Nutrition, health education, and dietary reform: gendering the 'new science' in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, 1893-1928

Lush, Gail Ruby Shirlene (2008) Nutrition, health education, and dietary reform: gendering the 'new science' in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, 1893-1928. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In the early 1900s medical personnel at the Grenfell Mission decided that something should be done to prevent the local fishers of northern Newfoundland and coastal Labrador from developing nutritional deficiencies. Many Mission doctors felt that the local dietary, known for its reliance on fish and starchy foods, caused disabling physical conditions, such as beriberi, night blindness, rickets, and scurvy. Deficiency diseases destroyed the fishers' health, and kept them from participation in the all important seal and cod fisheries. Doctor Wilfred Grenfell, Superintendent and founder of the benevolent organization, urged a staff of teachers, nurses, and doctors to teach prevention by encouraging the local people to obtain a greater variety of food. After a two-decade public education campaign to promote the use of more fruits, vegetables and milk, Mission staff had little success in changing local dietary habits. -- By the 1910s Grenfell observed with great interest new developments in nutrition science and in 1920 learned of two American women who were pioneering career paths in childhood nutrition. Over the following eight years, his interest in their teachings in preventative health and "right living" enticed more than twenty-five nutrition workers to travel to the north-east coast for voluntary service. Nutrition workers, trained in home economics, worked with physicians, dentists, nurses, and educators to improve children's level of health. They conducted social surveys of children's diets and home conditions and tried to advise mothers how to maintain the health of their families. Within three summers, the women nutrition workers acquired a large degree of professional independence in nutrition education and coordinated nutrition clinics and classes for women and their children under the auspices of the Child Welfare Department, an agency which they created. -- Yet shifting professional goals between nutrition workers on the one hand, and nurses and doctors on the other, encouraged the directors of the Mission to dissolve the Child Welfare Department and appoint physicians in charge of child welfare and nutrition work. Elizabeth Criswell, director of the Child Welfare Department, was partially responsible for the demise of the Grenfell nutrition worker. She replaced the nutrition worker with the public health nurse as part other larger, professional strategy to gain cooperation from the established medical community. The aim of this thesis is to explain the goals of women pioneering careers in nutrition work, and the professionalizing strategies they used to slip into the Grenfell Mission medical hierarchy. An examination of professional tensions between them and their medical colleagues will demonstrate how these women fought hard to maintain control of their own Child Welfare Department.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 8919
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 240-246)
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 2008
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Child welfare department; Child welfare--Newfoundland and Labrador--History--20th century; Nutrition--Newfoundland and Labrador--History--20th century; Public health--Newfoundland and Labrador--History--20th century; Women nutritionists--Newfoundland and Labrador--History--20th century

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