How Art Reflected Child Mortality in the 20th Century – Research Blog – Duke University

Exactly how does parenting change when infant and child mortality affects every family in society? Recent history may provide an answer. For the entirety of the particular 19th Hundred years, child mortality was ubiquitous. In the year 1880, nearly 35% of children born in the United States passed away within their first five years . The medical literature that explores the common diseases plus public health inadequacies, though expansive, often fails to address the central humanistic questions surrounding such widespread death. How were these children mourned? Just how did grieving families move on? And how has this mourning changed in the particular context associated with the past hundred many years of medical advancement?

These guiding queries drove Dr. Perri Klass , Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at NYU, to pen her recently published book, “ The Best Medicine: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future . ” A distinguished clinician, author, and medical historian, Klass explored prominent art and literary works from this era of high infant plus child fatality at the recent Trent Humanities in Medicine Lecture at the Duke School of Medicine, titled “One Vacant Chair: Remembering Children”.

Dr . Perri Klass, MD

Throughout the lecture, Klass guided the audience through famous portraits, poems, and prose produced in the 18th Century that memorialized children who had died at a young age. Perhaps the most famous fictional account of childhood death in the 19th century emerged within Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The emotionally wrenching death scene of young Eva, who succumbed to tuberculosis, struck a chord with virtually all those who read the novel. Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin would go on in order to be reproduced in theaters across the particular country for several decades, typically the death picture becoming an ubiquitous anchor that often brought the target audience to tears. Klass further described how Beecher Stowe drew from her personal experience, this death of her son Charlie through cholera only a few years prior to the writing of the book, to create this powerful literary scene.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin. ” Published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Beecher Stowe was not the only author whose personal experience impacted their art. Charles Dickens, deeply impacted by the death of his children, had created a slew associated with sentimental yet mortal child characters within his stories. One regarding the most prominent examples, young Nell from “The Old Curiosity Shop, ” was published in installments and developed a strong following. Dickens ended the series with the dying of twelve-year old Nell, much to the outrage of international readers.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that parents chose in order to memorialize their deceased children through literature and artwork. Wealthy families would often contract famous portrait artists were often contracted to be able to depict their own dead kids. Some, including the Rockefellers and the particular Stanfords , channeled typically the deaths involving their youngsters and grandchildren into resourced academic institutions.

For grief to drive philanthropy and art is not a new phenomenon, but the sources connected with grief that drive such artistic plus financial overtures today have changed considerably. Klass sought to bridge this knowledge gap in addition to pull closer the history for you to which society has this privilege with being oblivious. Maybe, even, it would even inform how we cope with often the mortality for young people today.

“How do we situate ourselves in a world where infant and kid mortality will be so low? ” Klass asked at the beginning of her presentation.

The past does not reveal one clear answer, but it does provide the tapestry of options, many lost inside our modern collective memory, for mourning, for celebrating, and for memorializing.

Post by Vibhav Nandagiri, Class of 2025

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