Domesticity, Work, and Breastfeeding

This photo is so interesting to me. Notice the mom breastfeeding at the table. Here’s the title of the photograph: 4:30 P.M. Mrs. Annie De Maritius, 46 Laight St., front, Nursing a dirty baby while she picks nuts. Was suffering with a sore throat. Rosie, 3 yrs. old hanging around. Conevieve, 6 yrs. old. Tessie, 6 yrs. old picks too. Make $1.50 to $2.00 a week. Husband on railroad works sometimes. Location: [New York, New York (State)]

There is so much going on in this photograph that I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about it thoroughly. This photograph was published in December 1911. It is amazing that the mother was able to work at home with her children, but the conditions don’t look very appealing or sanitary and clearly there are no child labor laws in place. At least the mother breastfed her children even when milk stations were readily available in New York where women could get milk for their babies.

I found a New York Times article from July 12, 1912 (pdf) that spoke about the milk stations and how effective they were at lowering infant mortality. In other words, the milk industry during that time pushed milk formula on mothers without realizing that milk was killing babies because it could not be properly sterilized. To remedy that instead of the city doing a massive breastfeeding outreach they decided to open up 88 New York City milk stations in the summer of 1912 to give mothers fresh milk. Judging from the photograph, every mother did not use the milk stations. Milk stations were one of the reasons mothers abandoned breastfeeding early in the twentieth century.

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