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Home Childbirth Training Kit

"Miniature Home Delivery Kit" used to instruct expectant mothers by the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, c. 1938.
(Museum object #1995.6.1-51)

While removing obsolete debris from the basement of the Wisconsin Bureau of Maternal and Child Health building in Madison in the 1970s, a custodian brought a suitcase that had belonged to the Bureau since the 1930s to the attention of nurse Anita Grand. Filled with scaled-down furniture, bottles, pots, and pans, the materials resembled doll accessories as much as they did a "Miniature Home Delivery Kit" as noted in the accompanying literature.

This kit is a vivid example of the role the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health played in bringing scientific knowledge for better health care to the public in the late 1930s. The Bureau used this kit to show prospective mothers the recommended steps and supplies necessary to increase their and their baby's chances for survival during a home delivery.

The kit allowed Bureau staff to show proper set up of the bed and supplies to aid in the delivery as well as how to make a sterile environment. Contents of the kit include a bed and bedding, table and chairs, and models of sterile containers and solutions. Representative bottles of antiseptic, sterile cotton, and boiled water as well as bars of soap and clean linens stressed the role a sanitary setting played in preventing unnecessary deaths.

Dr. Amy Louis Hunter, who headed the Bureau from 1935 to 1960, guided the organization through its most notable years. Dr. Hunter made the crusade to lower infant and maternal mortality one of the Bureau's primary goals. Whether through a prenatal letter service, information booths at fairs, or the traveling "Little Blue Trailer" that shared films, posters, and books to outlying Wisconsin Counties, Bureau nurses strove to provide basic health care instruction to women throughout the state.

While hospital births increased dramatically during the World War II period, the largely rural population in Wisconsin still included many low-income families that could not afford, reach, or perhaps even desire formal hospital care for childbirth. Consequently, explaining the recommended set-up and procedures for a safe home confinement remained an especially pertinent task for the Bureau's nurses.

In addition to advice on childbirth, the Bureau provided recommendations for the care and health of older children as well. By achieving their goal of delivering healthier babies in Wisconsin, the Bureau continued their interests through programs that promoted each child's health well into the future.

[Sources: Adams, Sean Patrick. "'Who Guards Our Mothers, Who Champions Our Kids?' Amy Louise Hunter and Maternal and Child Health in Wisconsin, 1935-1960" (Wisconsin Magazine of History 83:3, 2000; Mendenhall, Dorothy Reed. "Prenatal and Natal Conditions in Wisconsin" (Wisconsin Medical Journal 15, No. 10, March 1917).]


Posted on May 05, 2005

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