Dummies and the health of Hertfordshire infants, 1911-1930

Catharine R Gale, C N Martyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many medical and child-care experts in the early years of this century viewed the dummy as a serious hazard to the health and development of babies. With the growth of the infant welfare movement, these beliefs were incorporated into health visitors' advice to mothers. A unique set of records made by health visitors in Hertfordshire has been used to explore the determinants and consequences of dummy-use in infancy. These data show that the prevalence of dummy-use, as recorded by health visitors, nearly halved in the period 1911-30, indicating the power of the anti-dummy campaign. Babies in Hertfordshire were more likely to use dummies if they were boys, if their mother was young or had herself been born in the county. Although the incidence of infections and nutritional deficiencies was higher amongst dummy-users, the absolute size of the difference was very small. The intensity of feeling aroused by the dummy in medical and child-care experts is not justified by any evidence from these records concerning the consequences of dummy-use. Opposition to the dummy stemmed in part from the belief that it was a vector of germs and dirt. Diarrhoea was the largest single cause of post-neonatal death in the early twentieth century, and contemporary medical opinion held that 'dirt' was somehow responsible, though no association between dummy-use and diarrhoea was found in the Hertfordshire data. Perhaps part of the explanation for the antagonism towards the dummy lies in the conviction, common among child-care experts at this time, that indulging babies desires for comfort and pleasure would be detrimental to their characters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-255
Number of pages25
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1995


Dive into the research topics of 'Dummies and the health of Hertfordshire infants, 1911-1930'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this