Massachusetts Infant Asylum, 1892, Report of the Directors

Another year's experience serves to strengthen the conviction of the Directors that there is a larger field for the work of our Asylum than our present means will enable us to cover.

Miss Parkman's very full and satisfactory statement of our position in her report of last year, represents so accurately our present position that we are moved to present it again. It combines in an admirable manner both a report of the facts of the last few years and a most moving appeal for means to continue the good work. Our record of health during last summer was a most remarkable one; there having been no deaths among the infants, no summer trouble and no occasion to consult a doctor from the middle of May to the end of August, while the average number of children in the Asylum during the summer months was twenty-four. Also during the autumn and winter months the epidemic cold was not generally severe, either with the nurses or with the children. In the summer the children were much out of doors.

The only change we have made in last year's report is to substitute new illustrations taken from our records of cases in place of those there given.


"We again appeal to our friends for aid and encouragement in our efforts to save infant life and to help the mothers themselves to save their children. We have now come to a crisis which compels us to make an urgent appeal for help, failing which help, we see no resource but to largely surrender our work.

During many years about half of our yearly income, roughly speaking, has consisted of money paid us by the State of Massachusetts for the board of infants which it has placed in our care. These infants were formerly doomed to destruction, until at the invitation of the State, the Massachusetts Infant Asylum came to the rescue, and as a pioneer in the problem of saving infant life, by the introduction of new systems and methods, proved to the public and the State that it was not necessary that these little ones should perish.

Profiting by the methods and experience of the Asylum, and with all the resources and machinery of the State at its disposal, the State Board believes now that it can take care of State cases more conveniently and reasonably than it can board them in a private asylum, and it has, therefore, withdrawn the last of the State infants from our care.

While we are thankful to know that our Asylum has done a great work in saving infant life, and in showing the State, which has now largely adopted our methods, how to do the same, we hardly need say that our mission is not ended because we no longer have the charge of the State infants, whose care made only a portion of our work. The field occupied by the Asylum and State is not the same, the aim of our Asylum being fundamentally different and distinct from that of the State, in that we reach a class of mothers and infants which, as we shall show farther on, does not belong to the pauper class cared for by the State. The final withdrawal however, of the last of the State children, curtails our income by some four or five thousand dollars — the amount we received for the board of these children ; and this loss so seriously cripples our resources that we have been obliged to stop admitting any more infants for the present, unless in some exceptional case of emergency.

The heaviest part of our expenses, namely, the maintenance of our house, with its incidental expenses of heating, light, repairs, etc., and the cost of keeping an efficient corps of wet nurses, will be very slightly lessened by the withdrawal of the State children, while the loss of the money which came to us with them seriously limits our resources If, therefore, the public desires us to extend our aid to other children in the place of the State children, for whom our help is no longer asked, we must beg it to express its will by aiding us in some way to make good the deficiency made in our income. The period which, of the whole time of our care of the children, costs us most, is the time during which they are in the Home itself. During this period the expense for each child is about five dollars per week; whereas when, later, they are at board in homes outside, the expense for each child is much less. In fine, the amount of money expended on children in the Home itself will, as we have said, care for much fewer children than the same amount expended for them at board. The Home, however, seems to be an indispensable part of our care of children, and the expense of it cannot be materially lessened without practically closing it. As our diminished income only little more than suffices to maintain the Home itself, we are therefore, by lack of funds, debarred from the half of our work in which the least expenditure will do the most good.

Do our friends feel enough interest in our work to save us from being obliged to give up the greater part of it? We believe that we complete our mission of saving infant life by making the infants whose lives we save into exceptionally fine, healthy children, and that, by insisting upon keeping up to a high standard in this respect, we benefit equally the community and the State. We are glad to welcome, in the State, a friendly rival in the good work of nurturing into healthy children the large class in the community of destitute babies which appeals to the compassion of all merciful people. We believe that only by exceptional care, such as our Asylum gives to the infants under its charge, can we build up such healthy children as we claim that our Asylum sends out into the world. Our standard is a high one; but we believe that to maintain it is worth to the public all that it costs. In preserving the life of a delicate baby apart from its mother, we have learned by experience that it must be wet-nursed, at least for a time.

The maintenance of wet nurses in the Asylum proper, while it causes our care of infants to be somewhat expensive, also largely helps to give us the healthy babies of which we are so proud, and helps to make our death rate lower than has ever been known before in any infant asylum in any country. We claim that the Massachusetts Infant Asylum still does a work that is not done by any other institution, although some other institutions and associations now share with us a part of the work that we for many years have done alone. There are Homes that will board a well-paying wet nurse’s baby, or that will take a baby for a few weeks when a mother is ill, or in some other emergency, or that will take a baby to give away for adoption ; but we believe that no other home that succeeds in saving infant life combines these three things—taking such young infants as we take, keeping them for so long a time, and keeping them for such low board as very poor mothers can pay. We, however, think it best for the mother, even when very poor, to pay a small sum towards her baby’s board, even if only twenty-five cents per week, unless in cases of illness or other emergency.

By ceasing to take the State foundlings, we no longer have children to give away for adoption, our object being to help a mother keep, not give away, her child. But, as we have said before, a large proportion of the women whose infants we have saved have never been "State cases," or paupers ; that is, they do not belong to the class that comes upon the State for support. They are merely very poor working women, struggling hard to support themselves and their infants, and struggling harder to save their infants’ lives against greater hindrances and discouragements than more fortunate mothers can know. Our Asylum, we believe, helps this class of very poor mothers to save their infants to a greater extent and by more various methods adapted to their differing circumstances than any other asylum does.

Of course, if women are able to earn large wages, they can afford to provide for their infants by boarding them in Homes provided by more than one institution, or in private families ; but if the mother can only earn low wages, or has several children to support, our Asylum’s plan has always been to give the preference, when we have few vacancies, to the infant of the more destitute, rather than to the infant of the more prosperous mother, and, as we said before, to charge in such cases, lower board than other asylums generally charge. We board the infant of the wet-nurse also, but not to the exclusion of the infant of the more needy mother.

Again, if the mother is too ignorant and inexperienced to succeed in living at service in a private family, she can often support her baby by entering our Asylum with it, as a wet nurse; and she and her baby are given several months of excellent training. She is thus prepared to earn a living for her now well-trained infant by being able to go to service with it in some small private family in the country — the best method we know of for providing for both mother and child.

There are ladies who make it an especial work to find such homes for destitute mothers and infants ; and our Asylum has done good work in training many a mother, and last, not least, many a baby, for such homes. We are happy to add that our Asylum has not lost its reputation as a good training-school and happy home for both babies and nurses, under the faithful care of our efficient matron, Miss McKean.”

In order to show the kind of work that our Asylum does, and the variety of circumstances in which the poor babies are placed whom we succor, we give a few illustrations taken from the first handful of our "Records of Cases" that we happened to take up. These, as we have already stated, are new cases which we have substituted for those given in last year’s report.

1. The parents very poor. The mother had a paralytic shock. The physician recommended that she should be removed to the City Hospital. No relations able to care for the child. The mother’s recovery was hoped for, if she could have proper care. The child was taken by the Asylum.

2. The mother was far gone in consumption. The father’s mother able to take care of the older children with the help of the father, but, being old, she was unable to take the baby also. Both parents had good references.

3. The mother, unmarried, was deserted by the father, whose residence is unknown. She left her home and went to 12 the hospital in McLean Street, where she died, leaving this infant. The grandfather begged us to keep the child until it was older, when he hoped to make a home for it. He cannot do so now, his wife being dead. He says he will do his best, so we board it for a dollar a week till he can take it home

4. The mother unmarried. Baby delicate, needing wet nursing. The mother worked hard and did her best for the baby. When the child was fourteen months old, she took it with her to a place in Somerville.

5. The mother, apparently, deserted by her husband, who went to sea December, 1890. The baby born at Boston City Hospital, while the mother was ill with typhoid fever. Baby weighed two pounds when born. It was cared for for eight months by nurses at the City Hospital. The child was blind, but very attractive and bright. The mother is at service, and has one other child to support, for whom she must pay two dollars a week.

6. The mother, not married, comes of respectable people. She was a hard working, respectable girl up to the time of her fall. She loves her child, and promises to do her best for it, if she can have temporary help from the Asylum now. Later, the grandmother expects to take the child home, as soon as she can arrange to do so.

7. Twins. The mother had good references ; she was deserted by a drunken and brutal husband. When the twins were accepted the mother had one other child. One twin died, being very small and weak when admitted ; the other is doing well.

8. The father of this child is an invalid ; he has trouble of the lungs, works when he can, but is constantly liable to break down. The mother can get work at the Waltham Watch factory. Has a little money saved, and can pay two dollars a week ; she feels badly to be obliged to put her baby at board, but sees no other way.

9. The mother, a hard working woman, unmarried, at service, with good references, deserted by the father of the child. She had refused offers which would have obliged her to part with the child, and had faithfully supported it since its birth, five months before it came to the Asylum. She pays for it two dollars a week, from her wages of two dollars and a half. She came to the Asylum in distress, because she discovered that the nurse, with whom she lately placed it, drank, and also drugged the child. It was, therefore, advisable to take it without delay.

10. The father is left, by the death of his wife, with three small children, and being lame, is not able to earn high wages. He earns seven dollars a week, and has to pay for the board and clothing of the other children.

11. The child is one of twins. The mother deserted ; a devoted mother ; has never wished to give up either of her children ; she went to work, with one child, for a dollar a week. The other is cared for by the Asylum.

12. The mother, unmarried, loves her child and promises to work and support it. She is only seventeen and seems too young and inexperienced to go to work with her child. Her aunt, a poor woman, promises to help her to pay the board, until she is able to pay it herself.

"We hope our friends in their pleasant homes, and especially happy mothers surrounded by their children, will help us to continue our work of saving their children to such mothers as these, whose more or less forlorn and painful lives we have here tried to give some idea of to more fortunate women. Many a disheartened mother, almost wrecked in the hard struggle of life, implores us to help her to save some little child, 'all she has in the world.' Such petitions cannot be shut out from even the most happy and sheltered home. Such work as ours is never ended."

We despair of stating our case more strongly. On the one hand it will not do to encroach too far upon our unrestricted capital; much of which is invested in the form of permanent funds ; indeed we can only do so to a limited extent of some $ 18,000 as the expenditure of the greater portion of our endowments is restricted, and by the terms of the gifts the income only is available. On the other hand it is hard to refuse cases of present need because of our limited means.

In closing this report we wish to express our appreciation of the assistance rendered during the past year by the various sewing circles which have interested themselves in our work, and also to pay our tribute to the zeal and faithful attendance of the physicians who have visited our infants both at the Home and at their country boarding places.

1. "Report of the Directors", Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Directors of the Massachusetts Infant Asylum, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1892, Pages 6-14.

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