Lowering Infant and Maternal Mortality in Colonial Madras: What Is Most Effective?

Friday, January 6, 2012: 3:10 PM
Sheraton Ballroom V (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Barbara N. Ramusack, University of Cincinnati
This paper analyzes the debates within the Council of the Municipal Corporation of Madras over the effectiveness of its network of child welfare centers in lowering infant and maternal mortality rates in late colonial India.  Inaugurated in 1917, these centers provided ante- and post-natal care to mothers and post-natal care to infants through health visitors, distributed milk to infants and organized annual baby weeks.  These centers were situated in the poorest areas of the oldest British colonial port city.  Since Indian men gained a sizeable majority of the seats in the Municipal Council as well as its presidency in 1920 and Indian medical women operated these centers, both the councilors and the medical women sought to demonstrate what Indians could do better than British officials for the welfare of young citizens of a future Indian nation.  Debates in the Council tried to judge whether their child welfare centers or measures such as improved water supply, milk supply, housing, sanitation or conservancy (waste removal, especially of human and animal feces) would be most effective in lowering the infant and maternal mortality rates.  These debates intensified after the depression of 1929 when one faction of Councilors sought to achieve greater efficiency and reduce expenditures through administrative reform.  These reforms ultimately failed and left the centers weakened as the Second World War presented new challenges.  My paper will highlight problems that municipalities with limited tax bases confronted in providing health services and thus contribute to urban history as well as social, medical and women’s history. 
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