Herbert Hoover’s vision for healthy children – Part 2: The Children’s Charter

by Spencer Howard

When Herbert Hoover became President in 1929, one of his early initiatives was to call for a national conference on child health.  Hoping to build on the work of the non-profit American Child Health Association, an organization he had founded in 1923, President Hoover announced that the purpose of his proposed conference was “to study the present status of the health and well-being of the children of the United States and its possessions; to report what is being done; to recommend what ought to be done and how to do it.”  

After more than a year of information-gathering by 17 appointed committees, the conference assembled over 3,000 men and women in Washington in November 1930, including leaders in the medical, educational and social fields as well as activists and policy makers.  Out of the Conference came recommendations covering every conceivable childhood concern from prenatal care and a safe environment during childhood to expanded educational opportunities, the development of social skills for all children, and the promise of health care for the physically and mentally handicapped. Historians later described the Conference’s 31 volumes of detailed reports as “the most comprehensive statement of the needs of children ever written.”  Realizing that the public would have a hard time understanding such an avalanche of information, President Hoover urged the preparation of a brief summary of broad recommendations.  The resulting 19-point statement was entitled “The Children’s Charter.” 

President Hoover’s White House Conference on Child Health and Protection
recognizing the rights of the child as the first rights of citizenship
pledges itself to these aims for the children of America
I. For every child spiritual and moral training to help him to stand firm under the pressure of life
II. For every child understanding and the guarding of his personality as his most precious right
III. For every child a home and that love and security which a home provides; and for that child who must receive foster care, the nearest substitute for his own home
IV. For every child full preparation for his birth, his mother receiving prenatal, natal, and postnatal care; and the establishment of such protective measures as will make child-bearing safer
V. For every child health protection from birth through adolescence, including: periodical health examinations and, where needed, care of specialists and hospital treatment; regular dental examination and care of the teeth; protective and preventive measures against communicable diseases; the insuring of pure food, pure milk, and pure water
VI. For every child from birth through adolescence, promotion of health, including health instruction and a health program, wholesome physical and mental recreation, with teachers and leaders adequately trained
VII. For every child a dwelling place safe, sanitary, and wholesome, with reasonable provisions for privacy, free from conditions which tend to thwart his development; and a home environment harmonious and enriching
VIII. For every child a school which is safe from hazards, sanitary, properly equipped, lighted, and ventilated. For younger children nursery schools and kindergartens to supplement home care
IX. For every child a community which recognizes and plans for his needs, protects him against physical dangers, moral hazards, and disease; provides him with safe and wholesome places for play and recreation; and makes provision for his cultural and social needs
X. For every child an education which, through the discovery and development of his individual abilities, prepares him for life; and through training and vocational guidance prepares him for a living which will yield him the maximum of satisfaction
XI. For every child such teaching and training as will prepare him for successful parenthood, homemaking, and the rights of citizenship; and, for parents, supplementary training to fit them to deal wisely with the problems of parenthood
XII. For every child education for safety and protection against accidents to which modern conditions subject him–those to which he is directly exposed and those which, through loss or maiming of his parents, affect him indirectly
XIII. For every child who is blind, deaf, crippled, or otherwise physically handicapped, and for the child who is mentally handicapped, such measures as will early discover and diagnose his handicap, provide care and treatment, and so train him that he may become an asset to society rather than a liability. Expenses of these services should be borne publicly where they cannot be privately met
XIV. For every child who is in conflict with society the right to be dealt with intelligently as society’s charge, not society’s outcast; with the home, the school, the church, the court and the institution when needed, shaped to return him whenever possible to the normal stream of life
XV. For every child the right to grow up in a family with an adequate standard of living and the security of a stable income as the surest safeguard against social handicaps
XVI. For every child protection against labor that stunts growth, either physical or mental, that limits education, that deprives children of the right of comradeship, of play, and of joy
XVII. For every rural child as satisfactory schooling and health services as for the city child, and an extension to rural families of social, recreational, and cultural facilities
XVIII. To supplement the home and the school in the training of youth, and to return to them those interests of which modern life tends to cheat children, every stimulation and encouragement should be given to the extension and development of the voluntary youth organizations
XIX. To make everywhere available these minimum protections of the health and welfare of children, there should be a district, county, or community organization for health, education, and welfare, with full-time officials, coordinating with a state-wide program which will be responsive to a nation-wide service of general information, statistics, and scientific research. This should include:
(a) Trained, full-time public health officials, with public health nurses, sanitary inspection, and laboratory workers
(b) Available hospital beds
(c) Full-time public welfare service for the relief, aid, and guidance of children in special need due to poverty, misfortune, or behavior difficulties, and for the protection of children from abuse, neglect, exploitation, or moral hazard
For EVERY child these rights, regardless of race, or color, or situation, wherever he may live under the protection of the American flag

The November conference was only the first part of President Hoover’s plan. The second part was to convene follow-up conferences throughout the country and to solicit public support for state and local efforts to make the recommendations a reality. The Conference’s research and reports were intended to be guidelines for lawmakers and officials at all levels in the formulation of laws and policies concerning children’s health. Follow-up conferences were convened in thirty-two states, two hundred counties, and numerous cities.  One of the conference’s notable outcomes was to inspire the creation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But like many of President Hoover’s ambitious plans, his hopes for a revolution in child health were crushed by the realities of the Great Depression.  Over the next two years, Hoover’s efforts to prop up the financial system and restore employment subsumed all of his time and energy.  With his defeat in 1932, the ambitious goals of the child health conference faded into obscurity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *