“The country which first recognizes its responsibilities to the child,” S. W. Newmayer wrote in 1911, “will receive the recognition of the world as being the foremost civilized nation.” Newmayer had just been asked to guide Philadelphia's child health and welfare efforts, and as he surveyed indicators of child health from around the world, he found that the United States lagged behind. The most telling sign was a list of the infant mortality rate (IMR) in 30 countries—the United States ranked 18th with an IMR of 135 deaths per 1000 live births. Newmayer then noted that some American cities had recently initiated a variety of programs to improve child health. “The United States,” he concluded hopefully, “is awakening to such realization.”

Newmayer's optimism seemed well-placed. The first third of the 20th century marked an era of significant growth in child health and welfare efforts. Building on the European...

You do not currently have access to this content.