If infants could be saved and their physical, mental, and moral health regulated, doctors reasoned, the benefits in socio-economic terms would more than offset any individual or state investment. The largely male medical profession, as respected members of the dominant class, upheld a vision of the healthy "modern" family that nonetheless left its traditional structure and gender relations intact. Working within a Marxist-feminist framework, the author draws on a wide variety of sources, including advice literature, popular magazines, government reports, medical and nursing journals, and municipal, provincial and national archives.