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Archive and Research Centre for Women's History

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Archive and Research Centre for Women's History

Protéger le jeune enfant. Enjeux sociaux, politiques et sexués (Belgique, 1890-1940)

The Ph.D. dissertation of Claudine Marissal, archivist at the AVG, is published in a book, Protéger le jeune enfant. Enjeux sociaux, politiques et sexués (Belgique, 1890-1940). The dissertation was awarded with the Suzanne Tassier price by the Académie royale de Belgique.

At the end of the 19th century, the protection of the young child starts to develop in Belgium. Doctors and philantropic women create infant care services, where mothers are taught to take care of their children following the new hygienic precepts. In 1919, an official organisation for the protection of young children is established : l’Œuvre nationale de l’enfance (split in the 1980s into l’Office de la naissance et de l’enfance and Kind en Gezin).

This book turns to the history of this vast educative movement that particularly aims to train women in their mother roles. It reviews the medicalisation of childhood, of pregnancy and child birth, but also the rise and professionalisation of social help to families in poverty. It shows the essential role played by doctors, philantropic women, social workers and christian and socialist female workers movements in the protection of child and mother.

The book highlights the major issues in hygienic and family politics : social, political, demographical and sexual issues. The history of infant protection is a complex subject at the confluence of medical history, social history, political history and women’s history. By relating the history of child protection , the book enriches the comprehension of the current discourse on the child’s well being.

C. Marissal, Protéger le jeune enfant : enjeux sociaux, politiques et sexués (Belgique, 1890-1940), Editions de l’université de Bruxelles, 2014

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