Childbirth and Nursing

The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood
An exhibition at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
August 23 - November 19, 1995

Georgian artists engaged directly in the reexamination of issues such as the birth of a child, the fragility of infancy, and nursing. In line with the cult of nature, mothers were encouraged to breastfeed their own children-a radical change from previous years, when any mother who could afford to do so sent her children away to be wet-nursed. This practice was attacked as early as the 1740s, in part due to the high infant mortality of children reared this way, in part due to increasing interest in raising children naturally. Artists such as George Morland lampooned parents who chose to be separated from their own children, detailing the negative effects of such separation on family well-being.

Despite changes in nursing and child-rearing that focused increasingly on the nuclear family as a unit, infant and child mortality remained high. Mortality rates finally came down only in the mid-nineteenth century, in the age of Dickens. Despite the high risk that a young child might die, many parents loved their children with abandon. Society as a whole, however, was slow to protect its children. The artist and poet William Blake, a highly individualistic observer more attuned than most to society's ills, especially pitied the child's vulnerable position.

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