Herbert Hoover’s vision for healthy children – Part 1: The Child’s Bill of Rights

This image is from the Commerce Years gallery at the Hoover Presidential Museum.

by Spencer Howard

Of the many charitable organizations that Herbert Hoover led, one of the most important was the American Child Health Association.  In its almost 13 years of existence, from its founding by Herbert Hoover in 1923 to its liquidation in 1935, the ACHA sponsored and published vast amounts of research concerning issues affecting children’s health.

One way the ACHA raised awareness and encouraged communities to take action to improve child health was through Child Health Day (for more on Child Health Day, see https://hoover.blogs.archives.gov/2015/10/05/child-health-day/)  But the ACHA also needed a brief and memorable statement of its goals, which was expressed as the “Child’s Bill of Rights.”

In 1922, Hoover gave a speech in which he said, “The ideal to which we should drive is that there should be no child in America that has not been born under proper conditions, that does not live in hygienic surroundings, that ever suffers from under-nutrition, that does not have prompt and efficient medical attention and inspection, that does not receive primary instruction in the elements of hygiene and good health.  It is the purpose of these associations to supplant ten policemen with a single community nurse.”  This paragraph, slightly modified, was published in Mother and Child magazine in February 1923 as “The Child’s Bill of Rights:”

The ideal to which we should strive is that there shall be no child in America:
That has not been born under proper conditions
That does not live in hygienic surroundings
That ever suffers from undernourishment
That does not have prompt and efficient medical attention and inspection
That does not receive primary instruction in the elements of hygiene and good health
That has not the complete birthright of a sound mind in a sound body
That has not the encouragement to express in fullest measure the spirit within which is the final endowment of every human being.

Inspired by this rallying cry, the ACHA sponsored a national survey of health conditions in 86 mid-sized cities.  (Larger cities had already been surveyed by the Department of Labor.)  The survey revealed that 41 cities had no full-time health official, that half of the cities had no reliable child birth and mortality records, that vaccinations were not required in 37 cities, that pasteurization of the milk supply was required in only 8 cities, and that there was no health instruction in 21 cities.  The publication of these results shocked the nation and stirred up demand for improvements.  Hoover later proudly recalled that “our published plan for ideal community organization became a bible for many a belligerent mother’s society.”  By the late 1920s, measurable improvements in child health had been made in hundreds of communities, significantly reducing infant and child mortality. 

When Herbert Hoover became President in 1929, one of his first initiatives was to call for a national conference on child health to expand the work of the ACHA.  Over the next two years, the conference prepared 31 volumes of technical findings and recommendations covering every conceivable childhood concern, including a 19-point “Children’s Charter” that drew inspiration from the “Child’s Bill of Rights” and provided a more detailed blueprint for improving the health of America’s children. 

Next week: The Children’s Charter

One thought on “Herbert Hoover’s vision for healthy children – Part 1: The Child’s Bill of Rights

  1. Defund the police! Whereas I believe a credible police force and credible public health each stand on their own merits, and shouldn’t be net sum zero policy, I never knew Hoover suggested a trade-off!

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